off-roader

A needlessly expensive Rolls-Royce off-roader? Sign me up

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan - seen here in prototype camouflage - is being launched later this year
I IMAGINE there are quite a lot of entries under ‘K’ on the waiting list for Rolls-Royce’s next model; Kanye, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney for starters.

When you name your new model after the world’s biggest diamond it’s inevitable that it’s going to end up with rather bling connotations, even before it’s launched. But then that’s the Rolls-Royce Cullinan all over – it’s a Range Rover for people who consider the Range Rover a bit too common. It’s an off-roader with a whisper-quiet V12 where the establishment makes do with ‘just’ a supercharged V8. A toff-roader, if you will.

It is a completely pointless, jacked-up Phantom that in reality will never venture any further than a slightly damp stretch of field immediately outside Aintree Racecourse or the Royal Birkdale – in fact, you’re more likely to see one appearing on MTV Base alongside someone whose name begins with K.

But that doesn’t stop me liking it. Bentley and Jaguar doing posh mud-pluggers just doesn’t sit right with their carefully honed collective heritage as custodians of well-heeled driving fun, but a Rolls-Royce off-roader is so delightfully silly that it might just work. It’s Kingsman in automotive form; still refined enough to insist that you call its offerings motor cars, but in the background it’s teaming up with The Who’s Roger Daltry for its charity ventures, letting grime artist Skepta spec up the speakers on its one-offs and allowing its older cars to take part in marvellously OTT displays at the Goodwood Revival.

So the idea of taking your Cullinan to the Arctic Circle and lording it over everyone slumming it in Toyota pick-ups – and Rolls-Royce has been testing the new car there, just to make sure it’ll cope – fits in perfectly with the manufacturer’s softly spoken sense of fun. If it can haul itself up the same mucky hill as a Range Rover, but in a much more needlessly expensive way, then so be it. The one per cent have been doing pointless things with Rolls-Royces for generations, and the Cullinan fits in perfectly.

And if any pub bores do wander over (and it’ll be a very upmarket pub, presumably) and start piping up about how Rolls-Royce shouldn’t be doing off-roaders, then you can point out that it was taking on remote places and winning long before Jeeps and Land Rovers were even conceived. In the 1920s farmers used to travel around the Australian Outback in Silver Ghosts because they were the toughest things on the market. So the Cullinan does have off-roading pedigree.

So I like Rolls’ toff-roader because it’s a completely needless car that I’ll never be able to afford. Unless I change my name to one with beginning with K, of course…

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The Suzuki Jimny is a proper off-roader. A Vauxhall Viva on stilts isn’t

The Vauxhall Viva Rocks has just gone on sale across the UK

ON THE other side of the world Suzuki’s crack team of engineers are doing what I thought would never happen. After nearly 20 years they’re finally preparing a replacement for the Suzuki Jimny – which is a good thing, because it’s a proper small off-roader.

It’ll look a bit macho, but that’s because it’ll have four-wheel-drive, chunky tyres and proper ground clearance. But I am bored to tears with virtually every new car being launched nowadays attempting to look like an off-roader, but coming across instead as a bloated, watered-down pastiche of one. It’s though an entire generation of outdoor types have stopped aspiring to be Ray Mears and have settled for being Ant and Dec on I’m A Celebrity instead.

Take the new Vauxhall Viva Rocks. Its makers are doing exactly what Rover did with the Streetwise 15 years ago – jacking a perfectly good hatchback up by about an inch, cloaking it with all sorts of cosmetic add-ons to make it look a bit like an off-roader, and convincing roughly no one. The Viva’s a perfectly good car, of course, but this new one is being given mud-plugging aspirations it can’t possibly live up to. It won’t even crawl over a kerb to escape a supermarket car park, which was always the town centre party trick of proper off-roaders.

It’s the same with all the other dreary, derivative crossovers and sports activity vehicles clogging up the new car market at the moment. Why, for instance, is a sporty brand like MG making them? Why are Maserati and Lamborghini joining the fray? And why would you buy a BMW X1 or X3 when a 3-Series Touring is a far, far nicer car to drive in the real world?

I suspect the answer’s because I grew up in a household with two old Land Rovers and am desperately out of step with today’s I’m A Celebrity­-loving crossover buyers, but I still long for the day these cars go out of fashion and people go back to buying hot hatches, swoopy coupes, and plush saloons instead. Oh, and proper off-roaders, with four-wheel-drive and fancy locking diffs, for that matter.

If you want a small, outdoor-type sort of car then by all means buy the new Jimny when it arrives, because it’ll be able to escape the muddy field a Viva Rocks won’t.

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!

Mercedes X-Class – the perfect car for Southport’s golfers

The new Mercedes X-Class could be the wheels of choice for the next Open

IT FEELS like the population of Southport’s halved over the last few days. Apparently all the people who’ve just vacated the resort were here for something called ‘the golf’ – and I don’t mean the Volkswagen hatchback, either.

The one thing that did strike me during the North West’s moment in the international sporting spotlight was that virtually everyone seemed to travel to the Royal Birkdale in either a series of commandeered Stagecoach double-deckers, or in a black Mercedes. It felt like every other car was a black E-Class with tinted rear windows.

The Benz blokes have obviously thrown a lot at The Open, which is why it surprised me enormously that it didn’t bring along its latest model. It claims the X-Class is the first pick-up truck from a premium manufacturer, but that’s not entirely the case.

Firstly, the posh pick-up from a luxury carmaker isn’t a new idea, because both Cadillac and Lincoln have already tried it (albeit with virtually no success, which is why they never sold them over here). Secondly, the trimmings might be Mercedes’ finest but the bones most definitely aren’t; keep it quiet, but the X-Class is essentially a Nissan Navara. So I suspect all the building site operatives who actually buy pick-ups are probably going to stick with the cheaper Japanese original.

