Since I’ve been off-roading I can’t stand to see great big 4x4s caged in by the urban environment and swamping our city roads. The experience has made me realise exactly what these vehicles are capable of and where they really belong.
It annoys me when I see them lined up outside schools taking up pavements or partially blocking the road. Passing the frenzy of 4x4s and SUVs during the school run is not a terribly fun experience and it always gets me wondering – do people really need their commuter cars to be that big?
These types of vehicles used to have a very practical off-road purpose and were driven mostly by farmers and landowners. Now, more and more people are driving them on the road as every day cars and many never get to run free across the countryside.
Generally, families like 4x4s because of their space, good ride height and the protected feeling of driving something so big can offer. Some people drive them because of the great road presence 4x4s have which makes the driver feel dominant on the road. Many of these ‘big and brash’ bruisers make great status symbols to some people and this is another reason why they are so popular on the roads.
I’m not completely against 4x4s and I can understand the attraction of sitting up high in a big gleaming piece of metal feeling safe and superior. But this was never really the intended purpose of these heavy-duty machines.
It’s a shame that many of these 4x4s never get to really show people what they are made of. Instead they are trapped in the small towns and cities longing to be let loose in open fields, along muddy tracks and farmland – negotiating rough terrain.
When I went off-roading it felt great to set one free back into its native environment. Off-roading is immense fun and it’s great to get away from the restrictions and traffic on the road.
We bounced along, tackling huge ditches and big muddy mounds. At the bottom of one steep hill the instructor told me to “accelerate, accelerate, accelerate”. I did as he asked and at the top we couldn’t see anything beneath the hill because it was that steep.
My adrenaline was pumping and then the instructor told me to take my feet off all the pedals in order to let the 4×4 do all the work. I nervously hovered my foot over the brake pedal all the same, half closed my eyes and anticipated a sudden drop.
Thankfully, the Mitsibishi L200 that I was driving took over like the instructor had told me it would and its crawl ratio transported us steadily down the decline. This is an impressive piece of technology and one that wouldn’t see the light of day on the road in our domesticated 4x4s.
In the woods we dodged trees and splashed through sticky black mud. I soon found that the best way to negotiate the rough terrain was to keep the acceleration consistent – selecting the appropriate drive for different stages of the course.
I got a great thrill out of driving sideways on at crevasses and up hills of slippery mud only to career straight back down them again – this time with no fear and complete trust in the clever off-roader. I’d encourage anybody to have a go at off-roading whether they have a 4×4 or not because it is a great experience that can instill confidence in your driving abilities.
I really enjoyed the skilled aspect to off-roading and I liked assessing the varied and difficult terrain and thinking about how best to get across it. Off-roading can be a refreshing experience away from the dull ‘stop, go’ of city driving and surrounded by the open countryside.
Seeing 4x4s in action around the terrain they were built for made me appreciate them. However, everytime I do see one on the road around town, not fulfilling its purpose and without any splashes of mud over its bodywork my heart does sink. It’s a great shame restricting these beasts to the road.