Saturday Jan 16, 2010

Skoda Rapid

A friend from home is selling his beloved Rapid.

A real classic. If I had the storage space I'd buy it in an instant. Not sure if Mrs Saul would approve, but this is a car that must be preserved, as the final bid price reflects!

Saturday Sep 05, 2009

Range Rover top tips

I can only imagine the conversations that go on at Range Rover HQ.

All the experienced engineers sitting around deciding that it's a great idea to use coatings on the door handles, steering wheel and elsewhere that peel in the heat. Then the conversation comes around to the floor and floor mats.

'I know,' says Phil. 'Let's coat the sides of the doorwell with some black stuff that's actually pretty resilient and won't peel in the heat or get damaged too easily, just for a change.'

'Fine by me,' says Dave. 'But for balance, let's fit floor mats with sharp metal edges that cut through that coating after a few years' use. Customers expect consistency after all.'


Do they have a special committee dedicated to reducing resale value as much as is possible?

Have any of them driven a Lexus recently and noticed anything falling to pieces?

I wonder if these quirks have been fixed in the revamps that came after my 2003 model. I expect the answer is 'no'.

Wednesday Aug 26, 2009

Want one

Please may I have one of these?

I wonder what the warranty is and whether after six years the fuel pump, alternator and engine coils will all fail within 6 months of each other?

Thursday Jul 02, 2009

Wrangler's back

Got the Wrangler back with a new clutch assembly today. Not bad - 137,800Kms on one clutch, with lots of heavy offroading use.

It's due another service on 1,000Kms and it looks like I'll need a new water pump, two new engine mounts and possibly a fix to stop coolant leaking from somewhere. That's going to be another 2,000Dhs or so.

Still, it's definitely worth keeping it running for now. I'm hoping these fixes will mean another couple of years of trouble (and cost) free driving. It's been a while since I did anything other than service the Wrangler, so I suppose I should be grateful. As long as it doesn't leave me stranded, it still makes sense to pay for servicing and the odd fix, as opposed to buying a newer car, something I can't afford to do right now. Plus, I don't want to swap this Wrangler for a newer one - more comfy, but this one is clearly a better desert performer.

Monday Jun 15, 2009

2010 Range Rover

Here's a short video from Land Rover's 2010 range launch.

I don't like the new Range Rover bumper - the fog lights look a lot better where they were before. It looks too American for my taste.

The presenter also doesn't mention improved reliability during his speech.

The idea of a TFT screen for the instrument panel is interesting. This just seems like one more thing to fail, however.

I wonder how a 'de-teched' Range Rover would sell? Take out all those unreliable electronics and give us something that looks great and doesn't fall to pieces.

I doubt I will ever be able to afford a brand new Range Rover, so I am not Land Rover's target market. The more unreliable electronics they install also mean I'm far less likely to buy a secondhand one again.

This comes from someone faced with having to spend $1,000 to fix a broken radio in his 2003 model - the radio is part of a small computer that also handles voice control and lots of other useless features. When it breaks, the only option is a whole new computer. Imagine what you'll have to pay when that TFT display stops working?

Imagine the servicing bill for that 2010 model in five years' time - new air coils, new TFT display, broken motors on the seats, steering column, peeling bits of plastic, etc, etc... I can see the 2010's resale value plummeting the moment you drive it off the forecourt.

Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

Clarkson rates the Rangie

Jeremy Clarkson has a great review of a 2006 Range Rover here.

He loves the car - as well he should. The secondhand price seems to appeal to him as well, even if that resale value irritates those who bought new.

I'll be interested to see if he refers to his experiences with his new love over time - let's see what he comes up against in terms of reliability and service costs!

Range Rovers and new Discoveries were in strong evidence when I was in Lagos last week, much to my surprise. Whilst I can't think of a better car to drive around that city in, I cringe at the money their owners must have spent on buying them, let alone on keeping them going.

Peering through the window of a new Discovery, I noticed that Land Rover have, astonishingly, used a coating on the steering wheel and electric window control area that doesn't look like it'll peel off after three days. The new Range Rovers also don't have split headlight covers that allow sand to clog up around the lamps, either. Even more astonishing, it looks like the door handles won't - gasp - start discolouring after being opened twice!

