Project Budget 4×4: Off the tarmac at last!

I didn’t actually set off from home with the intention of tackling some local byways, but found myself in Nant-y-Moch. I’d gone for a drive primarily to get some new photos of the Maverick and also to help the new brake pads and discs bed in. The Nant-y-Moch area has many byways, though still some idiots insist on heading off-piste. I always stick to the routes signposted by Tread Lightly as I consider myself a responsible 4×4 owner.

On the drive over there, while I checked that my injured back was up to it, I began to compare the Maverick to the Range Rover I owned last year. The Range Rover was the first European 4×4 that made any attempt to behave like a car. It was quick, comfortable and handled well. That was by the standards of 1970 though, and by 2011, my 20 year old Rangie felt far too much like a wallowy barge.

The Maverick behaves much more neatly, with controlled bodyroll and a surprisingly comfortable ride for such a short 4×4 – though it can’t match the Rangie for sheer comfort. It beats it hands down for handling though, with a delightfully sharp turn in. You do have to be careful though. It’s rear wheel drive only on the road, with a limited slip differential and the short-wheelbase combining to make a spin an easy possibility if you aren’t careful. I am careful, but I do bear it in mind.

After a pause for photos, I decided to tackle one of the Nant-y-Moch lanes. I know it pretty well, so I knew that there shouldn’t be anything too challenging. Heading away from tarmac on your own is always a risk though, especially in a new vehicle.

Ford Maverick green lane

The Maverick tackles a Nant-y-Moch byway

Once on to the rock and gravel track, I dropped it into 4-wheel drive and the low ratio gearbox. That gives greater control and as this lane is mainly rocky, and I was not wanting to damage my back, I would be travelling slowly. Initial impressions were good. While the ride was firmer, I wasn’t in any pain and a few tricky sections were tackled without a lack of traction.

Pictured is a sinuous, rocky climb up a very narrow passage. The Maverick seemed to be handling this fine, and while the petrol engine lacked the lugging torque of the Range Rover’s diesel, it was making light work of this. All good.

Then I got stuck. One very rocky section required maximum flex from the suspension. I hadn’t considered that it would struggle here as the Range Rover just plodded through here using its massive axle articulation to keep all wheels on the ground. The Maverick came to a wheel-spinning halt. I tried a bigger dose of power, but it was no good. No traction here, despite that limited-slip rear diff.

The only option was to reverse. This is the good thing about getting stuck on an incline. It’s usually quite easy to get yourself moving again. I then tackled the section with more momentum, in low second. This time – and no doubt with at least one wheel waving in the air – it cleared the obstacle. Phew!

For a modern 4×4, the Maverick actually has pretty decent axle articulation, but chatting with friends on the Nissan 4×4 Owners Club, it seems likely that the rear anti-roll bar is hampering flexibility. The advice is to remove it, but I shall consider this decision for a little longer yet.

There then followed some icy fording sections, reminding me that it had been very cold out this way recently. Thankfully the depths were not an issue and I was soon able to return to the beaten track once more.

So, there we have it. My first off-road spell and I’m pretty impressed. It struggled with axle articulation, as I suspected it might do, but I did not get irretrievably stuck and it felt very capable. A longer, more challenging route will be attempted as part of a group this coming weekend. I shall report back.