Top 10 best 4x4s and off-road cars to buy 2024
After a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a bit more off-road clout than the average SUV? Our top 10 best 4x4s list has you covered…
Britain’s roads are awash with SUVs of various sizes, and while many people refer to these cars as “4x4s” this isn’t always the case. Many of the SUVs that you see on the road are actually two-wheel-drive, and have been designed to stay firmly on the tarmac. So what if you really do want to head into the rough stuff? That’s where the best 4x4s and off-road cars come in.
Choosing a vehicle with four-wheel drive will still allow you to drive on the road, but it’ll also give you far more capability when the going gets tough and muddy. Of course, some 4x4s are better at traversing the toughest terrain than others, so our experts have thoroughly tested every off-roader that you can buy in the UK and rounded up our definitive top 10.
If you require a tough vehicle with extra grip for slippery road conditions or serious off-road forays, but still want to be well set-up for normal road driving, the best 4x4s will cover all the bases. We’ve also prioritised durability and practicality in making our selection, paying particular attention to low running costs, safety kit and value-for-money prices. If that sounds like your perfect new car, you’ve come to the right place.
Top best 4x4s and off-road cars to buy
Read on to find the best four-wheel-drive cars that you can buy right now, listed in reverse order.
10. Ineos Grenadier
Many people were sad to say goodbye to the original Land Rover Defender, but none more so than Ineos CEO Sir Jim Ratcliffe. While the new Defender is far more plush and modern than the car it replaced, the Ineos Grenadier has been designed with the goal of continuing the more traditional and rugged ethos of the original.
For the most part, this newcomer to the market has achieved its aims. The Grenadier performs as well off-road as its tough looks would suggest, with its old-school ladder frame chassis, beam axles and coil springs allowing it to cover some very tough tracks. The downside is that this off-road ability makes it feel vague and often wayward to drive on the road. Inside, there are plenty of quirks to be found, but while the switchgear might look like something out of a fighter plane, it’s far from ergonomic.
9. Suzuki Ignis
If you thought all four-wheel-drive SUVs were big and expensive, then think again. The Suzuki Ignis is no larger than many city cars, but it packs a raised ride height, chunky bodywork cladding and a four-wheel drive system that will allow you to explore more of the great outdoors than you’d ever believe possible.
Yet the Suzuki is equally at home on the road, where its dinky size, quick steering, perky mild-hybrid 1.2-litre petrol and snappy gearchange make it surprisingly fun to drive. The cramped rear seats and small boot limit its practicality, but the rest of the cabin is comfortable, solidly built and well equipped. Sometimes the best things do come in small packages.
8. Jeep Wrangler
Few firms have such a rich off-road history as Jeep. One of the American brand’s most famous offerings is the Wrangler, which takes its inspiration from the legendary forties Willys MB. Yet despite its old-school looks, the latest fourth-generation model is surprisingly modern inside, with loads of kit, plus decent infotainment and connectivity.
Of course, the Jeep is in its element off road, where its four-wheel drive system keeps you going when rivals get stranded. But it’s a less impressive car on asphalt; the 268bhp 2.0-litre petrol is punchy but thirsty, while the lifeless steering and crashy ride remind you of the Wrangler’s military ancestors
7. KGM Rexton
The ungainly Rexton is unlikely to win any beauty contests, but when it comes to space and value, the Korean machine takes some beating. Offering Land Rover Discovery space and kit for the price of an entry-level Discovery Sport, the KGM — formerly known as SsangYong — has a roomy seven-seat layout and lots of standard kit. Leather seat trim, a 9.2-inch infotainment screen and TFT dials are included, and while the material quality is still a little low-rent, the build is strong.
On the move the Rexton is refined, but an old-school ladder frame chassis means ponderous handling as well as an occasionally bouncy ride. However, standard four-wheel drive and a seven-year warranty bring peace of mind.
