My sedan has more ground clearance than your SUV!

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    Default My sedan has more ground clearance than your SUV!

    On Sunday I realised once again how unrealizable off-road capability expectations are created by SUV manufacturers in terms of misleading specifications and ambiguous parameters in their brochures in order to clinch a sale to a prospective buyer.

    I of course knew this from my own unfortunate experience, and at the time compiled a "How to see (more?) clearly when buying a softroader" article which I have sent off to a motoring magazine.

    It was unfortunately not published, but colleagues I distributed it to, thought it useful in their subsequent buying experience. Maybe they were just kind.

    I'm now posting it here in installments with the purpose of reducing the "school fees" of other buyers of softroaders. Some readers could hopefully benefit from this. Others could perhaps only shake their heads and say: "I KNEW this!", but at least be forwarned for next time.

    Part 1

    Advice in magazines regarding the methodology of softroader selection is generally given by seasoned expeditioners who had cut their teeth on mechanical-based 4-wheel drive systems for decades and has recently progressed to SUVs as the technology changed. This is an uncomfortable situation where one has to “let go” of a familiar concept which has become second nature (because it works) and now embrace a new technology (which only SOMEtimes works – but getting there).

    Such opinions are not necessarily biased, but for the novice, perhaps a perspective from the other end of the scale – i.e., what could be fairly expected from a softroader in exceeding the capabilities of a sedan (from where the buyer wants to upgrade) – would be useful.

    So rather the “half-full glass” viewpoint instead of the “half-empty” one, i.e. what can it do better (compared to a road car) than what it can inevitably only do worse (than a traditional 4x4).

    In other words, advice for those who find it interesting to read (and watch on TV) about the amazing feats of pucker 4x4s, which:

    · can reach the North Pole quicker than a pack of dogs pulling a sled
    · circumvents the earth along the equator
    · rolls over when the tyre pressures are wrong
    · loses a front/rear bumper when on expedition through the Namib

    but in spite - or perhaps because of - this, still does not want one. If you were to adapt the lyrics chanted by Sting in the opening bars of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” (off Brothers in Arms), it would go: “I want my SUV....”

    As the definition of an SUV is rather vague, a number of manufacturers depend on this ambiguity to get their “car” certified as such. From my humble experience, 4-wheel drive and traction control does not an SUV make.

    E.g., a typical conversation regarding SUV qualities at a dealership, could go something like this: What are the capabilities of this Sport Utility Vehicle?

    Well sir, just the other day I put my paddle ski on the roof rack and my son’s bicycle in the back – these are our respective sports – so as an Suv, pretty good.

    From a utilitarian viewpoint, just the week previously, my wife bought two chairs at a car boot sale, and brought it home in this very car. Later that same afternoon, I managed to squeeze 10 (ten!) green bags with garden refuse into the boot (although I had to fold ONE rear seat section down) and took it to the dump. So this proves its abilities as an sUv.

    Yes, but how good is it off-road? Well sir, we don’t rightly know, as thus far, you are the first person to ask that question. But if you read this nice glossy brochure we have here, you will see that it has everything you need in order to go off-road, after all, it IS an suV, and you know the brand.

    So for the purposes of this article, a softroader is defined as an SUV without low range. The Forester is included in this category, as when you do the sums, low-range first gear has a similar ratio (km/h per 1000 rpm) than first gear on a number of current SUVs with six-speed transmissions.

    What has happened so far
    The basic message by Andrew Roy (Leisure Wheels, October 2009 – Buying your first 4x4) was “Don’t read – test drive”, which is of course the sensible thing to do, also in the case softroaders. However, in Andrew’s case, he was looking for a used vehicle.

    It is doubtful you’ll find a dealer willing to loan you a car off the showroom floor over a weekend, just so you can go hacking through the bushes with it. To counter this obstacle, there are a number of checks one can do after reading the reviews advertisements to confirm their legitimacy. Either on the dealer floor, or if you don’t mind people looking at you funny or getting arrested on suspicion of sabotage, in any mall parking lot.

    The background to this education was the terrible mistake of, after really getting tired of digging my sedan out of the sand one December holiday, unwittingly buying the most capable softroader at the time (2001 Subaru Forester 2.0GX) and expecting that, 7 years (and >200,000km) later, surely all softroaders must by now be better and more capable off-road due to the addition of traction control. After all, the only electronic trickery that model Forester had, was ABS (OK then, also two air bags), and not even the LSD as fitted to later models – and it punched way above its weight (still does).

    Sadly, this expectation turned out to not be the case, and it is this process of eliminating the “lesser equal softroader” from the equation, that is presented here. Awareness of this information may still only lead to a compromise at best but hopefully now, an informed one (i.e. what is it going to cost extra to get this car to do what it should) with fewer surprises after purchase. At the same time avoiding the title of this article being applicable to you.

    Still, deemed seems to be the most accurate description of the suitability of any softroader you could choose for trail and mild off-road use, as no doubt, there will be something that the car cannot do which even the most meticulous research could not have told you prior to your purchase.
    Last edited by JJJ; 2011/02/14 at 07:48 AM.

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