So who’s going to buy the X-Class? Originally I’d suspected it’d be perfect for anyone who appears in or produces hip hop videos, but I can’t imagine there are too many of those in Formby or Parbold (Straight Outta Crosby does have a nice ring to it, though). Nor is it going to appeal to the sort of managing director types who normally go for big, German off-roaders, because the ML-Class already does it without relying on pick-up truck underpinnings.

But – and this is why I think Mercedes missed a trick at The Open – it has plenty of potential as a golfer’s chariot of choice. It has a sufficiently posh badge to mix it with the Jaguars and BMWs in the club car park, more than enough room inside to take four of your chums out for a quick round, and with it being a pick-up there’s plenty of room out back for all the sets of clubs you’ll ever need. Pack carefully and you could even bring your own golf buggy with you!

I can’t wait for the golf to come back to Southport, because the resort is going to be rammed with X-Class Mercs.

The Skoda Yeti is a hard act to follow

Skoda put substance ahead of style with its Yeti

IN A WORLD of Jukes, Capturs and Mokkas the Karoq is a good thing; a proper, evocative car name of the old school.

Not only is it drawn from the language of a remote Alaskan tribe but you can just imagine it being slapped across a supercar’s rump. A Maserati Karoq has a certain ring to it.

But this name isn’t going on some Italian slingshot; it’s going on Skoda’s new baby off-roader, which looks great and should sell like Ed Sheeran tickets when it goes on sale here later this year. I’ve no doubt it’ll be an accomplished all-rounder (especially if its Kodiaq big brother is anything to go by) but it means Skoda’s existing baby off-roader, the Yeti, will be quietly put down.

Which is a real shame because I still reckon it’s one of the most talented tiny off-roaders out there. In fact, it’s one of the best motoring all-rounders, full stop.

I remember road-testing it for The Champion in 2010, not long after it first arrived in the UK, and thinking how willfully different it was from the rest of the Qashqai-alikes out there. It eschewed trendy styling and clever in-car infotainment for slab-sided proportions and minimal overhangs for better ground clearance – just like you get on a Land Rover Discovery. It even had the same sort of chunky buttons and indestructible interior plastics as most off-roaders, so that even the clumsiest of schoolchildren or the hungriest of Labradors wouldn’t be able to ruin it.

But best of all it had that rare thing missing from so many of today’s off-roader-esque family cars; the prowess to match the proposition. One of the cars we occasionally use at Classic Car Weekly for photoshoots is a 13-reg Yeti, and no matter what we throw in its direction it always emerges totally unflummoxed. On one jaunt back from the Goodwood Festival of Speed we actually took it green laning to avoid the traffic jams and it dealt with the muddy ruts and rocks superbly – and as a result, it was faster than every Ferrari, Porsche and M-badged BMW within a ten-mile radius.

For a five-door hatchback that kicks in at a shade under 18 grand it is supremely talented, and definitely something that even in its twilight years I’d thoroughly recommend. I can only hope the new arrival picks up the Yeti’s baton of being something you can count upon in a muddy field, rather than following the me-too route of looks over all else.

It does at least have a cool name, though, which is a good start.

This reborn Land Rover Series I is more important than you think

It might not be the new Defender but this latest Land Rover has an important job to doLAND ROVER’S latest offering isn’t quite what I was expecting. After years of teasing us all with a Defender replacement it’s simply decided to dust off its archive drawings and bring one of its old models back.

I jest, but only slightly. The latest offering from the people who make the best 4x4xfar isn’t the Defender’s actual replacement – you’ll have to wait a little bit longer for that – but they really are offering as-new Series Is. 

It’s the first time you’ve been able to do that since 1958 – and while they’re perfectionist restorations rather than brand new cars, it leaves me with very mixed feelings. 

The Series I might be the Land Rover that started it all but it’s got a very different place in my head to the sacred cow far too many people have made it nowadays. Not that long ago I’d spend Saturdays in disused quarries and muddy fields watching these things being thrown up tricky inclines and bumper first into baths of cold, mucky water. It’s a bit like that wonderful moment when you unleash the Golden Retriever and watch it immediately dive into the nearest pond. Getting grubby and having fun is what old Land Rovers are all about.

But nowadays it’s rare to see a Series I rolling around in the dirt because they’re so valuable, and I suspect it’ll be the same with these ‘new’ ones. There’ll only be 25 of them – making them rarer than a Ferrari F40 or a Bugatti Veyron  – and the price tag of anything between £60,000 and £80,000 means they’ll cost about the same as a BMW M5 or a 911. They’re just too precious for anything approaching proper off-roading.

Yet there is a weird bit of reverse logic to bringing the Series I back, because the parts are greater than the sum. Chances are you’re never going to spend the price of a small house on a 1950s Land Rover but it proves you can get just about any part imaginable for the scruffy old one your mate’s got buried in his garage. Try doing that with just about any other car you could’ve bought new in 1958.

Not being able to get bits anymore affects more cars than you might think. I know of people who struggle to keep cars from distant periods of history like the 1990s going simply because Volkswagen no longer makes obsolete bits of metal for the Corrado’s sunroof. There are loads of perfectly good Rovers, Fords, Peugeots and the like which risk getting thrown away simply because the parts don’t exist anymore. Cars like the MGB and Mini have a big enough cult following to justify the parts being remade, but most don’t. Which means a lot of our motoring heritage risks being killed off because the spares no longer exist.

Land Rover – even if its by showing us a hugely expensive ‘new’ car – is taking a step in the right direction by making the parts. All we need now is for everyone else to follow suit.