The other day I spent three hours under the baking sun on the slopes of the Bausher sands. Alright, I don’t think they should be called the Bausher sands anymore – let’s just call them the Al Khuwair dunes. That’s because the rapid pace of development seems to have overwhelmed the entire stretch of the sands from the exit off the Muscat expressway till the College of Banking and the hospital further on – the slopes of the dunes on your left are now hidden by a row of new or under-construction buildings and even the little paths that allowed you access to the sands are now blocked by fences or construction material.
We had gone there to prove that the Honda CrossTour could and would be an effective sand buster. Since the vehicle is not capable of straddling fences, we had to approach the sands from the other side – Al Khuwair, where there are literally hundreds of quads on hire.
A short climb later and the CrossTour was doing rounds of the slopes, eating up the sand, even with road wheels and fully inflated tyres. So what’s the catch, you ask and there is one. In one moment of unbridled over confidence I reversed the car onto the wrong path and managed to bridge it between two sand humps – something that wouldn’t have been a cause of concern in any decent self-respecting off-roader with either differential locks or a low ratio or indeed a higher ground clearance. Three hours later, I had relearned a few lessons, some novice grade and some decidedly more advanced. Take a support vehicle (a capable one), a strong tow cable or sling and lots of water and never, never allow anyone to help you if you can’t establish their skill level. Our rescuers managed to dig the car further into the sand because they believed that their expertise lay in their origins.
Three hours later the deeper lessons that I learned were that the CrossTour is very capable on sand and off-road as long as you don’t make errors, because it does not have much give room. When car companies make such a loud noise about the feature packs of their off-roaders its because you need to over engineer for morons. Just the week before the sun-tan session I had spent a couple of days in the back country of the UAE testing the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the simple story that the GC tells is one of understanding the whole concept of having the right hardware for the emergency that’s bound to come up.
The issue we have nowadays is that in more places around the world – the concept of the off-road is becoming tamer or non-existent in may cases. As roads replace tracks into the wilderness, the chance that you will actually take your 50,000 dollar SUV off the road is becoming more remote. The SUV itself reflects that – with large rims, low-profile tyres and the switch over to a monocoque body along with the disappearance of the highly desirable differential locks in favour of an LSD or even brake-operated controls.
And the time you really miss having a capable drivetrain is when you are stuck in sand at the mercy of passers-by who have bought Wranglers and Land Cruisers because they can afford to – not because they ever want to come on the sand. In fact we got out once we had borrowed a high-quality parachute webbing harness from the owner of an FJ Cruiser, who diffidently left his car on packed ground level rather than bring it up the slopes. It wasn’t as if we could judge him, or the other gentleman who spun our wheels into the sand so that we crested the underbody, or even the man who thought that a thin cotton rope could pull us out. I had managed to get the car in that position in the first place so nobody was listening to good sense after that.
If you haven’t got stuck – good luck to you and the averages. If you have, you’ll realise that it’s part of the learning process – with my primary lesson being, don’t do stupid reversing manoeuvres without scouting the terrain!