Off-Roading

7 post-quarantine tips for getting your off-roading rig ready to hit the trail

Before you hit the trail, you'll want to follow these tips to make sure your rig is ready.

Photo by Getty Images

The trails are calling your name. Before you hit the road following an extended period of self isolation and driveway storage time, your off-roader may need a little TLC. Here's some quick tips to make sure your rig is ready for off-roading.

Check your tire pressure.

Sure, you may intend to lower the pressure when you hit the dunes, but you don't want to ride low on the way there. Having low tire pressure increases fuel inefficiency and can make you more susceptible to losing control of the vehicle while driving.

Make sure your lights are ready to go.

There are a number of reasons fuses go and sometimes it seems like there's no rhyme or reason. Before you set off, make sure all your lights are working, including the auxiliary ones you may have installed. Also, make sure none of the casings have been damaged and wire housings aren't showing any signs of dry rot.

Step back and examine the bumpers.

Were you parked in the street and got a bump you didn't know about? Has something slumped while parked? A once-around the car is a good idea just to be sure.

Don't forget about the spare tire.

Are there mice living in there? Has something rotted? Take a quick peek to ease your mind.

Check the cooling system.

You don't have to go elbows deep for this one. Just be sure that there's nothing obstructing the air intakes, radiator, etc. Leaves, dust, dander, and animal nests can easily take up residency while your rig sits unused.

Take a low speed spin around your neighborhood or head to a parking lot.

To make sure your steering and braking is as it should be after sitting for so long, get the system going in a safe manner at low speed. Execute tight turns, brake check with no one behind you, and ensure the throttle is working as you hope.

Test your tinkers.

Have you been tinkering with your off-roader during lockdown? Be sure to give it a thorough test drive before you set off for a day of fun, testing all your modifications. Even if you think you have everything right, there still may be something amiss.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Land Rover Defender holds up when compared to the Defenders of the past.

Photo courtesy of Land Rover

If you know anything about extreme off-road expeditions and four-wheel-drive icons, you know the Land Rover Defender. If you have an imprint in your head of vehicles that have roamed the wilds of Africa or the outback of Australia, you'll likely conjure up an image of these stalwart, boxy and tall-legged utilitarian models kicking up dust across the savannah. You might even have a memory of Defenders ferrying British royals around their castle grounds or on hunting and fishing forays.

Since the 80s, this legendary SUV has garnered a fervent fan-following. It has been a workhorse and conqueror of jungles around the globe, but unavailable in the U.S. market since 1997 due to stiffened safety regulations. An all-new version has been reimagined for the 21st century; the five-door 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 is on sale now while its stablemate, the three-door 2021 Defender 90, goes on sale in the new year.

2020 Land Rover Defender The Defender is easy to drive, but steering is a bit heavy.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

The Defender has been engineered on a new all-aluminum unibody platform that is the stiffest Land Rover body ever created; it has short front and rear overhangs that aid in off-roading, with a rear-mounted spare tire. New is a fully-independent suspension, twin-speed transfer box and permanent four-wheel-drive. It has been crafted for personalization with four different Accessory Packs (Explorer, Adventure, Country, and Urban), and the greatest number of individual accessories ever offered by the brand.

I drove the 2020 Defender 110 X on a three-day test drive of more than 200 miles. The tester was set up with a number of options, including electronic air suspension, and retailed for $85,750. The X derivative is adorned with a Gloss Black inset contrast hood with Gloss Black claddings, along with front and rear skid pans and other trim elements that are coated in a Starlight Satin finish, while Windsor Leather and Steelcut Premium Textile accent the interior.

I am a "classic" Defender enthusiast and have driven these models on numerous extreme off-road journeys around the globe, so I approached my evaluation of the new model with a bit of mild trepidation fearing that I would favor the original and eschew the new. There were many pleasant surprises.

2020 Land Rover Defender A day of testing included on- and off-road driving.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

I found the emblematic upright, brick-shaped silhouette had morphed into a more contemporary expression penned with softened lines that will enhance fuel economy over the '97. Its looks are appealing and mesh well with other models in the Land Rover portfolio, with angles of approach and departure that speak to its off-road mission, and up-level styling cues and trim elements.

The interior was not only bright, roomy and ergonomically pleasing but laden with luxe-level comfort and convenience features, such as heated and cooled seats, wireless charging and heads-up display. I appreciated the lockable 1.5-gallon glovebox, deep door pockets and thoughtful array of stowage features.

Off-roading requires supplies and supplies require storage space. The Defender's second-row seatbacks split 40/20/40 for flexibility and loadspace rails on the floor of the rear cargo area come with load retention accessories to keep smaller items from moving around inside. A lockable, heavy-duty steel Security Box adds protection and secures to the loadspace rails; it can hold laptops, tablets and other valuables, while an exposed cross car beam serves as a shelf to hold 1.83 gallons of open storage. A clip-in, washable loadspace cover doubles as a ground mat for picnics or for changing mucky footwear on wet surfaces.

2020 Land Rover Defender The interior of the Defender is upscale with an intuitive infotainment system.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

The drive route took me on fast-moving highways and along slow, meandering byways providing two different opportunities to evaluate the vehicle's design prowess for serious four-wheeling and its intelligent off-road technologies. Defender's road manners were excellent, with a slightly heavy-handed feel to steering. Its responsive suspension brought confidence to navigating its mass of more than 5,000 pounds on tight and twisty tarmac with adaptive dampers monitoring body movements up to 500 times per second and responding almost instantly to optimize body control and comfort.

The Defender, as tested with the available 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, provided an ample 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, seamlessly runs through the gears for smooth up- and down-shifting and its stopping power comes in a measured manner. The engine features mild-hybrid technology which helps it get off the line more efficiently.

Our first foray into off-roading was at the Land Rover Experience Center, in Manchester, Vermont, where a lengthy, wooded off-road course with stretches of technical track provided an opportunity to try out the bevy of intelligent off-road tech, including Terrain Response 2 with its new Wade program (Defender has 35 inches of water fording capability) and Land Rover's new off-road Configurable Terrain Response system, which is designed to set up the Defender for precise conditions using the center touch screen controller. A choice of three settings for the throttle and gearbox response, steering and traction control, lets drivers tailor their Defender.

2020 Land Rover Defender The Defender has 35 inches of fording capability.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

Other cool tech includes advanced All-Terrain Progress Control (moves the vehicle independently at preset speeds) and ClearSight Ground View, a forward-facing camera which was developed for extreme off-road situations, and shows the hidden area directly in front of the vehicle using the central touchscreen.

That touch screen, a 10-inch Pivi Pro system comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and over-the-air updates.

After trying out the 2020 Defender technologies on steep up and downhills, off-camber slopes and through water, we motored on a series of logging roads and dirt tracks to the top of Mt. Equinox, that sits at nearly 4,000 feet along the Green Mountain range, in southern Vermont.

2020 Land Rover Defender A two-tone paint scheme is available.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

Two days of off-roading and multiple miles of driving on paved roads brought confirmed insight. The legendary Defenders of the past will still appeal to purists and will always kick up dirt in the outbacks and savannahs of the world, and likely still ferry the Royals. The new Defender is laudable; it's designed and engineered to appeal to today's buyers and it will soon develop its own fan following.

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The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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