Sean O'Grady: More jaw jaw, less class war on 4x4s

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I know, as you should know, what is wrong with 4x4s.

I know, as you should know, what is wrong with 4x4s. They are noisier, less safe (in terms of handling and impact on pedestrians), heavier on fuel, more expensive to buy and run, and generally more wasteful than their car equivalents. I'm afraid I also know what is wrong with the bulk of the anti 4x4 brigade, who were on the streets of the nation's capital last week dressed up as school teachers holding up the traffic and annoying 4x4 drivers.

We should look at 4x4s critically. That is why we cover them in 'Independent Motoring'.

What is deeply depressing is that the militants' tactics seem designed to alienate everyone else who happens to be riding or driving that day including such worthy folk as bus passengers, rickshaw operatives and ambulance crews.

Worse still are their arguments, for too much of their case against the 4x4 seems to be based on a sort of lentil socialism. To the protesters, these cars tend to be driven by rich parents taking their spoiled offspring to private school where they can gain an unfair advantage in life over the children of the proletariat. That may or not be an accurate image of the school run in the more fashionable suburbs of London, but it is not necessarily true of 4x4 drivers nationally. Even if it were, it is not good enough to base the fight against the 4x4 on class hatred. It is no good telling someone in a Range Rover to catch a bus. The anti 4x4 lobby needs to talk to - not shout at - their target. They need to reason with them, not make them late for the office. They need some more appealing arguments. Let's see if I can help.

First, if you live in the countryside and need a 4x4 for off-road use or treacherous conditions, that's fine. For the purposes of this debate you will find it an ideal accompaniment to a weekend's shooting or skiiing. But do you need a big SUV.

You might want to consider something like an Audi all-road estate car, which has better ground clearance than the usual road car and four-wheel drive to keep you out of trouble. Or a Subaru Forester, which is an even more intelligent choie. Either will drive much more nicely than an SUV, but that is a matter for you.

But if your 4x4 tends to do nothing more off road than mount the occasional kerb, and you like it because it's an indulgence, you might want to think about alternative ways to show off your no doubt hard-earned wealth. Why not purchase an Alfa Romeo 166? In case you don't know, this is an expensive, large, exquisitely styled sports saloon that will shed value through deprecation faster than a Peter Mandelson for Prime Minister T-shirt. If you drive any Alfa you are telling the world that you have so much money that you simply don't care about such mundane matters as trade in values.

Then there is the matter of esteem. The ugly bling-bling Porsche Cayenne, for example, is a rather vulgar way of spending £70,000, don't you think? Do you really want people to think you lack taste? Do you want hosts to think you follow the herd by arriving in a BMW X5 or a Volvo XC90? In some of the more prosperous parts of London they're a more common sight than a taxicab.

And what about safety? True, if you hit something in a 4x4 chances are you'll come off best. But you are more likely to find yourself in difficulty, say if you need to swerve at high speed on the motorway, because of the 4x4's high centre of gravity and sometimes primitive suspension set up and long wheel travel. Not to mention the impact it has when it collides with a pedestrian, especially a child. Are you really that socially irresponsible? If you want a vehicle that will save you and yours in an accident and which will handle properly in the first place, buy a Mercedes-Benz E class estate. For sheer space, and seven seats, test drive one of the many excellent people carriers on the market, such as the classy Renault Grand Espace. You get to sit high too.

So I say go ahead; spend £30K, £50K,£70K, more on some wheels. You deserve it. But just remember: You don't have to have a 4x4, really you don't.

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

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