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FEBRUARY 2011 • £2.50








HUNDREDS OF 4x4s FOR SALE FIND YOUR NEXT VEHICLE HERE 3.0 V6 TDI TESTED 4x4 Mart • February 2011 • £2.50



4x4 MART | FEBRUARY 2011


PRESTIGE ON A BUDGET The first-generation Mercedes M-Class looks a real bargain these days, with prices starting below £3000. But with a less than perfect reliability record, is it such a safe bet as its badge suggests? Tom Phillips reveals the truth


ack in 1998, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class was the first premium SUV alternative to the famous Range Rover. Prior to that, no other luxury brand had challenged the British icon, leaving the field free for Japanese companies like Mitsubishi and Toyota to compete – despite their lack of a prestige badge. Mercedes was understandably keen to capitalise on what it saw as an expanding market, doing so via the launch of the US-built M-Class, also known as the Mercedes ML. And with an attractive five-door body style

and smooth curves instead of hard angles, its intent was clear: to provide buyers with a smart, prestigious SUV that was a world away from the hardedged G-Wagons that the company also produced. The new M-Class was a road car first, an off-roader second. Befitting the new model’s onroad emphasis, Mercedes designed fully independent suspension for the ML. At the front, there were double wishbones with torsion bar, while the double wishbones at the rear ran with coil springs. Naturally too, there was rack and pinion steering, although

the brakes were less satisfying due to Mercedes insisting on a foot-operated parking brake. Fine on autos but not so handy on manuals, although the first Mercedes ML models – out in mid-1998 – all came with automatic transmission. Also featured was the company’s first ever V6 petrol engine, installed in the ML320: a 3.2-litre unit that produced 217bhp and offered a growling soundtrack. And an even better sound was made by the ML430 V8 that came slightly later, complete with 268bhp and uncanny smoothness. Both engines offered pace but – inevitably – you paid the price in terms of petrol consumption. Diesel came just over a year later – in 2000 – with the launch of the ML270 CDI, which used a 2.7-litre fivecylinder unit that was turbocharged to produce 161bhp. It also put out 273lb.ft of torque at 1600-2800rpm, making it the M-Class engine of choice for many – not least because of its considerably

better fuel economy. For a thirsty alternative, meanwhile, buyers could look to the extreme ML55 AMG: a 354bhp 5.4-litre V8 warrior that could reach 60mph in just six seconds. Extreme… and extremely rare.

Mercedes was keen to capitalise on what it saw as an expanding market, hence the new M-Class All M-Class models used the same four-wheel drive running gear, called 4ETS. This was permanent, and consisted of front, centre and rear differentials. In normal running, all

three diffs were open for maximum efficiency. They weren’t lockable; instead Mercedes utilised the ABS sensors, which meant individual wheels would be ‘grabbed’ if a difference in rotational speeds was detected. The clever system even worked if three wheels lost traction, as the computers braked all wheels down to the lowest rotational speed of any given wheel, meaning it had a ‘virtual’ locking centre diff, too. All this trickery – and just a small button on the dash to show for it. Basic equipment wasn’t really so: all M-Class models were fitted with airbags, ESP, electric windows and mirrors, alloys, an alarm and cruise control. On today’s used market, it’s worth seeking out the optional Luxury Pack, as this added electric leather seats, leather steering wheel and gear knob, plus wood trim for the dash. Or you might prefer the Family Pack, which gave the M-Class a third row of seats,

FEBRUARY 2011 | 4x4 MART



TOUAREG TAKE TWO The first generation Volkswagen Touareg was a real hit for the German giant, achieving conquest sales in the premium SUV segment. The question is, can the formula be repeated with its successor? Tom Phillips got behind the wheel to find out



remium SUV contenders remain a select group. It takes years to build up the wealth of experience necessary to challenge such legends as the Range Rover. German brands, however, have been quite adept at taking on the Brit icon over the last decade, with the Mercedes ML and BMW X5 arguably leading the way. Both had the advantage of being part of an upmarket brand, though. It would always be more of a challenge for a more mainstream manufacturer – such as Volkswagen – to do the same. But such was its determination to join just about every market niche available, VW did just that with the 2003 launch of the Touareg. And over the next seven years, it proved to be a highly capable and popular choice. Now though, there’s a brand new

Touareg on the loose, available in the UK in a variety of guises – including a petrol-electric Hybrid variant, similar in concept to the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid (sister model to the Touareg) that we tested a couple of issues ago. This time, though, we opted for the more real-world diesel option: the bestselling 3.0-litre V6 TDI, available in two guises in the latest Touareg (204bhp or the 240bhp version tested here).

