Last updated January 22, 2024 by Jack Healy
Best 4x4s of 2024 in the UK
For all-round performance and capability to go off-road, 4x4s are unbeatable. They’re usually big and spacious inside, with some brands even making them luxurious so that while the outside gets muddy, you are in supreme comfort.
What makes a 4x4 car is a matter of debate, but it's generally understood that while SUVs might have lofty driving positions and tall ride heights, a 4x4 will have these plus the ability to venture off-road – something a lot of SUVs, which tend to be road biased, can't really manage,
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The most common layout for modern road cars is to have an engine fixed in the front of the car powering just the front wheels. In a four-wheel drive car (sometimes called all-wheel drive), power is delivered to both the front and the rear wheels, hence ‘four-wheel drive’.
The major use for four-wheel drive is to provide grip – especially off road. Vehicles like the original Jeep and Land Rover were ideal in rugged terrain. If one wheel became stuck in snow, mud or sand, rather than just the other wheel moving things along, all three could help out.
Some sports cars come with four-wheel-drive too, where all four wheels providing grip and traction, helping power the car off the line from standing starts, and being able to drive faster around corners.
In a permanent four-wheel-drive car, power is sent through the gearbox to a centre differential. This splits the power to the front and back axles where it meets differentials at the front and rear. These distribute power between the rear wheels as well as the fronts, hence ‘four-wheel drive’. You do get other types of four-wheel drive, however, for example the Fiat Panda’s engine powers the front wheels only, but if they slip power is sent to the back wheels via a viscous coupling.
4wd is shorthand for four-wheel-drive. This means the engine drives all four wheels. In most cars, the engine drives just two wheels (usually the front two). A 4wd drive car is also known as a 4x4 car.
The Suzuki Jimny is generally regarded as the smallest 4x4. This is a small 4×4 that has been around since 1998. It is one of the more basic 4x4 cars on sale today. Alongside this is the Fiat Panda 4x4, another of the smallest 4x4 cars. It is probably less capable off-road than the Jimny but it is more comfortable on road, better equipped and more spacious.
No. Many smaller SUVs and crossovers are based on regular saloons and hatchbacks and can be front- or rear-wheel-drive. The most common layout you will find in popular vehicles like the Volkswagen T-Roc, Mazda CX-5, Skoda Karoq and Kia Xceed is front-wheel drive.
Generally, if you are planning to venture off road regularly then a 4x4 is a sensible option. Remember though that the added complexity and weight of a 4x4 system tends to reduce performance and increase fuel consumption.
The humble Dacia Duster has proven itself to be a very reliable 4x4, thanks no doubt to its rugged underpinnings and uncomplicated design. The Toyota Land Cruiser is another 4x4 which has earned itself a reputation as a superbly reliable and hardy off-roader. Both of these models make for great new and used purchases.
Small 4x4s with small capacity engines tend to deliver the best fuel economy. This is hardly surprising, however, while you might expect a diesel to be the economy champ, some petrol models come very close when comparing in-town fuel consumption figures.
The Fiat Panda Twinair 4x4 can do a claimed 40.9mpg combined from its tiny petrol 85hp 0.9-litre engine. A more modern alternative like the larger Toyota Yaris Cross manages 55mpg combined thanks to its mild-hybrid 1.5-litre petrol engine.
This is in fact even better than the diesel-powered Dacia Duster Blue dCi 115 4x4 which manages 53.3mpg combined, however if you opt for the front-wheel drive version that figure improves to 57.6mpg.
Plug-in Hybrids can also be very frugal in the right conditions.
The Land Rover Discovery offers a massive 1,137 litres of space behind its second row of seats. The next best is the Range Rover at 909 litres. Most other large 4x4 rivals manage between 550- to 800-litres of boot space. At a much lower price point, the spacious Skoda Kodiaq offers a generous 835 litres of space for your luggage.
The Range Rover and Mercedes-GLE Plug-in Hybrids both offer a claimed 353mpg in combined driving conditions. Achieving this figure will require that you make the most of their all-electric ranges, (approximately 30 miles for the Ranger Rover and 66 miles for the Mercedes) and short drives around town are where you will get the best results. Just don’t forget to keep the batteries fully charged.
Yes. A decent tow vehicle should have strong torque characteristics, decent traction and not be overly light. That is because a heavier vehicle can tow a heavier load while still remaining stable.
This tends to make larger 4x4s more accomplished tow vehicles than their small counterparts.
Check out our guide on the best cars for towing for more information.
There are numerous companies specialising in offering 4x4 off-roading experiences around the UK.
You can choose from a simple muddy path to seriously gruelling tracks where you and your vehicle will have to overcome steep inclines, bodies of water and very harsh terrain.
So, before you sign up make sure that your vehicle is properly equipped to take on the challenge. Most modern 4x4s are more capable in these situations than you might expect, however road-biased tyres and a low-ride height will limit how far you can venture off road.
First, ask yourself if you definitely need a 4x4; it's fair to say most people don't, and there's no point spending extra money on a car with a 4x4 system if you're not going to make use of it. If you do need a 4x4 car, though, things to consider include how much ground clearance you need, plus comparing approach and departure angles (these determine how steep a hill a car can climb and descend) is a good idea, ditto the breakover angle (this determines how pronounced a peak any incline can have before the car's bodywork touches ground).
A 4x4 car will be able to apply power from the engine to all four wheels, making it more effective off road. A 4x4 car will also be able to put its power down more effectively on slippery roads, though note that 4x4 systems convey no advantages where braking is concerned. As far as downsides go, 4x4 systems add expense to the build (and therefore purchase price) of a car, while also generally bringing worse fuel economy than a two-wheel drive car, due to the extra work the engine is having to do by turning all four wheels. You may also have higher running costs with a 4x4, as there are more moving parts, and additional differentials that can need their lubricating fluids replacing.
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