x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Big, nasty SUVs can reach places saloon cars can't

While you may feel the UAE's road network is well-developed, but to reach beyond the built-up areas, you are driving on sand or rocks.

If you have just arrived in the UAE or are planning on changing vehicles, you might be considering whether a 4x4 vehicle is really necessary.

We live in cities, a large network of tarmac roads at our disposal. No doubt you have heard that most SUV owners never set tyre off-road, so why not forgo the whole SUV fad and get a regular, sleek, economical street car?

As an off-road enthusiast you can probably guess what my preference is, but here is why.

The UAE and its neighbouring countries are exceptional for allowing open access to public lands. If you are from Europe or the US there is practically no off-road left anymore - everywhere is private land, fenced in, and what is public is normally off-limits to smoke-belching, wheel-spinning vehicles. In fact, there are off-roading parks built specifically so 4x4 enthusiasts can find a place to drive around.

If you are from a densely populated Asian country, then off-roading is also getting scarce, unless you drive several hundred kilometres away from the cities.

In the UAE, however, off-roading is everywhere and sometimes the only way to reach the most beautiful spots. Biking and hiking are not quite feasible due to the climate, remoteness and even soft surfaces one would have to navigate.

While you may feel the road network is well-developed - and it is if your destination is a shopping centre or government building or other urban facility - but to reach beyond the built-up areas, you are driving on sand or rocks.

And on sand, you will not drive farther than a few metres in a two-wheel-drive car. There is more of a chance your saloon can gingerly plod along a hard, dusty track, at least until the foot of mountains, after which you can proceed on foot, but the suspension system will not last long when abused that way.

However, a four-wheel-drive vehicle opens up the entire territory to exploration. Not only to race around dune-bashing like a madman, but also to grant you access to the many natural and archaeological wonders in the region.

Did you know there are waterfalls streaming down tight wadis and that there are water holes in gorges that are deep enough to jump in from cliff-height?

There are mountain viewpoints that will take your breath away and ancient forts that lie undisturbed. And then there is the open dune desert ... Besides access to nature, SUVs also carry more cargo and, since trips to the outdoors require a vehicle, camping in the UAE tends to be comfortable in that we can carry the conveniences and amenities we choose to, as opposed to a week-long hike where all you have is what you can carry in your backpack.

So, we bring large, airy tents and coolboxes loaded with fresh meats, and giant barbecues, and wood for bonfires, and inflatable mattresses with our home pillows and duvets.

Lastly, our roads are dangerous and, sadly, the chances of an accident are not too remote. While saloon cars are built to the same exacting safety standards as SUVs, with crumple zones, airbags and all, the fact is that the tests are run under conditions where the car bumpers collide at a standard height. Next time you see a saloon parked next to a big SUV notice the difference in height of the bumpers, which means that, in a collision, the SUV rides straight over the saloon's impact zone, bypassing the bumper and directly into the body.

I prefer my family to be in the biggest, nastiest 4x4 I can find. For safety, and access to the most beautiful spots, it's the only way to go.