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MORE THAN 1,000 4x4s FOR SALE FIND YOUR NEXT 4x4 INSIDE September 2010 £2.50

FULL ROAD TEST INSIDE Land Rover 88” Series III £6,750

Mitsubishi Shogun Sport £9,995

Nissan XTrail 2.2 DCI SVE £10,995

Daihatsu Terios 2007 £10,995




AN AMERICAN ICON For fans of all things American, there’s only one genuine off-roader: the Wrangler, a model as iconic as our home-grown Defender. But does the rugged Jeep make sense as a used buy here in the UK? Tom Phillips investigates


hile the Jeep Wrangler feels – and looks – as though it’s been around since Noah was a lad, it wasn’t until 1993 that official British imports of the ‘YJ’ model (on sale in the USA since 1987) finally got under way, all part of Chrysler’s determination to see its famous 4x4 brand succeeding in the UK’s booming market. And while most of Chrysler’s emphasis was on its Cherokee and Grand Cherokee topsellers, it felt there was also a niche for its no-frills off-roader. The Wrangler’s retro aura was all part of its appeal for those original buyers. Straight from the Rubicon Trail to Rugby Ring Road, it was simple in the extreme. Front and rear live axles underpinned it all, providing the art of rugged off-roading, well able to withstand knocks on both sides of the Atlantic. Engine-wise, it was a strong six-cylinder 4.0-litre petrol that powered the rear-wheels in normal use, with selectable four-wheel drive when necessary. This was ‘shift on the fly’ with a dual-range transfer box.

Steering was a recirculating ball system that – not surprisingly – was rather vague in action. The Wrangler isn’t really one for through-the-corners dynamics, of course; stiff suspension settings are good for keeping things square off-road, but certainly impact on the highway. All part of the appeal, argue Wrangler fans… The square-sided body was distinctive, particularly the soft-top version with its fold-down rear deck. It was a massively complicated process, but it really did bring back the spirit of the original Jeep, particularly with the chunky roll cage fitted; more sober-suited UK buyers preferred the hard-top version though, which used similarly weedy doors but offered important extra security. On today’s market, however, such Wranglers are best suited to those seeking a no-compromise offroader on a tight budget. So by all means spend your cash on a 1993-97 Wrangler if you so wish – but if funds will stretch further, the best Wranglers

are the 1997-on models, easily spotted via their round (instead of oblong) headlights. Despite its similar appearance, almost every body panel of the ’97 Wrangler (known as the ‘TJ’ series) was new. But it was on the road where the transformation became most obvious, the latest version gaining coil sprung suspension, which really did improve the drive on-road… as well as making advances away from the tarmac. That’s because the coil springs allowed much greater axle articulation – a huge 180mm more – which is something that’s really important when you’ve a machine as small yet as able as a Wrangler. And particularly when combined with the strengthened ladder frame chassis that Jeep also fitted. Previously, the leaf-sprung models could get into some awe-inspiring situations, but a sheer lack of wheel travel meant they weren’t able to fully benefit from it. All changed in ’97, though, which is why these later ‘TJ’ models are our preferred Wranglers.




TRUE BRIT Have you noticed how affordable the original Freelander is on today’s used market? But be prepared; Tom Phillips guides you through the essential facts before you take the plunge


he launch of the original Freelander at the end of 1997 marked a major turning point for Land Rover, this being the company’s first compact SUV. And it was a worthy effort, combining all that was great about the British brand but in a bodyshell not much bigger than a family hatchback. The Freelander was chunky, rugged and stylish, largely thanks to the considerable talent of designer Gerry McGovern. But, of course, being a home-grown model, it had been created on a tight budget, with Land Rover being part of the Rover Group back then – and so it was natural to parts-share with passenger cars wherever possible. Engines were therefore supplied by Rover: the hitech 1.8-litre K-series petrol, and the older 2.0-litre L-Series turbo-diesel. Gearboxes were Honda-derived, albeit mated to all-wheel drive running gear. Many parts were indeed shared with other models within the Rover Group, and it was this control of costs that helped to make the Freelander possible in the first place. Not only was this a whole new sector of the 4x4 market, but the Freelander also represented a whole new way of engineering a Land Rover. Remember, this was the first Land Rover to be built on a carlike monocoque chassis, albeit one toughened-up to withstand the rigours of off-road use. And if you think that was it for ingenuity, hold on. For the Freelander came in not one or two body styles, but a big round three. The fivedoor Station Wagon was the most conventional, but alongside this Land Rover offered three-door Softback and Hardback models. And, unusually, all three were the same length and shared the same wheelbase, with the threedoor differing in rear roof aft of that distinctive sloping rear panel, as well as in tailgate design. The Freelander even offered a true world first: Hill Descent Control. Land Rover knew most buyers would never have the need for a proper low-ratio transfer box, so didn’t go to the trouble of engineering one. But drivers would still appreciate the need to control vehicle speed on descents, without the driver using the brakes and locking the wheels.