HI-TECH START All Touaregs have a hi-tech four-wheel drive set-up (no 2WD models here), and there’s also an off-road-focused Escape version with locking centre diffs and a two-speed transfer box. Every Touareg, though, comes with a limited-slip diff, electronic diff


4x4 MART | FEBRUARY 2011


RENAULT’S COUNTRYVAN Long before the ‘crossover’ was invented, Renault brought us the Kangoo Trekka. Possibly the most wonderful 4x4 of all time. Or not… Photography: Frank Westworth


ot on the heels of last month’s Freelander 2 Used Test came a rare opportunity: the chance to drive one of the seriously scarce, splendidly unusual 4x4s built by the French. It was the French, you will recall with affection, who supplied an almost completely apathetic motoring public with their first opportunity to treat themselves to a vehicle that looked like a 4x4 but was in fact driven by only two of its little wheels. Take a bow, Matra Rancho. Simca’s finest hour. A great notion, and one rewarded with vast commercial success… Hold on a moment. No, it wasn’t. Despite some of the less stable among us (that would be your esteemed editor and me) thinking that the slightly bonkers Rancho was a great device, being derived from a workaday van and yet looking as butch as a Lada Niva, nobody else was taken in, and Simca sloshed off down the flushpipe of history. Hardly mourned. Apart from by your esteemed editor and me, who even now remark upon its greatness at least once a year. Renault is also French, as you know. It had the same idea as its distant pals at Matra-Simca. Those Renault chaps would convert one of their vans to make it look like a car. Great thinking. Citroen shared the same notion in the blobular form of the Berlingo. Renault took their Kangoo, a competent van, and fitted it with windows and an assortment of optional doors. Can’t fail. Didn’t fail. Indeed, both Berlingo and Kangoo have been recently revived and revitalised with new versions. But Renault went further. The company enhanced the Matra Rancho notion of producing a vehicle with 4x4 styling but only two driven wheels into something even more Gallic and subtle: a genuine 4x4. That’s right; four driven wheels, though Renault made it look just like a conventional 2WD model. Marvellous stuff. They called it the Trekka, which sounds like a rugged item of macho footwear, and stuck little friendly ‘4x4’ logos here and there. It sold so very well that, despite our roads being full of Kangoos, you see

hardly any 4x4 models. Why is this? Once again, your esteemed editor and I share mystification, with the notion that we appear to be the only keen drivers who think that the Kangoo is possibly the most handsome vehicle ever built (with the possible exception of the Austin Allegro, of which there is no known 4x4 version… if you discount the original Freelander which was built on a Maestro floorpan, itself derived from the immortal Allegro). Life can be a struggle. But, being serious just for a moment, we had always wondered how well an entirely competent but unremarkable vehicle like the Kangoo would take to four-wheel drive, why sane folk would buy one and whether it would in fact perform well as a real, genuine 4WD machine. The problem, though, was finding one. They are very rare. And when they do appear on the market, they soon get snapped up. At decent money, too. Which reveals that although they were not notably grand sellers when new, used car buyers are more discerning and can spot a goodie when they see one. Let me introduce you to Richard Holt. Richard lives in fundamental

In a strange way the Kangoo is an obvious descendant of the Renault 4, beloved of students of my generation

Cornwall, down a typical Cornish lane. It’s a hilly lane, as many in Cornwall are. You may, like most folk, associate the proud duchy of Cornwall with sun, sand and surf. It is indeed like that for about three months of the year. For the rest of the time, it is just average, but in the wintry weeks can be as wild and inhospitable as the taller parts of Yorkshire. Last winter, for example, Richard and Imogen – the excellent and elegant Mrs Holt – went off to their local church for a spot of campanology, like you do. It became cold, as it does at Christmas. And on the way back from matters celestial, they found themselves stuck at the

bottom of a steep and ice-bound hill with no grip. It is so embarrassing to call the recovery service in the middle of the night on Christmas Day. But they had to. Richard decided that, in order to retain sanity and to reduce the ringing in his ears, he would get a 4x4. But which one? The family runs a small smallholding. They cart bales of hay, bundles of feed and livestock about the (rugged, hilly, muddy) place. Plainly they needed a Defender 110 at the very least? But no; means were more modest than that. What they wanted was a van with 4x4, and there are very few of those. Hence the Trekka.

