Voices

The Accidental Offroader

I heard it with the Jaguar F-Pace, and again with the Maserati Levante…

EVERY TIME I TEST a luxury SUV two comments will be made; who’d take it offroad, and it can’t be very good anyway. Both are wrong.

Now, I don’t think anyone looking for a 4WD tourer is going to cross-shop a Levante or F-Pace with a Pajero Sport, LC200 or Fortuner. And if anyone asked me for an offroad tourer I’d advise them to choose something that features heavily in the catalogues from the likes of Ironman, ARB and TJM. But there’s a wide range of offroading between a well-formed dirt road at one extreme, and winching up a muddy hill in your supercharged, twin-locked JK running 37s with disconnects at the other.

Luxury SUVs are likely to see what I call accidental offroading, where you’re not looking for it but it happens anyway. I did mock the concept of “adventure picnicking” but there is some truth in that; say you’ve got a big property and you want to drive down to the river along a dirt track maybe just used by tractors. Your Maserati Ghibli or Jaguar F-Type isn’t going to do that, but your Levante and F-Pace will.

Or perhaps you’re at the ski resort and there’s some unexpectedly deep snow. Maybe you’re near a beach and you decide to go for a drive. Or out at the horse paddock and it turns a bit rough and muddy. Or the path to your paragliding launch point is too rocky for a roadcar. Now some may scoff at such terrain and say it’s not offroading at all, but it is – because a roadcar couldn’t do it.

Trivially easy offroading, but beyond the capability of most roadcars. The Levante has no problem with its all drive system and raised air suspension.

This sort of offroading should be, and mostly is well within the capabilities of the better luxury SUVs. And that’s why I think an element of offroad capability is important. It doesn’t take much; just a proper all-wheel-drive system, preferably rear-biased, electronics that leave brake traction control on but disable engine traction control, reasonable clearance, good power and a multi-speed gearbox. Both F-Pace and Levante tick those boxes, and Levante also offers the big advantage of height-adjustable air suspension.

You’re not going to see either tricked up as showcars at 4WD events, but that doesn’t mean to say they don’t have useful capability and the owners don’t appreciate it.

Do you own a luxury SUV that you’ve done some minor offroading in? Please let us know in the comments below, by email or maybe think about submitting a Reader’s Write.

Further reading


  • JaiNormosone

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I had the understanding that the major limitation of the luxury SUVs (apart from only ever being intended as shopping trolleys and kiddie transporters) was their tyres not being suitable for the offroad conditions that the motor and electronic aids were made to handle?

    • You are quite correct JN. The two problems are the profile and the construction. Low profile and construction for high speeds. That’s why the Jaguar F-PACE was good with its 255/55/19 tyres – available in offroad design – and even standard comes as XL construction.

  • Steve Bekkers

    we take our 2004 touareg off road quite a bit, with the 18″ rims and 255/70 general grabbers it goes places you wouldn’t expect. It has locking diffs, low range and the air suspension is handy as it gives over 300mm clearance. we often tow a camper trailer over sand tracks and rocky climbs. the bonus is when its time to head home that long highway drive is a pleasure with the 10 speaker sound system playing the tunes and the V10 loping along doing 1500rpm at 100kph.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com