Mokka shows off its rugged capabilities on some of the network of ‘secret’ green lanes that criss-cross the country.
The average British motorist wastes a weighty 30 hours a year stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. According to sat-nav manufacturer TomTom, that figure can even rise above a blood-boiling 80 hours if you’re lucky enough to be commuting in Belfast, London and Edinburgh.
Today we are trying a novel solution: we’ll be bypassing that rush-hour chaos by tapping into Britain’s network of green lanes – the ancient unpaved routes that remain a secret – and are off-limits – to most motorists, simply because normal cars often can’t negotiate them. Greenlaning can be a lot of fun, but remember: your car must be road-legal, you must hold a full driving licence, and fines and penalty points can be meted out to the irresponsible.
Of course, we’ll need a car that’s as happy trawling through town as it is crawling down deeply-rutted green lanes. That car is the Vauxhall Mokka. The Mokka marks Vauxhall’s entry into the popular compact-crossover segment for the first time, and combines all the benefits of a large family hatchback with the versatility of a small off-roader.
It costs from just £16,474 and certainly looks the part, with its rugged, go-anywhere sense of adventure and an extremely eye-catching appearance. Inside, the stylish design continues, with door casings that sweep gracefully into the dashboard, and materials that both look good and feel sturdy. The Mokka’s practical, too, with plenty of leg- and head-room, impressive cabin stowage, a spacious 362-litre boot, and versatile 60/40 split-folding rear seats that can release up to 1372 litres of luggage space when required.
Come 5.30pm, sure enough the centre of town is clogged, although the Mokka appeases us, being a comfortable and enjoyable car to drive on the road. It’s well equipped, too. You can choose from four trim levels: Exclusiv, Tech Line, SE and Limited Edition. All get a high level of specification, including DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, automatic lights and wipers plus dual-zone electronic climate control.
The base Exclusiv trim also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and leather steering wheel with in-built audio controls. The Tech Line trim, meanwhile, adds Navi 950 IntelliLink Sat Nav over the Exclusiv model.
“It’s also highly recommended that you bring an OS map to help you find your way.”
You won’t find a green lane in your sat-nav, though. Try Trailwise, a national record of rights of way in England, Scotland and Wales. You can click on a map of the UK, and zoom in on an area of interest, or just type in a location and the radius you’d like to search. It’s also highly recommended that you bring an OS map to help you find your way.
We turn off the major route, cut down a back road, and after a couple of miles there are what appear to be two gravelly farm tracks spearing off from either side of the paved road. The only thing that’s green about them are the ‘byway’ signs pointing in each direction. But this is crucial: we mustn’t drive along footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways, and it can be easy to get confused. A quick check of the map confirms that this is indeed our green lane, and we leave the paved surface for the first time.
At first, the going is almost disappointingly easy, but after just a few minutes the lane narrows dramatically, the gravel surface ends and we’re driving along the kind of route your mind conjures when you think of ‘green lane’: a grassy surface with more pronounced tufts of undergrowth in the middle of the track, overhanging hedgerows, and plenty of muddy ruts and obstacles to overcome.
The Mokka comes as standard in front-wheel drive, and with a generous ground clearance it provides plenty of capability for farm tracks and light off-roading work. You can, however, specify the optional intelligent four-wheel-drive system, as fitted to our car. There are times today when it will be indispensable. The clever system adds just 66kg of extra weight, and sends power purely to the front wheels, which is the most efficient way to transmit power to the road in normal conditions.
However, sensors intelligently monitor steering angle, throttle position and engine revs and can quickly and seamlessly instruct the sophisticated torque transfer device to send up to 50% of torque to the rear axle when the front tyres are in danger of slipping. Handily, all 4×4 Mokkas are equipped with both Hill Start Assist and a Descent Control System, too.
The Mokka is available with a range of engines, including a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol with 140PS and a 115PS naturally aspirated 1.6. However, our car is equipped with the most powerful version of the 1.6-litre CDTi turbodiesel engine. It offers a power output up to 136PS, and a combined MPG up to 68.9, with CO2 emissions from just 109/gkm to offer hatchback-like efficiency. The engine, which is also available in a 110PS version, has been dubbed the ‘Whisper Diesel’ thanks to the superbly refined driving experience.
“Greenlaning has turned the dullest of commutes into the most entertaining of adventures”
The CDTi engine is also perfectly suited to off-roading, because its 320Nm torque output – more than any other Mokka – is available from just 2000 rpm. It means you can be stopped in a deep, muddy depression, then gently ease up the clutch and give it just the faintest tickle of throttle. Do that and the Mokka effortlessly pulls itself back up the incline.
Off-road expert Edd Cobley tells us it’s essential to maintain a very low speed, to do all you can to keep out of other users’ way and be friendly when your paths cross. Off-road vehicles should also avoid green lanes altogether during wet weather when there’s far more likelihood of tyres churning up the surface.
As I rejoin the now-quiet main road just a few miles from home, I realise that greenlaning has turned the dullest of commutes into the most entertaining of adventures, and allowed us to prove that the Mokka really is as happy off-road as it is on it. And, you know what? I think it looks even better with a splattering of mud on that chunky body.