6. Mercedes G-Class
The Mercedes G-Class is an upmarket SUV that hides thoroughly modern mechanicals under a classic-looking body. Taking its cues from the seventies original, details like the spare wheel on the rear door, exposed door hinges and round headlights are clear nods to the legendary first G-Wagen. The Merc’s square-edged styling still packs plenty of kerb appeal, while the interior is as luxurious as the brand’s limousines and crammed with the latest driver aids.
Head away from tarmac and a clever four-wheel drive system with locking differentials gives the G-Glass excellent mud-plugging ability. However, the big Merc’s vague steering means it's best to take it easy on the road, even in the outrageous 577bhp AMG G 63. The easy-going diesel-powered G 400 d makes a better all-rounder, but with prices starting at over £131,000, the Merc remains a niche choice, albeit one that has been able to gather a very loyal following over the years.
5. Land Rover Discovery
The Discovery from Land Rover is a big SUV that can do it all. Its sizeable 7-seat body offers prodigious practicality and there’s outstanding off-road ability from a high-tech chassis marshalled by Land Rover’s Terrain Response system. Yet, while doing all this, the Disco is still comfortable and relaxing to drive on the road. As far as the qualities you want from a big SUV go, there are precious few weak spots, but prices are on the high side.
4. Ford Ranger
The latest Ford Ranger has taken big steps to develop into a more refined vehicle than its predecessors. Not only does this pick-up look much more distinctive on the outside, but the interior is a far more comfortable place to be, too. Along with higher-quality materials, the Ranger’s dashboard is adorned with screens that run Ford’s slick SYNC 4 infotainment technology. These touches go towards making Ford’s pick-up much more pleasant to use as a daily vehicle.
Don’t go thinking that the Ranger has suddenly become soft, though. It’s still big, robust and handled just about everything that we could throw at it during testing. If you’re planning to hit the really rough stuff, the Tremor and Wildtrak X versions go even further with a reworked chassis and suspension components. Regardless of which version you pick, though, the Ranger is one of the best pick-ups that you can currently buy in the UK — so much so that it was our Pick-up of the Year for 2023.
3. Toyota Land Cruiser
Few off-roaders feel as invincible as the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser. True, it’s not quite as sophisticated as some rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery, but when the going gets tough, the dependable Toyota is in a class of one. It’s also very practical, with a vast seven-seat interior, a large boot and loads of handy storage. And while the Land Cruiser has a more utilitarian feel than most, it’s not short of luxuries, with leather trim and all the latest tech.
On the road, this giant feels a bit cumbersome, while its clattery four-cylinder diesel and bouncy ride hurt refinement. Yet the rough-and-tumble charm and spirit of adventure make it easy to overlook its flaws.
2. Dacia Duster
When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, very few contenders can rival the Duster. Prices start from under £18,000, yet for that modest amount you get a robust and roomy off-roader that costs peanuts to run and has all the kit you’ll need.
It doesn’t feel like a bargain-basement special either, thanks to an interior that uses decent materials in many places. Accurate steering and a range of willing engines mean the Dacia is also good to drive, while its soft suspension soaks up bumps. There’s even the option of a sophisticated four-wheel drive system with hill descent control, and a neat off-road monitor that displays handy info such as your approach and departure angles.
1. Land Rover Defender
The reborn Defender has been such a massive hit for Land Rover that its order books are overflowing. Take a drive in the retro-inspired off-roader and it doesn’t take very long to understand why it’s been such a huge success. For starters, its Tonka toy looks still attract plenty of attention, while its roomy and versatile interior combines practicality with genuine upmarket appeal. It’s also packed with all the latest tech that’s both useful and easy to use.
There’s a choice of five-seat 90 and seven-seat 110 bodies, while a longer Defender 130 model is also available. As with all the best Land Rovers, the Defender offers a winning blend of poise and comfort on tarmac with unstoppable off-road performance. There’s a wide choice of engines on offer, ranging from six-cylinder diesels through to a plug-in hybrid that claims up to 31.1 miles on fully-electric power. There’s even a booming but thirsty supercharged V8 petrol. In fact, the only major downside is that JLR’s reputation for reliability is far from pristine.
