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Road rage

Head to head: Are four-wheel-drives the ultimate car or a sad menace on city roads? Land-Rover's David Goggins goes bumper to bumper with James May of `Top Gear'
Pro-four-wheel drive

"People love driving 4x4s. There's a whole specialness to them - you're sitting up high and it gives you a sense of being above the world. Critics ask, `What's the point of driving an off-roader on the road?' and talk as if the two are mutually exclusive, but that's not the case. With 4x4s you've got all the benefits of a saloon or estate car as well as the potential for going off the beaten track, exploring and having a bit of an adventure - something you can't do in an ordinary car. With any car you get people who buy it just to make some kind of fashion statement, but I don't see anything wrong with that and it certainly doesn't take away from the genuine capabilities and appeal of the vehicle itself. Anyway, it's not true that owners of 4x4s never take them off the road - our research shows that 90 per cent of Defender owners go off road, and well over half of Discovery owners go off road once a week.

To say that they shouldn't be driven in urban areas is totally nannyish. Should we ban sports cars then for going too fast? Where do you stop? You'd end up with everybody walking. Driving 4x4s in cities is not at all anti-social and is in fact probably better all-round than driving an ordinary car. If you're up high you've got better visibility and can see what's going on - that makes for a safer driving environment. The idea that you are detached from reality by sitting up higher is just nonsense. As for bull bars, people use them in cities for the same reason they put nudge-bars on Minis in Paris - they protect your car from someone backing into it when parking. There should be the freedom of choice to drive what you want and as 4x4s are one of the fastest-growing areas in the car business, it's clear people have already made their choice."

David Goggins is brand manager of Land-Rover UK

Anti-four-wheel drives

"4x4s originated in areas with bad roads and rough tracks, where people needed something rugged with four-wheel drive to get them out of potholes and so on. So driving them in urban areas? It's completely pointless and basically makes you look a bit of a berk. It's a style statement, I suppose, but I find it rather an inadequate one. It seems to me that people are trying to say that they're go-anywhere adventurous types, but the truth is that the vast majority of them are ferrying children to school or picking up groceries. All these `luxury off-roaders' with their leather interiors and wood veneer - the last thing in the world you'd want to do with a car like that is to take it out into a muddy field because it would be almost impossible to clean. It's a total paradox. I only know one person who has an off-roader and actually uses it off-road.

These vehicles have got everything you'd imagine a macho car to have, high ground clearance, big fat tyres, big chunky box styling and lots of gadgets, not to mention bull bars. In urban areas bull bars are not only unnecessary - when was the last time you saw a wild animal running on the road in the city? - but also dangerous and anti-social. And because 4x4s don't count officially as cars (they count as something like supplementary agricultural vehicles), they are not subjected to the same crash test rules as normal cars. If a serious off-roader, like a Nissan Patroller or a Land-Rover Discovery, is in a collision with a normal hatchback, because the off-roader has a very rigid separate chassis they tend to make a real mess of the car they hit. When you're in a 4x4 you may have an impression of safety, and you may enjoy it, but at the end of the day, it's not so great for us other road users."

James May presents `Top Gear' and drives a Jaguar 4L Sovereign

Interviews by Fiona McClymont