Enter HDC. Using the ABS sensors, merely lifting a yellow collar on the gear lever saw descending Freelanders capped to a 5.6mph crawl (reduced to 4.4mph if the system detected more challenging conditions), without the risk of skidding wheels or other nastiness. It was all done through the vehicle’s electronics and has since rightly been copied by almost every rival today. It even came with traction control. The petrol cars were the first to hit the market, back in November ’97 – and journalists were in raptures. Here was a baby Land Rover with a funky yet car-like interior, with all models featuring a driver’s airbag, remote locking with alarm, electric windows and mirrors, four-speaker stereo and a height-adjustable steering wheel; it didn’t want for goodies, particularly if your pockets were deep enough. Move up the range and you got ABD, HDC, CD player and passenger airbag, all depending on how much you wanted to spend. Trims included i, Xi and XEi at this stage. The K-series engine was retuned for torque by Land Rover. Power dropped to 119bhp, but torque jumped to 122lb. ft. at 2750rpm. It was no sports car, but it did a better job than the press expected, with all the characteristic smoothness always enjoyed by the K-series. What’s more, Freelander drove like no previous Land Rover ever had. Handling was keen and involving, steering was crisp and responsive, even the ride enjoyed good damping control and all the benefits of long-travel suspension. It was, by class standards, right up there. And while it couldn’t off-road quite like a Discovery, it was still pretty impressive, aided hugely by that ingenious HDC system.

AND ON THEY CAME The diesel arrived a little later. In truth, the old Rover L-series 2.0-litre was no superstar; it produced just 96bhp, though managed to lug from low revs thanks to 155lb.ft. of torque. It did this noisily, sadly, but dramatically improved on the 1.8-litre car’s disappointing fuel consumption by boosting it from 27.6mpg to 36.6mpg. And that’s the reason why it sold so




CX-HEAVEN? ROAD TEST Mazda has finally got round to launching a diesel version of its CX-7 crossover – and has transformed its appeal as a result. In fact, our editor is rather smitten…

get though, is Mazda’s Active Torque 4-Wheel Drive set-up – a system that automatically switches the amount of drive to whichever axle needs it most, adjusting itself according to road and weather conditions in the same way as most of the CX-7’s rivals. And this it does extremely well, helping to ensure the Mazda is one of the top-handling machines in the family SUV / crossover class – more of which later.


Words & Photography: Paul Guinness


hen Mazda launched its stylish new crossover here in the UK in 2007, it proved a welcome addition to the market, combining four-wheel drive practicality with a handsome and curvaceous bodyshell guaranteed to appeal to younger family buyers of the time. But there was just one problem: its engine. It wasn’t that the CX-7’s powerplant was bad. Far from it; the 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine produced an impressive 256bhp and endowed the CX-7 with class-leading performance (0-60mph in less than seven seconds, anyone?). But that was the only engine available in Mazda’s new crossover – and in a market dominated by diesel power, that was a huge disadvantage.

No wonder then, that the CX-7 was very much a ‘niche’ choice. UK sales remained low, as buyers stayed away from its prodigious thirst and high emissions levels. But all that’s now changed, thanks to this: the newfor-2010 diesel-powered CX-7. In fact, so important is this oil-burning engine, Mazda has now stopped importing the petrol version to focus solely on diesel power. The CX-7 is finally a proper contender in the £25k-£30k crossover/ SUV class.

