Keep a grip on the road
There's no more controversial group of vehicles on the market at the moment than 4x4s.
They are extremely popular and that popularity is growing but only a fraction of the motorists who buy these all-wheel-drive models ever explore their capacity for off-road travel.
By chance, the features that 4x4s evolved to help them climb rocky hillsides and plough up mud-clogged tracks out in the wilds have endeared them to family buyers in our towns and cities. The problem is that all-wheel drive vehicles have become targets of the environmental lobby.
Much of the criticism levelled at 4x4 vehicles is based around size, whether it's in terms of the extensive exterior dimensions or the gas-guzzling V8 engines that are imagined to be throbbing away under the bonnet. If you want a leviathan off-roader with single figure urban fuel economy, it is possible to get one but most people don't, and that's why the majority of 4x4s sold are from the compact 4x4 sector.
These 'soft-roaders' typically take up no more space on the road than the average family saloon or hatchback and are packing modest petrol or diesel powerplants. Take the biggest selling 4x4, the Land Rover Freelander 2. This is narrower and shorter than a Ford Mondeo, instantly scotching rumours that it's a carriageway hog. What's more, the best selling engine in the Freelander 2, the 2.2-litre TD4, manages 47 miles per gallon, which is none too shabby for a 4x4!
It's well worth keeping the 'problem' in proportion. That's less than one in thirteen new cars registered each year is a 4x4. Of this number, well over half were of the compact variety with economical diesel engines being the preferred pick.
The number of big, thirsty urban four wheel drives sold is actually small.
Buyers often cite the raised driving position and ease of entry as one of the preferred attributes of a 4x4.
Smart manufacturers like Honda, Nissan and Hyundai have started to sell front-wheel drive versions of their '4x4s' into this market and they make a lot of sense.
Customers get the raised driving position and rugged looks but enjoy better fuel economy and lower emissions in the process. At the end of the day, the market regulates relatively well.
It is still possible to salve your green conscience and own a 4x4. It just requires some care, forethought and a little responsibility.