Can soft-roaders cut it?
Shooting Times & Country|July 14, 2021
The range of options in the crossover market is mind-boggling, but Ed Coles steers through the choices and offers up his five top picks
RICHARD FAULKS

Recently, as I waited to pull out from Chateau Coles, it occurred to me that every other passing car had the silhouette or styling of a 4x4. The look of a 4x4 has taken over from the necessity of one. The soft-roader, or crossover, has definitely come of age. Virtually every manufacturer offers at least one 4x4 lookalike, but can they do what the packaging indicates?

Modern life dictates our transport needs. Most people, including the country-inclined, ultimately need to get from point A to point B while acting as a taxi for the family, carrying out household chores, transporting four-legged family members, getting to work and, in our case, if we’re lucky, going on a few sporting adventures too. When you’re predominantly road-based, a full-time 4x4 isn’t always a top priority, and owning a pickup is a bit niche.

The practicalities of the pickup don’t always work in our favour. Child seats are always tricky and some pickups don’t come with Isofix for the wee ones. They can be fun in tight car parks and some family members may be reluctant to take that ‘great big thing’ out.

Driving in town can be a pain and is not so economical. So step forward the crossover. One of the first times I heard the term crossover was when Nissan brought out its Juke model. Essentially, it had taken its Micra shell, fitted some longer suspension to make it sit slightly higher and given it a more rugged appearance.

That, in essence, is what a crossover is — a car-based chassis/shell, higher suspension and some off-road aesthetics. Most are two-wheel drive, but usually come with a 4x4 option.

“The two things we need for successful country adventures are traction and height”

Then we have the slightly more traditional SUV or soft-roader. Often developed from a proper off-roader to meet the growing needs of the consumer, the Suzuki Vitara springs to mind. There was a time when it was closer to being a farmer’s runaround rather than a family all-rounder. Nowadays it’s closer to a car with a few agricultural bits. The same can be said for the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. They have urbanised slightly, but that’s what the market dictates and they’ve built up brands within brands.

To throw a curveball into the mix, we also have the dual-purpose estate vehicles to think about. A similar principle to the crossover, these take a family estate, change the suspension and give it 4x4. All have their merits and potentially some hindrances.

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