Sunday, 9 February 2014

The roads have been carpet bombed - time for a 4x4?

We've all been noticing the progressive degradation of the country's roads over the past few years, and there's no sign of it getting any better. Everywhere you go the road surface is breaking up, leaving potholes that get completely ignored until someone sues the local council for damage to their vehicle, at which point a couple of men in hi-viz jackets will come along and pour a bit of tar into the offending crater in a half-arsed attempt at a repair. Absolutely useless of course, but with the government cutting the funding for road repairs every year it's not entirely surprising.
A classic example I see every day on the way home from work is on the exit of a certain roundabout on the outskirts of Cambridge which really does look as though the RAF have carried out a carpet-bombing mission on it. Why they'd do such a thing is a mystery - it's not exactly Port Stanley airfield after all, but it's just one of many areas that have suffered from the lamentable lack of maintenance we're seeing all across the road network.
If things don't improve we may see a reversal of the trend of equipping cars with enormous alloy wheels with tyres that resemble a thin rubbery veneer. They may be stylish and give certain handling improvements, but they're seriously detrimental to ride comfort and all too easy to damage on one of the millions of the UK's potholes.
By way of clawing back a bit of the fun I've previously had with motorcycles, I've been giving consideration to treating myself to some sort of hot hatch. The kind of pocket-rocket that puts a silly grin on your face, such as a Polo GTi or a Fiat 500 Abarth. But is that really such a good idea?
As appealing as they may be, I suspect that they may be a bit fragile for roads that increasingly resemble third world dirt tracks. This brings me to the rather worrying conclusion that the most sensible vehicle to be driving in the future is an SUV.
Now these cumbersome road-going leviathans have always been something I've had issues with. There's the whole mummy-wagon thing of course, with so many of them being inconsiderately driven and badly parked by stereotypical bottle-blonde five foot tall women. Or macho alpha-males who may or may not be compensating for a very small penis, especially if their ride of choice is one of those ridiculous Dodge Rams. Then there's the issue of fuel consumption. It's all very well having a commanding view of the road and enough physical presence to intimidate drivers of small cars by sitting six inches off their back bumper at sixty miles an hour, but these small-minded bragging rights disappear when it costs over a hundred quid whenever you have to stop for fuel.
Curiosity got the better of me the other day though, and a quick trawl through a few of the manufacturers websites revealed a new breed of SUV. Surprisingly, there are a number of them out there that buck the established trends by actually being economical. The new Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, and even the Range Rover Evoque are available with diesel engines that return an average of almost 60mpg. If they're also available with compliant tyres and suspension rather than the usual hard setup used to stop them falling over at the slightest whiff of a bend, then this may truly be the way forward. A vehicle with soft suspension, sensible tyre sidewall height, good ground clearance and city car economy. What's needed is for Land Rover to put their nice 150bhp diesel from the Evoque into a Defender 90.With the possible exception of a hovercraft, this sort of vehicle is pretty much the only option for our roads now, unless the government decide to stop being so damn tight-fisted and use some money to fix the roads properly.

Don't laugh. In 10 years time we'll all be driving something like this.