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Jeeps take to the hills.

Byline: By Steve Hughes

I had an interesting experience this week, driving Jeeps in the sort of arduous conditions that they rarely encounter.

Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but it seems a bit of a waste of some of the finest engineering excellence ever devised.

Just how capable these vehicles are can be tested at what is claimed to be the world's finest off-road centre, in the North of England.

People are now travelling to it from all over the UK, to experience the remarkable abilities of the sort of four wheel drive vehicles increasingly the preferred choice of mums taking kids to school.

It is at a place called Tong, just off the motorway near Bradford, where many acres of woodland, hills and rivers have been turned into the UK equivalent of the American Rubicon trail.

Apparently, virtually all off-road enthusiasts use BF Goodrich tyres, which has captured this lucrative slice of the UK aftermarket. Any vehicle equipped with these tyres gets free access to the Tong site, and over the August Bank Holiday weekend it plays host to a Jeep Fest, which is the largest Jeep event in Europe.

Also new this week is the first indication of another new mid-range MPV, from Mazda.

It will be interesting to see just how Mazda has made its newcomer so radically different to all the rest that we will find it the obvious choice.

There are already midi MPVs offering seven seats, such as the Volkswagen Touran and Vauxhall Zafira. There are plenty of others too, most if not all of which offer an infinite variation on the combination of seats and luggage space.

Mazda says that the new Mazda5 will deliver flexible interior design coupled with car-like driving enjoyment into the mid-sized segment.

Curiously, that is precisely what all of its competitors claim too. It makes you wonder just where it will all end, how many more of these vehicles will enter the fray, and just how low prices will be forced to go as they all battle for a share of the market.

Ideally, car companies need to be different from the herd if they are to attract customers, which is precisely what MINI has managed to do so successfully.

I have yet to see two identical MINIs, such is the almost endless ability of the cars to be personalised.

The latest trick is the introduction of a funky new range of luggage for the convertible. It is the creation of Italian fashion designer Mandarina Duck, with a four-piece set that fits perfectly into the cramped confines of the MINI Convertible's boot.

In addition to making a fashion statement, it is intended to show that there is actually more space than you might image.

Each of the four items is available individually, with prices of pounds 60 for the backpack, pounds 85 for the weekend bag, pounds 80 for the messenger bag, and pounds 130 for the boardcase.

Also new for MINI owners is a range of sunglasses, which come in a choice of six designs, at prices from pounds 65.

And finally, it was interesting to see Bernie Snell and his 30-year-old Honda Civic this week.

Bernie had the car when it was new, and has just bought it back for pounds 1,500.

Despite being in daily use, the car is in as-new nick. It is not a Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz, but a humble Honda Civic.

If it can be as good as this after three decades, then so can all cars. All they need is looking after properly.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2004
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