I would love to know who came up with these astonishingly good ideas. I would also like to know who lost their job for making such idiotic decisions in the first place, because, quite frankly, whoever signed off on those design details was a complete buffoon. The decrepit Toyota Cressidas on the streets of Sana'a appear to have dashboards and doorhandles that age better than most 2003+ model Range Rovers, something which is a crime against car design.

This is good news, if I am ever in the unlikely position of being able to afford a secondhand version of the current model myself. Word has it that they are much more reliable as well...

Wednesday Jan 14, 2009

US President to drive around in hideous vehicle

The Jeep aside, I've never been a big fan of American cars. 'Ugly' probably sums the situation up best, followed by impractical and gas guzzling.

The BBC is reporting on Obama's new limo, a vehicle that appears to embody all the worst elements of US auto-styling. It looks like a compilation of all the worst aspects of the US auto industry, neatly combined into one, albeit bullet proof, over the top monstrosity.

Monday Sep 08, 2008

Hard financial decisions to make

New battery, with installation -

- 1,389Dhs from the dealer.

- 310Dhs from our reliable local independent garage.

I will have to think long and hard over that one.

The dealer's quote for 2,000Dhs to fix a broken headlight wiper is doubtless also a little unreasonable.

The car was only serviced at the dealer this time as our usual garage aren't equipped to fix a problem with the radio, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I think it's safe to say that I will be avoiding the dealer like the plague in future.

What's even more irritating than the pricing was the level of customer service. Surly, rude staff, one of them stinking like an ashtray, uninterested in helping, unable to check the car in, unable to give updates, unable to answer their phones. There wasn't even a clear sign telling me where to drop the car off.

Factor the incompetence in with the premium price and it's clear they are not interested in any work that isn't covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

Sunday May 11, 2008

A real Land Rover

Here's a 'real' Land Rover.

The photo was taken by Captain Alexander Allan of the Grenadier Guards, during deployment in Helmand, Afghanistan. My father recently bought this and one other photo at an exhibition in Chelsea Barracks in support of the army's benevolent fund.

The squad is known as an MIT - Mentoring and Instruction Team. Their role was to mentor and train the Afghan National Army.

(The scan has clipped off the chap on the left, but it's still worth posting!)

I'd love to have the chance to drive one of these as well as one of the famous 'Pink Panther' Land Rovers, the first military vehicles to be adapted for the desert.

Photo from

Tuesday May 06, 2008

Supercharged Range Rover - not for dune bashing

Whenever a new Range Rover is brought out, news articles usually breathlessly report that Land Rover have conducted 'extensive testing' in the deserts of the UAE.

I've really no idea what those Land Rover engineers are actually doing, as the Range Rover, despite its many, many good points, is a car that has been hobbled for sand driving - it may be great in mud, water and on rocks, but it fails in the dunes.

Last weekend I got the chance to accompany a friend of ours, Mark Daffey, on a trip to the Empty Quarter to review a 2008 superchared Range Rover. Mark edits Portfolio, Emirates' business and first class magazine. It occasionally features a world leading columnist who also happens to be one of the most interesting bloggers writing today.

We went along in our Wrangler with Sharky, a friend from ME4x4, kindly offering to lead.

I was lucky enough to drive the Range Rover a fair bit.

First impressions were excellent - little's changed on the outside, beyond a new grid design for the front grill and gills. Our 2003 model's interior is beautiful and Land Rover have again left well alone - the addition of a simple cup holder to replace the Heath Robinson style holders of the earlier models, coupled with a few more air vents for quieter AC make a big difference. Getting in and out was easier as well - you have to be careful not to lean too hard on the plastic around the seat on the older model, but Land Rover appear to have positioned things better this time around. Some poor decisions still persist though - the plastic coating around the electric window controls and on the steering wheel appears unchanged. Look at any Range Rover over two years old and you'll see that this coating quickly starts to peel - not something you expect from a car this expensive. Look at a two year old Lexus 470 and I don't think you'll find anything peeling.

The new model sees the BMW 4.4 litre V8 replaced with a Jaguar based 4.2 litre V8. Our supercharged version has 400Bhp roaring under the bonnet. The ride that this delivers, coupled with the Rangie's air suspension, is incredible. This was the first time I've driven a car where flooring the accelerator actually pins you to the back of your seat. Doing this in a 2.5 tonne 4x4 on a rough track really is something else.

