Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

So What's Your 4x4 for?; Wheels: Big Ones, Little Ones - You Can Spot Every Kind of Offroader around London and There Are More New Models to Come, Says Bob Murray

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

So What's Your 4x4 for?; Wheels: Big Ones, Little Ones - You Can Spot Every Kind of Offroader around London and There Are More New Models to Come, Says Bob Murray

Article excerpt

Byline: BOB MURRAY

OFF-ROADERS used to be big clunky things with lots of levers that only blokes in jumpers could operate. They were crude, awkward and thirsty vehicles but suddenly no school run was complete without them.

Children loved their Tonka toy appeal, grownups loved their getoutof-my-way looks, and everyone loved sitting up high.

And now, the unstoppable 4x4s are, well, whatever you want them to be.

Whether you want a car for its performance, pose value, luxury or family-sized accommodation, the answer is, increasingly, to buy an off-roader.

Sales have climbed steadily: in 1998, 99,000 were sold in the UK (4.4 per cent of the market); last year, the figure had risen to 122,000. This year, it is expected to leap to 135,000 (just short of 5 per cent of total sales, and a 10 per cent sales increase overall), and sales show no signs of slowing.

Up to the mid-1980s, the market was dominated by the evergreen workaday Land Rover, and the Chelsea-friendly Range Rover: they had few serious rivals.

Then Suzuki opened the market for trendy, urban chic supermini sized 4x4s with the SJ and later Vitara models. The big, luxury 4x4 sector took off with the arrival of the Mitsubishi Shogun, and the 1990s witnessed an explosion in Range Roverrivalling models from makes such as Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW.

Professor Garel Rhys, automotive guru at Cardiff Business School, says: "The 4x4 market has exploded. It will develop and fragment more, too, with more sporty 4x4s and crossover vehicles. It won't be long before there's a supermini 4x4." There's already a bewildering choice, with around 161 models to choose from, ranging from the pound sterling9,995 Suzuki Jimny (see page 8) to the Range Rover 4.4 V8 Vogue at pound sterling59,995. Car makers are particularly desperate to mop up "premium sector" sales with luxury models offering bigger profit margins, and many of the latest 4x4s tap into this market. …

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