Uniting advanced, modern technology with a rugged design dating back to the 1970s, the MW Spartan EV might be the first electric 4x4 fit for use in UK forestry. On a foggy and windswept hillside in Galloway Forest Park, a group from Forestry and Land Scotland recently had the chance to try it for themselves.

JUST over three miles from Glentrool Visitor Centre in Galloway Forest Park is Bennan Viewpoint. Enthusiastically promoted by Forest and Land Scotland to walkers and tourists, it is said to offer spectacular views out over picturesque Loch Ken and the rolling Galloway countryside.

While undoubtedly true, such claims could not be verified when Forestry Journal visited on a cold and foggy day at the end of October for a demonstration of the new MWM Spartan EV.

Around a dozen members of FLS had the chance to get behind the wheel of the fully electric 4x4, which offers a pragmatic, eco-friendly alternative to the off-roaders typically deployed across UK forestry.

Forestry Journal: Nowhere is the ‘back-to-basics’ approach more evident than in the stripped-out interior.Nowhere is the ‘back-to-basics’ approach more evident than in the stripped-out interior.

Having made a public commitment to reducing emissions and helping Scotland become a net-zero nation by 2045, FLS is obviously interested in electrification. This year, it increased the number of electric vehicles in its non-forest fleet to 22, announcing an aim to increase this to over 100 by 2025. Charging points are already installed at 12 FLS locations. However, it is yet to add any electric vehicles to its fleet at work in the forests.

The main reason is that, until now, nothing has come on the market which looked likely to meet the everyday needs of its team, tackling forest roads and hauling heavy trailers across rugged terrain.

The Spartan EV is the first electric vehicle with the potential to meet this challenge.

Designed to be a workhorse for foresters, farmers and gamekeepers, it promises simplicity, power and reliability without any of the harmful emissions which have long been accepted as a necessary evil of SUV use.

An electric conversion of the petrol Spartan, launched into the UK last year, it is based on the paramilitary UAZ 4x4 Hunter, a long-term favourite of the Russian army and Soviet-bloc secret services. It has a 161 bhp motor producing 600 Nm of torque, and a 2.5 tonne towing capacity. It is powered by a 63 kWh battery pack and is equipped with an energy recovery system for more efficiency. Charging from zero to 100 per cent takes 75 minutes, with one charge offering a range of over 90 miles.

Forestry Journal: Current lead time for the Spartan EV is six months – much shorter than some SUV manufacturers which, due to a worldwide shortage of parts, currently have lead times of 12 or 18 months.Current lead time for the Spartan EV is six months – much shorter than some SUV manufacturers which, due to a worldwide shortage of parts, currently have lead times of 12 or 18 months.

On paper then, the Spartan EV looks like it would make an excellent addition to a working fleet, which made FLS staff keen to get behind the wheel and find out how it handles in reality.

The day began with a safety briefing in the Glentrool Visitor Centre car park, after which Rosh Mendis, sales manager at MW Motors International, briefly talked attendees through the vehicle’s specifications, advantages and features.

Discussion of features was especially brief, since the Spartan EV hardly has any. 

As its name would suggest, the philosophy behind the vehicle is a utilitarian return to basics, stripping away all of the add-ons and creature comforts associated with modern luxury SUVs. Gone are heated seats, electric windows and integrated satnav. You won’t even find a radio.

However, what it lacks in fancy baubles and gadgets, it makes up for with rugged simplicity, ease of use and uncompromising power.

Rosh said: “The point of the Spartan is about being able to cope with challenging terrain.

It’s very easy to drive and its simplicity is one of its charms. Everything’s basic. You can hose down the interior without an issue. It does everything you need it to do. The whole philosophy is about a return to simplicity.

Forestry Journal: The FLS fleet already includes electric vehicles such as Kangoos, Nissan e-NV200s and Kia E-Niros, but no off-roaders.The FLS fleet already includes electric vehicles such as Kangoos, Nissan e-NV200s and Kia E-Niros, but no off-roaders.

“One of the issues with most modern vehicles is there’s so much going on. They’re very high maintenance. Yes, from an EV point of view, the electronics is different, but all the creature comforts we’re accustomed to in modern living are gone. What remains is an affordable, low-maintenance workhorse fit for traversing all terrain, overcoming any obstacles in the harshest of conditions.”

Martin Drysdale, South Scotland workshop manager for FLS, explained a critical consideration for him was the question of towing capacity. FLS workers need to be confident their off-roaders can tow heavy trailers up hills and across challenging terrain – something no other electric vehicle has claimed to be able to do.

So, after departing from the visitor centre, the first phase of the demo saw the Spartan EV towing an FLS-supplied trailer up through Bennan Wood, along forest roads typical of the kind staff navigate every day. This proved no challenge, and so the Spartan EV continued, in convoy with other FLS vehicles, up to the viewpoint.

From here, split into pairs and adhering to current COVID guidelines, attendees were each given the opportunity to take the Spartan EV for a spin.

Immediate impressions were very good, with all agreeing it was easy to drive and handled well. It was complimented on its power and surprising comfort, with some saying it was notably less bouncy than a Land Rover Defender.

Forestry Journal: The base vehicle is made by UAZ in Russia and assembled and electrified at the MW Motors plant in the Czech Republic.The base vehicle is made by UAZ in Russia and assembled and electrified at the MW Motors plant in the Czech Republic.

The design, harkening back to military jeeps of the past, was a winner, as was the spacious and well-laid-out interior. The lack of a radio was highlighted as a mark against it, though Rosh pointed to a Bluetooth device he had fitted to the visor, allowing him to play radio and music from his phone. 

However, the overall verdict was an extremely positive one, with the 4x4 easily handling all the team put it through and Rosh insisting it’s capable of tackling much, much worse.

And, after several hours up in the hills and more than a dozen test drives, it returned to the visitor centre with over 50 per cent charge on the battery.

Scepticism around the technology and concern over infrastructure will be the big hurdles to overcome before most foresters will commit to investing in an electric 4x4. 

Even within FLS, where electric vans and cars are frequently used, there remains doubt as to whether one could be relied on for use deep in the forest, many miles from the nearest charging point.

The demo at Bennan Wood made a persuasive case in the technology’s favour and clearly gave everyone who tried it plenty to think about – especially taking place amid the recent fuel crisis, with a shortage of petrol and diesel at the pumps and prices skyrocketing.

READ MORE: 5 vehicles Forestry Journal reviewed in 2021 every forestry worker needs to consider

If FLS and others can be convinced of electric vehicles as a viable proposition for forest operations (and so put themselves at the forefront of an eco-friendly revolution), there’s every chance the Spartan EV could soon become a common sight in the woods.

Rosh added: “We are proud to be offering the first truly electric 4x4 in the UK. There are other manufacturers which have produced electric vehicles with 4x4 capabilities, but they’re not true off-roaders. This is the first and, as such, we’re keen to run more demos and get the vehicle in front of as many people as possible, because when you get behind the wheel, it speaks for itself.”