On tracks and gentle dunes, the Range Rover's ride quality is truly superb. Bumps are absorbed even at high speeds. I drove the car back down a track I had driven up in in the Wrangler, jolting and bumping along, deafened by AC fans at full blast and noise coming up through the floor. Driving back in the Range Rover was a revelation.

Sadly, when it got to real dune driving, the Range Rover was a colossal let down.

Much of the blame can be pinned on its low profile tyres. Sadly the dealer didn't swap them for higher profile tyres more suited to desert driving, which was a real shame. That said, although they look good, does the Range Rover really need such low profile tyres? 90% of owners will never go offroad, but part of the fun in owning a Range Rover is that you know that you could if you wanted to. Other comparable models - the new Lexus LX570 and even the three tonne Nissan Armada behemoth, for example - ship with tyres that look good but which are much more general purpose.

Whilst riding on gatch tracks and smooth sand was a pleasure, things went south when we tried something more challenging. Deflating the low profile tyres to 13psi didn't deliver a lot of extra grip, but things seemed ok at first. Turning sharply on dunes however filtered up awful grinding noises into the cabin that may have been caused the rims rubbing on the sand. Braking seemed to fail completely as well - touching the brakes at certain key moments felt like metal crushing metal. This may have been sand getting between the discs and brakes, but my Wrangler's front disc brakes have never made sounds like it.

Worse still was the fact that the car's electronics hobble it for this kind of terrain. Dune driving is not usually about approaching things slowly and surely - you need speed, torque and a driver in strict control of how to use it.

My 03 Ranger Rover has a five speed automatic gearbox, with high and low ratio and the ability to select gears 'tiptronic' style. The new model has inherited its offroad features from the LR3. There are various settings - sand, rocks, snow, etc. There's also a six speed automatic in addition, of course, to high and low range.

Mark wanted to get some shots of the car driving along a simple dune. I started off using the 'sand' setting, but had trouble with the gearbox changing up at crucial moments, losing me speed and momentum and forcing me to turn sharply back down a dune that I should easily have been able to cruise along the top of, albeit at a sharp angle.

To counter this, I decided to try low range and manually choose the gears. In the Wrangler, most of my desert driving's done in low range, using third fourth and fifth. The extra torque gives you the power you need without requiring the speed that high-range demands to keep momentum.

Sadly, the Range Rover's gearbox only lets you manually select gears up to third, effectively making it useless for most decent dune driving. This video shows the Wrangler negotiating a fantastic bowl in Sweihan. I'm in fourth and fifth in low range for most of it. Doing something like that in the Range Rover would require you to be in full automatic the whole time, something that would rob the driver of the control he'd need to do it safely.

Third gear was fine for the simple dune we were attacking. At first I was pretty pleased - control and power were put back in my hands. Unfortunately, I kept hitting the kickdown button when flooring the accelerator, which pushed me down into second gear. I don't know if all automatics still have kickdown working when you're in tiptronic mode, but it was a real pain. When you're bouncing around in the desert, you're not able to keep your foot hovering just at the right position to avoid changing down a gear by mistake.

Another piece of electronic wizardry robs the driver of control in the sand. The Range Rover's air suspension can be raised to increase clearance from just under 9 inches up to 11 inches, as well as drastically improving the car's approach and departure angle. Unfortunately, drive over 30 miles an hour and it automatically lowers itself. This is the last thing you want to happen, particularly with a front bumper whose design makes it a big sand scoop.

We drove over a small bump that really shouldn't have been an issue - it certainly wouldn't have been in a Land Cruiser - and caught the bottom of the bumper, cracking it slightly and ripping off the plastic trim that covers the wheel arch.

We decided to call it a day at this point to avoid further damage.

Every review I have read says that the Range Rover is not just a beautiful luxury car, but a very capable offroad vehicle as well, with electronics that really helps the driver. Granted, higher profile tyres would have made a real difference, but the other problems suggest that when Land Rover engineers are testing Range Rovers in Dubai, they're either sticking to the wadis, enjoying the fantastic empty motorways or just making sure the AC works properly. I might take mine to Fossil Rock, but the Wrangler will be tackling future sandy outings.

