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Journeys : Aug Sep 2010
The surge in popularity of the soft- roader over the last few years shows no sign of abating. The variety of models is increasing and the technology being built into them makes the space shuttle look almost Stone Age by comparison. While many soft-roaders will never get beyond the supermarket car park and Saturday sport, they obviously fulfil a need. They provide versatility of space and seating, increased safety in mud, rain and snow and the potential to undertake weekend adventures or even something approaching the 'big trip'. There probably isn't a man out there (and many women perhaps?) who don't yearn for the freedom of adventure on the open road and the red soil country of the Outback. Having taken a Santa Fe across the Simpson Desert and around the Lake Eyre basin in the height of summer, I can appreciate their popularity. Many people don't want or need the traditional solid four wheel drive and prefer the car-like handling of the soft-roader. And they're Flavour of the month Peter d'Plesse explores the soft-roading option out there in droves, from the new little Suzuki SX4 to the Hyundai ix35 and the BMW X1. They certainly win in handling, ease of driving and ride quality. But how good are they away from the highway? While I haven't driven everything that's available, my impression of the Santa Fe and some others I have driven is that with skilful (and maybe just sensible) driving and some basic off-road knowledge, they can go places that will astound their ow ners. Off-road, ground clearance is a huge factor in a vehicle's perfor mance -- but even here a sensible approach to choosing a line through difficult terrain can get a soft-roader to places that many would consider impossible. Last year on trips with my archaeologist mate Steve, we took a Rav 4 and a Nissan X-Trail without drama into places that would have tested the traditional four wheel drive. The current trend in SUVs seems to be that drivers are demanding far more from their vehicles in terms of comfort and driveability but still expect the same in ter ms of capability. What a challenge this sets manufacturers, particularly with the added expectation s for even better fuel consumption. Genuine four wheel drive capability and clever electronics for traction control can achieve some pretty outstanding results. With careful planning, most off-road journeys, even in some of the far-out places of Australia, are accessible. Basic details like fuel range, better all-terrain tyres, an extra full-size spare, a hand winch and some basic knowledge of four wheel driving could open up vast areas of exciting ter ritory. A nudge bar, driving lights and roof rack are options that could add to the potential of the vehicle. As is often the case, the human element is cr ucial. A sensible approach to driving could see a soft-roader go places that would embarrass a poorly-driven, hard- core four wheel drive. In saying that, I'm aware that not all four wheel drive systems are the same. Technology is changing all the time, but I have seen some soft-roaders that seem to be looking for a spot to dig themselves a hole while others will glide over the same place with nary a whimper. Tasmania is a place where the soft-roader has a definite home. At any time of the year, our main roads can be subject to rain, snow and ice -- off the bitumen, wet gravel or corr ugations can mean the capability of the soft-roader can make a difference. Our coasts, forests and mountains offer many opportunities for enjoying a well- handled soft-roader's driveability, comfort and safety -- the potential for extended adventure is always there! Life on the move Photo: Peter d'Plesse 37 August / September 2010
RACT MNJ June July 2010
Oct Nov 2010