At least, that’s what Mazda hopes. And to get it off to a strong start, the company has priced the single-model CX-7 ‘range’ at £26,995, placing it in direct competition with mid- to upper-spec Freelanders, RAV4s and Tiguans. You certainly get a wellequipped machine for your £27k too, the CX-7 coming as standard with six-speed manual transmission, electrically adjustable front seats and steering wheel, leather upholstery, electric windows, climate control,

cruise control, rear view camera, 19inch alloys, rear privacy glass and a whole host of other goodies. Nobody could accuse the CX-7 of being underequipped for the money. And the same goes for its four-wheel drive set-up. Now let’s say straight away that the CX-7 is a road-biased machine – an unashamedly sporty crossover, with no great claims when it comes to off-road prowess. So don’t go expecting a dual-range transfer box or locking diffs. What you do

Biggest news with this latest CX-7, of course, is its engine – the latest version of the excellent 2.2-litre fourcylinder turbo-diesel that can be found (in a different state of tune) in the Mondeo-rivalling Mazda 6. In the CX-7, it offers a worthy 171bhp at 3500rpm, plus an impressive 295lb.ft. of torque at just 2000rpm – a real aid when towing, which helps explain why the CX-7 diesel won ‘Best in Class’ in the 2010 Tow Car of the Year Awards. The engine – linked to a super-slick six-speed manual transmission – is also one of the least polluting diesel lumps available in the UK, thanks to its Adblue injection system, which uses urea to break down the nitrogen oxides in the exhaust gases. The CO2 rating of 199g/km might not sound





OFF-ROAD ON A BUDGET So you’re looking for a 4x4 that you can modify for some weekend fun, but you don’t want to spend more than a few hundred pounds buying it? Paul Guinness looks at some of the options available to you


ven if your main mode of daily transport is a 4x4, you might not want to risk damaging it by heading off-road every weekend. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some all-terrain fun when the mood takes you – simply by investing in a ‘cheap and cheerful’ off-road toy, the kind of vehicle you won’t worry about scratching, denting or damaging when out in the rough.

Yes, I know we’re talking about a whole new range of motoring expenses by going down the ‘second car’ route. To drive it to and from an off-road fun day, for example, it needs to be road legal (insisted on by events organisers anyway), which means another lot of insurance, MoT expenses, maintenance costs and a tax disc. But by opting for Third Party insurance and by shopping around via the 4x4 insurance specialists

(or even classic car insurance brokers for some of the older models), you should be able to save money on the biggest of those costs. Then there’s what you’ll need to do to the vehicle once you’ve bought it, as even the most basic choice of modifications will see off-road tyres, an engine snorkel, waterproofed electrics and – if you’re being particularly sensible about it – a roll cage appearing on your shopping list. Again, though, it pays to shop around, and there’s no reason why the tyres and the snorkel can’t be bought with a budget of just a few hundred pounds. And when you think you might well have paid less than a grand when buying the vehicle in the first place, you can see we’re not talking mega-bucks here. Well, relatively speaking…

CHOICES, CHOICES… So which of today’s cheap 4x4s make the best choice for the weekend offroader? Many people like to keep things simple (which can mean cheaper and easier maintenance and repairs), opting for models like the Suzuki SJ and Vitara. Sadly, the SJ is getting harder to find in decent condition, with most examples having long since rusted away – although they are out there if you look hard enough. On the other hand, you could spend as little as £500 on a sound and MoT’d Vitara instead – a vehicle that shares the SJ’s advantages of a lightweight design. Launched in 1988, the Vitara was one of the first genuinely trendy small 4x4s to hit the streets, and proved an instant

hit. It had longevity too, remaining on sale in some European countries right through to the 21st century. Even now, a three-door short-wheelbase Vitara looks good, while the slightly blander five-door long-wheelbase model boasts added practicality. And with a range of petrol and diesel powerplants available (from 1.6-litre upwards), there’s a cheap and cheerful Vitara to suit most folk. For off-road use, though, the short-wheelbase version inevitably makes the most sense. If you fancy something a bit bigger but just as capable off-road with a few basic mods, you shouldn’t rule out the old Vauxhall Frontera, available in Series I (1993-98) and Series II (19992003) guises and a choice of three-door short-wheelbase or five-door long-

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