I did see a local gentleman driving down Beach Road the other day in a Range Rover with fully modified front and rear bumpers and full sand tyres. His changes, coupled with the car's luxury ride, must make it great fun on the dunes. I wonder what he did with the water bottle though? For some strange reason it's embedded into the bumper, making modifications hard.

I should add that the dune driving we did was actually back at our usual stomping ground, Area 53. This was because shortly after airing down...

...we only spent 5 minutes in the sands of Liwa before Sharky was incredibly unlucky and wedged his Discovery. The sun was high and there were no shadows to give away a small dip, which he plunged into sideways, pushing his bumper and winch up a few inches, squashing his radiator. He was easily pulled out...

...but it would have been unwise to continue. Sharky headed home and we drove to Area 53 to get some shots and camp.

To be honest, given the Range Rover's poor performance in the sand, it was probably a good thing.

You can see a video of the Range Rover on the sand track here and pulling out the Discovery here>.

All in all, a good day out, if a little accident prone. Sharky's stuck, the Range Rover's bumper - my Max Air pump also broke, as did Mark's glasses! Maybe it was just not meant to be.

I must say a big thank you to Nick for letting me 'have a go'. Nick is Mark's colleague and he'll be writing the article for Portfolio.

Nothing to break and the driver's in full control:

This is probably your most reliable form of desert transport, however:

Thursday Apr 24, 2008

Web 2.0ey Googley mashuppy serendipityiousness 3.0

I had a quick play with Google Earth today and typed in 'sweihan' for fun, Sweihan being an area we've done two trips to recently.

Sweihan duly appeared and I noticed that someone had associated a video with the location in Google Earth. Clicking launched a YouTube video - looking closely I recognised a stylish and particularly well driven Jeep Wrangler. Mine! It turned out that the video had been taken by Dimitry, who'd been on the first trip we'd done and had posted a short video onto YouTube. Cool!

Here's the vid -

Wednesday Mar 19, 2008

Sweihan Trip

The Wrangler's new radiator seems to be doing its job...

Start in low range, third gear, then up to fourth and fifth, down into fourth and third coming back down to let the engine do the braking. When you're in the bowl it's quite hard to see where you are exactly - you're just surrounded by sand! The guys with Nissan Patrols and tiptronic gears found things a little easier. Spend too much time changing from third and up on the Wrangler and you lose power when you need it, spend too much time with the clutch depressed when coming down and you have a tonne and a half of Jeep with no power and control whizzing ever downwards.

An incredible trip, this one. Really pushed me in terms of understanding what the car can do. No major stucks all day, either. The bigger the dunes, the less often people seem to get wedged.

Here's the view over the edge of the bowl. We didn't drive down from there - this time at least...

What lies beneath...

Radiator explosion pics

Here are some pics of my broken radiator from the other week's trip to Area 53.

It went bang after some harder than usual pounding up a rather large dune - the garage said it was caused by a faulty radiator cap. Apparently the cap is more than just a simple lid, but also acts as a valve, releasing pressure when needed.

It's now fixed and seems to be working fine.

Gingerly approaching the still steaming Wrangler...

2,000DHs worth of broken plastic.

Duncan had a great stuck earlier on in the trip. As usual, the worse they look, the easier they often are. He just drove the Pathfinder down the dune, righting it in the process.

Helping Babu move the Wrangler onto the truck by the power of only one hand.

Why worry about getting stuck when this awesome team of desert geniuses is on hand... to get even more stuck than you.

Monday Jan 28, 2008

Area 53, again

We had a great trip to Area 53 again a couple of weeks ago. Why Area 53 again? Because it's great fun to drive around!

I love this picture, courtesy of Mrs Saul, of Simon being de-stucked. Note he's attached to another stuck car. This is why you go out in threes....

Pete had a sticky moment too. Whilst we were digging him out before giving him a push, some helpful guys on quad bikes drove up and asked if we needed any help, which was very friendly of them. I declined as we were fine. 'Push him down the hill' was their helpful advice. Thanks chaps, I'd never have worked that one out.

Unusually we saw some camels right at the top of a big dune 'hill'. Usually they stay around the base of the steeper hills, but they were obviously feeling as adventurous as we were.

So far we've had some great drives this season. I'm that bit more confident and am happy to lead trips where previously I would only have followed.

Up and over.




« July 2016