PRACTICALLY PERFECT The Trekka’s 4WD system is subtle. It was faintly innovative when it first appeared, but is common enough now. Unlike the Scenic 4x4 (which was not a great car, to be honest about it), the Trekka uses a Nissan widget between front and rear axles. This device, a hydraulic coupling (which always sounds like fun), allows the Kangoo to troll cheekily along in front-wheel

drive, just like every other Kangoo can. When grip slip-slides away though, the coupling couples up the rear wheels and normal service is resumed. You get the idea; it’s a common enough arrangement these days, and allows the engine to return decent economy under normal use. Which it would if only it were a diesel. This is a petrol Trekka, which took me by surprise because it sounds like a diesel. However, the French do things differently, and it performs exactly as you might expect a 1.6-litre, 95bhp commercial engine to perform. It is completely competent. And the 4WD grips really amazingly well. Really. It’s not wildly subtle in operation (not like, say, a Honda CR-V), and you can tell when the rear wheels do their grippy thing, but it most certainly is effective. Renault raised the Kangoo’s ride height, too – and although this is no Defender, it drives around Richard Holt’s fields, dispensing horse hay as it goes, with aplomb and without expensive grounding. And there’s extensive bumperage, which is handy for easing open gates when it’s persisting down, and makes those

FEBRUARY 2011 | 4x4 MART




GETTING TO GRIPS How capable your vehicle is when driving off-road or in wintry conditions can be hugely affected by your choice of tyres. Paul Guinness offers some nononsense advice


nybody who goes off-roading on a regular basis will already know how important the right choice of tyre is for their vehicle’s progress (or otherwise) in the rough. And as Britain has been enduring yet another harsh winter, attention has also turned to the subject of snow tyres – and how choosing the right tyres can mean the difference between getting around and being stranded. In choosing a tyre, there’s obviously more to consider than the terrain over which you may be driving. The Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986, for example, have clauses relating to the types of tyres that can legally be fitted to a vehicle. There are restrictions on which vehicles can be fitted with retread or remould tyres, and there are obviously statutory levels of tread necessary for legal road use – which usually means 1.6mm throughout a continuous band comprising the central three

quarters of the tread, round the entire circumference of the tyre. When it comes to tyre upgrades for your 4x4, however, there’s usually one major requirement: to increase your vehicle’s capabilities over rough terrain. Yes, for most of us it’s all about grip, which means the focus is very much on your tyre tread – with AllTerrain tyres being the default choice for many 4x4 owners who need good on-road performance and comfort coupled with off-road competence. And although All-Terrain tyres (generally specified for 50 per cent onand 50 per cent off-road use) don’t look particularly ‘extreme’, their abilities are usually very impressive. For serious off-road use on a regular basis (perhaps an 80/20 split in favour of off-roading), you need to be looking at MT (Mud Terrain) or M&S (Mud and Snow) tyres. Large shoulder blocks – the chunks of rubber castellating the tyre’s external diameters – cut into

terrain, afford traction on slippery surfaces and adapt their function to all kinds of conditions. Meanwhile, alternating inward and outward tread blocks within the external and internal shoulder-blocks mean these tyres can exert a cog-like force, ‘pulling’ their own mass over an obstacle as long as impetus is given to the wheel. The depth of an off-road tyre’s tread is also greatly increased, the biggest give-away to its purpose, as this prevents clogging. The disadvantage to ‘knobblies’ like these, however, is in their construction: large, chunky composition means that resistance to pressure gives a very hard ride, and the increase in noise levels is dramatic. Sidewalls, exposed to rocks and rough terrain, are also heftily reinforced, which again affects your 4x4’s ride comfort – although if off-road mobility is your primary aim, you’re unlikely to be worried by any such issues.

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