Weakness in numbers
Opinion: Off-Roading at the Mall
We Americans. We’re proud, we’re tough, and we’re just not all that purposeful sometimes, are we? Cases in point: we wear work boots to nightclubs to be hip; we wear diving watches and sit at the shallow end of the pool; we drive big SUVs and trucks with locking differentials and barely manage to negotiate speedbumps at the local strip mall parking lot. Of course, there’s been a shift in the market due to the rise in fuel prices (yes, rest of the world, we know our “petrol” is subsidized), and that shift has made its way toward smaller, lighter crossovers with more efficient engines. Even some of these smaller versions are quite capable when it comes to the rough-and-tumble world of unpaved roads and muddy trails. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to change the way we use them. We want our cake, but only so we can stare at it through the plastic wrap. It’s just the way we are.
MORE DELICIOUS DIRT: 2013 Range Rover | Behind The Wheel: Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG | GP Short: Ford Racing F-150 SVT Raptor Assault
In 2011, my wife and I traveled to Hawaii’s Big Island and rented a Jeep Wrangler for the week, largely because it was affordable and fun. At the tail end of the trip on the way to the airport, we wanted to see one of the green sand beaches that happened to be accessible only by way of 4×4. Without any serious off-roading experience, I was both intimidated and fascinated by the prospect of doing it without instruction. Little did I know it was a two-hour round trip over hills, huge rocks and divots the size of small cars. There were moments we didn’t think we would conquer the obstacles, but the Jeep proved to be unstoppable. Strategic driving and patience, coupled with the car’s renowned capabilities, left us exhilarated, and a memory was made. What we did that day with the Jeep opened my eyes to the distinct pleasures of what the Jeep was created to do. Like a swine in slop, it was in its stomping grounds.
The Jeep proved to be unstoppable. Strategic driving and patience, coupled with the car’s renowned capabilities, left us exhilarated, and a memory was made.
But this isn’t how we Americans drive our four-wheelers. We put Salad Shooter rims and ribbon tires on them, strap Christmas wreaths to the grilles, and maximize the spend on our Costco runs. I’m sorry, but putting racing tires on a Chevy Suburban is like buying a Corvette with an automatic transmission. It’s not what SUVs were meant to do, really, but we’ve been so adamant about our limitations that the market has responded by largely downplaying SUV’s and trucks’ utilitarian natures and upping their comfort. Take one look at the high-end interior of the Ram 1500 pickup and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
And then there are the worst violators of all — the guys with big black SUVs festooned with quad Hella lights and enough brush guards to build a fence who likely never venture beyond their suburban paved havens. It should make you feel less manly when you go so far and spend so much to posture so.
Sure, I’ve heard the rationalization that SUV drivers love the high riding position (obstructing the road view of every other driver in the process), and despite the less-strict safety standards for SUVs and trucks, drivers say they feel safer. It’s like saying being overweight makes us feel more padded for unexpected impacts. What we’ve done, in effect, is robbed ourselves of the experience that birthed such vehicles.
I’m not saying we need to do canyon runs with our Audi Q5s, but I am saying that we need to live a little by going off the beaten path. If you have a truck or SUV, take the family to Colorado — or even just the local range — to go camping. If you’re fortunate enough to drive a Range Rover, take one of their off-roading courses to learn the true capabilities of your bespoke workhorse. You’ll find that your world is expanded, your skill set has grown and you can proudly drive around the neighborhood with gobs of mud stuck to your rocker panels.