The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and soon we can look forward to three months of greasy roads, muddy tracks and Great British Travel Chaos (or ice and snow, as meteorologists insist on calling it).
Many of us will look towards an extra pair of driven wheels as a safety net for the nastier portion of the year, but with the raft of lifestyle SUVs on the market you no longer have to shell out a small fortune for the reassurance of a surefooted car. We’re looking at ten top budget four-wheel-drive buys.
The all-rounder – Kia Sportage
Kia’s Sportage SUV is often pitted against Mazda’s CX-5 and Nissan’s Qashqai when it comes to less prestige crossovers. By and large it puts up a creditable performance, but where it really shines is value for money – you can’t even get a 4WD Qashqai or CX-5 inside our £25k budget, but the Sportage will give you change left over in 2.0 CRDI KX-2 specification.
It may lose out to its Japanese rivals in other departments, but it’s by fractions and hits a 7.5 wowscore. The Kia is very nearly an equal and won’t disappoint in any department. It even looks good.
The brash American: Jeep Compass
Okay, so the Jeep Compass isn’t the most sophisticated of vehicles, nor is it especially good on the road. Or off it. Or inside. And it scores just two stars in Euro NCAP’s crash tests. And you won’t be driving past any petrol stations either.
However, it is cheap considering the sheer quantity of metal you get. This is a 4.4-metre long, 1.5 tonne truck capable of pulling its own weight along behind it and a four-wheel-drive system thrown in for just £21k – it makes the Sportage look pricey. Don’t expect to follow any Freelanders down off road courses though…
The people mover – Ssangyong Turismo
If you’ve been blessed with fertile loins, you’ll need a people carrier packing four-wheel-drive. Don’t worry, Ssangyong has you covered with the £23,995 Turismo 2.0 EX.
Possibly not the most fancied badge on the market, the Turismo isn’t short of charm and boasts an absolutely ludicrously spacious interior that can accommodate seven adults, even if they’re unreasonably sized, and still leave room for luggage.
The pint pot – Suzuki Swift
Of course you don’t have to bulk up to a massive offroader if all you want is a bit of extra safety margin when the ground gets slippy, and Suzuki caters to that tremendously with a 4×4 version of the very well thought of Swift hatchback.
The Swift is a sweet-handling little hatchback, and reviewers often put it in the same bracket as the Ford Fiesta for driving involvement. The gubbins required to drive the back wheels too changes this a bit though. There’s more weight, it’s distributed differently and the rear wheels are pushing you along too, but if you’re after a simple car that also happens to be four wheel drive you can’t go wrong. Especially not when it’ll cost you only a shade over 14 grand!
The rock crawler – Fiat Panda
However, just because you’ve gone small doesn’t mean you need to forget proper off-road ability. The original Fiat Panda was a pretty good example of this and the newest versions continue this tradition.
Unlike some of the other cars here, the Panda offers four-wheel-drive within budget with any one of its engine choices, so you can go petrol or diesel and still get the great off road capability that the Panda offers. If that’s not enough for you, you can also get the optimised Panda Cross which, with modified bodywork and suspension, is even better off the road – though it’s a little more expensive at £15,945.
The normal one – Skoda Octavia
If you just want a regular family car that also happens to have four-wheel-drive, look no further than Skoda’s Octavia. Using the same Haldex four-wheel-drive system as more expensive Volkswagen and Audi models, the Octavia is the cheapest family car with 4WD, coming in at £23,655 for a 1.6 diesel estate.
What you get for your money is one of the best-rated cars of any kind in the motor industry, posting an amazing 9.0 wowscore. It’s one of the roomiest and best made cars in the sector and just as capable dragging yourself out of a sodden field as it is driving you serenely back home afterwards.
The tough nut – Skoda Yeti
Underpinned by the same system as the Octavia, the Yeti is a true car for modern life. The interior will survive being pulled apart by children or being eaten by dogs, while the outside will survive the rest of the world. We wouldn’t be surprised to see whole fleets of Yetis lasting through a nuclear apocalypse – even if a nuke was detonated inside the car.
With four-wheel-drive available on select models in the basic Yeti range and the slightly tweaked Yeti Outdoor, which has been fiddled with for better off-road performance, it’s one you can’t go wrong with. It also returns an excellent wowscore – 8.2 or 8.4 – and there’s a selection available from £21,205.
The workhorse – Nissan Navara
Nissan’s Navara has had an unfortunate existence, with a highly-publicised calamity at Euro NCAP necessitating a product recall – but with the issues fixed it’s a surprising choice for a family car. It returns a highly creditable wowscore of 7.2 – more than most offerings in the pickup market.
Based on the Pathfinder SUV, only with a pickup bed instead of a boot, it’s the choice of the self-employed tradesman everywhere as a dual-purpose company vehicle and domestic runabout. With 4×4 available on the 142hp and 188hp 2.5 dCi models, it’ll only set you back £21,550.
The farmer’s choice – Suzuki Jimny
The Jimny is by some margin the cheapest car here – at £12,195 you could buy two of these per Skoda Octavia – but it’s also by far the worst. In fact it’s by far the worst-rated car on carwow of any kind, with a bucket-scraping wowscore of 3.0.
This is largely because it’s tiny, noisy, unrefined, slow and pretty much dreadful on the road. But it is utterly sublime off the road and if you head to any kind of 4WD meet you’ll see a handful of these pint-sized mountain goats making some Land Rovers look very silly.
It’s tough to ignore the road manners, but when it comes to a winter weapon for retrieving errant sheep from the bottom field, the Jimny is hard to top – quad bikes don’t have a roof or heater…
The default choice – Ford Kuga
In almost all things there’s a Ford alternative that you can default to, and when it comes to crossovers that’s the Kuga. On this occasion though, it’s not so much an unimaginative choice but a very shrewd one indeed.
At £23,865 it’s one of the more expensive cars here, but this gets you the 2.0 TDCi model with four-wheel-drive – avoiding one of the car’s most criticised aspects, the dawdling EcoBoost engine. Again, this is a car that goes head to head with the much celebrated Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5 and takes points off both, alongside undercutting them on price when it comes to offering the security of four driven wheels.
Not sold on 4x4s?
If you don’t live in a hilly area then you might find that winter tyres and a sensible approach to driving are enough to get you out of the worst cold road conditions the UK can throw at you.
See our top cars for winter driving list for some alternative choices without the restriction of a £25,000 budget!