4×4

The eco activists are right – crossovers ARE going to go out of fashion

IT’S not often someone who owns a 1970s dinosaur of a car, powered by a three-litre V6 knocking back a gallon of unleaded every 23 miles, agrees with a group researching ways to make Britain a leaner, greener, zero carbon emissions country.

Yet, for once, I’m completely in agreement with the scientists at the UK Energy Research Centre – we really do, as a nation, have to go easy on the Range Rover Evoques and the Audi Q3s. Lay off the new Nissan Juke and the second-gen Ford Kuga a bit. Oh, and definitely have a gentle chat with anyone thinking of chucking more than £44,000 on a BMW X4.

You’ll have noticed something all of the aforementioned beasts of burden have in common; they’re all SUVs, off-roaders, crossovers, or whatever lifestyle-orientated name they’ve been given this week. The UK Energy Research Centre’s argument is that because they now account for just a fifth of the nation’s new car sales – as opposed to 13.5 per cent just three years ago – hauling around all that extra weight is completely undermining the do-gooders currently buying 44,000 zero emissions motors a year.

Professor Jillian Anable, the group’s co-director, said: “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’”, the last bit referring to the Government’s aim of making Britain net carbon neutral by 2050.

My beef with these cars – and I choose my words carefully, as I dearly hope the UKERC doesn’t have the same wrath towards the 1977 Reliant Scimitar GTE – is that almost all of these SUVs are nothing of the sort. They’re front-wheel-drive, aren’t designed to venture up muddy tracks and don’t do anything a Vauxhall Astra can’t do. If you need more space, get a Combo Life. Only you won’t, because it looks like a van with windows rather than a trendy off-roader.

Virtually every new car I borrow is a bloated, high-riding relation of a much better hatchback that’s been cruelly forgotten by the wider market. I’ve no problem with proper 4x4s that actually go off-road – I grew up in a family that lives and breathes old Land Rovers – but ones pretending otherwise and wasting fuel and resources in the process aren’t doing us any favours.

For ages, I’ve been resigned to it being a relentless march up the new car sales chart that wipes out lesser spotted species in the process (see the critically endangered small coupé, and the extinct-in-the-wild large MPV), but I reckon in a few years crossovers will start to look desperately unfashionable, and it’ll be Greta Thunberg and the march of the green movement behind it. It’s hard enough to justify something like, say, a BMW 3-Series in a world where single use plastic bags are taboo, so turning the same car into a thirstier, higher-riding crossover just seems to be prime ammo for the anti-car lobby.

So don’t make your next buy a Skoda Karoq – make it an Octavia instead, which looks much nicer, will drive far better and be just as practical.

Just don’t follow my example and make it a three-litre 1970s sports car. Otherwise, we’re all stuffed…

Why the MG Hector needs to be a sales hit

HECTOR was – according to Government’s own statistics – the 90th most popular name for baby boys in Britain back in 1905. After that it dropped out of the top 100, and has never reappeared since.

So I can safely say that there are few Hectors to heckle me if I declare that it’s just about the worst name to give a new car. Yet that’s genuinely what MG is calling its latest model. The MG Hector. Say that again. The MG…Hector?

The name’s apparently taken from a World War II biplane – the Hawker Hector, which itself was christened in honour of a mythical Trojan prince – but this isn’t anything like the Triumph Spitfire or the Bristol Blenheim. Those were cars that lived up to their aeronautical namesakes by being sleek, agile and proudly British. The MG Hector, which is about to go on sale in India, but has no planned UK launch yet – is a rebadged version of a rather bloated-looking Chinese 4×4, the Baojun 530. Not since the Mazda MPV has a carmaker got a badge so depressingly spot-on. The new MG actually looks like a right old Hector.

Yet I want it to do fantastically well. Forget the MGB selling half a million units and becoming Britain’s best-ever selling sports car; ideally the Hector, even if it doesn’t come to the UK, needs to snapped up by roughly a quintillion eager buyers each year.

It’s perfectly equipped to pull off such a feat, especially in its core markets of India and China. The one thing the Chinese love even more than Britain’s heritage is copious amounts of rear legroom, and the MG Hector has ample amounts of both. If they released a long-wheelbase version and called it the William Wordsworth Special Edition, they’d double sales overnight. This is the country that called one of its cars the Byton – with no sense of irony whatsoever – simply because its name sounded English and imposing.

It’s also offered with a sensible choice of a 1.5-litre petrol and choice of Jeep-sourced diesel engines, and MG – over there, at least – is selling in on its equipment levels and how it’s constantly connected to the internet. It is perfect for the Chinese market, and I really hope that they sell every single one.

I mean it. Every single one, because the money MG makes from Hector sales is what it needs to finally fund the new sports car the rest of us have been crying out for. Sports cars don’t have a great reputation for powering profits – which is why Porsche makes the Cayenne, and why BMW reportedly sold every Z8 it ever made at a loss – but they’re crucial when it comes to building exciting brands. MG desperately needs a new Midget. Or, at the very least, a proper sporting saloon or hot hatch that lives up to everything the two most evocative letters in motoring stand for.

If the business case doesn’t stack up on its own then it’ll just have to be subsidised by all those people buying Hectors. Even if it means having to bring it to Britain, I reckon it’ll be a price worth paying.

Just change the name. Apparently Hunter – which is also the name of an old aircraft – is back in the top 100 names to give your child. An MG Hunter? Now that’s more like it.

Bring back the Land Rover Defender – before everyone else ruins it

Production of the Land Rover Defender ended last year

ABOUT a year or so ago Britain made an historic – but rather controversial – decision. It decided to terminate its decades-old relationship with an international institution.

Since then crime’s increased, prices have gone up and there are mutterings from our friends in the farming fraternity over what they’ll turn to now for support. There have also been heated debates in pubs up or down the land over whether pulling the plug was the right decision, but my mind’s firmly made up.

We definitely need to put the Land Rover Defender back into production.

Since Britain’s best 4x4xfar by far exited the stage last March there’s been a weird void when it comes to truly hardcore off-roaders – and no, the Ford Kuga you have parked outside isn’t going to fill it. For all its terrible handling and lack of shoulder room it had a curious role in keeping rural Britain ticking, and ever since it departed the stage some very unfortunate things have been happening.

For starters crime really has been going up. With no new Defenders to buy people have simply been nicking the old ones, so much so that NFU Mutual is now reporting that thefts are up 17 per cent over the past year. The lack of supply also means that people prepared to pay for legitimate examples are having to stump up more for the privilege; a Defender bought brand new by Rowan Atkinson two years ago has just been sold on for a £20,000 profit, and that’s unlikely to be down to simply having a famous name on the logbook.

But worst of all is that in the absence of any brand new ones the Land Rover’s hard-earned reputation is being trashed by the tuning brigade. Every week I’m sent press releases by companies specialising in aftermarket cosmetic kits for Defenders, and they’re all absolutely dreadful. But people who normally buy Audi TTs and BMW X5s are signing up, turning the poor old Landie into a bit of a glorified tart’s handbag. One of only four or so cars to have made it onto the Sub Zero section of Top Gear’s Cool Wall is now a bit of a fashion victim.

Clearly, the only answer is to put the Defender back into production and restore order.

Forget all those emissions regulations getting in the way. Theresa May needs to instigate a special Defender Reintroduction Bill in the next Queen’s Speech, and make it her top priority once Britain leaves the EU.

In fact, let’s sneak this one in early!