The best 4x4s and off-road cars
- Land Rover Defender
- Dacia Duster
- Ford Ranger
- Toyota Land Cruiser
- Land Rover Discovery
- Mercedes G-Class
- SsangYong Rexton
- Jeep Wrangler
- Suzuki Ignis
- Ineos Grenadier
What is a 4x4?
In recent times, the huge expansion in what we like to term ‘the SUV market’ has brought a big increase in the number of cars on sale with four-wheel drive. It’s probably safe to say that a car with four-wheel drive isn’t quite what most people are envisaging when they talk about ‘4x4s’, though.
The term ‘4x4’ is more usually transposed with ‘SUV’ (Sports Utility Vehicle), referring to the style of car – tall, tough-looking, designed to be driven off road – rather than its drivetrain. Although you can have 4x4 sports cars, hot hatches and estates, it’s the all-wheel-drive SUVs that are most often associated with the term 4x4.
While some cars referred to as SUVs are front-wheel drive and potentially no more adept in the rough stuff than a standard hatchback or crossover, the definition we apply to 4x4s is that they’re 4WD SUVs designed with off-road driving as a more central consideration. These are the kind of cars you’d be looking to buy if you needed to regularly or occasionally use the added traction and protection from rough terrain that 4x4 vehicles are built to provide.
While our best SUVs round-up focuses more on the cars that excel in the kind of everyday driving to which SUVs are usually exposed – namely on the road with the occasional snowfall or gravel driveway to contend with – 4x4s can go the extra mile when rough terrain is more regularly encountered.
Choosing the best 4x4
A big part of the decision-making process here will be working out how much off-road ability you actually need. As 4x4 cars get more capable over rough terrain, they tend to become less comfortable and composed on the tarmac. While 4x4s that are brilliantly comfortable on the road and capable off it do exist, you’ll need to pay a premium to buy one. More extreme off-road driving is ultimately about not getting stuck and, at a basic level, that means good tyres and lots of ground clearance.
4x4s designed to be driven off-road will have lots of ground clearance and suspension travel, plus protection underneath for when either runs out. There are numerous 4x4 systems available, too. For off-road 4x4s, being able to fix the transmission in all-wheel-drive mode is useful and many models will also offer locking differentials and low-range gearboxes for really difficult terrain.
You will find all manner of electronic aids for off-roading fitted to various models. Advanced traction control systems that adjust the car’s settings for different types of terrain are common in higher-end cars, as are air suspension systems that can adjust the ride height to suit the conditions. More commonplace are extras like hill descent control that will lower a car down a steep descent automatically using the ABS braking system. Many 4x4 models also come with 360-degree camera systems to give you a better view of obstacles around the car.
The 4x4 market
These days almost every car brand builds an SUV of some kind, but if you want a 4x4 with genuine off-road ability, there are certain marques that have a strong reputation, and deservedly so. Land Rover is an obvious choice for UK buyers, although the US has Jeep and many of the Japanese marques are renowned 4x4 specialists with dominant positions in different markets around the world.
Size is very important, but it’s not necessarily a reliable indicator of off-road ability. Small 4x4s like the Suzuki Jimny and Jeep Renegade deliver a lot of rough-terrain prowess for not a lot of money. Pick-up trucks are also a value-for-money choice that happen to be very tax efficient for businesses and company car users, while models at the upper end of the scale like the mighty Range Rover can give you genuine luxury.
If you’re after traction rather than ultimate off-road ability, there are lots of 4x4 estate cars that don’t quite have the same raised ride height of an SUV but do provide the same kind of practicality and all-weather grip. They can be a good bet in areas that get regular snow and with a good set of winter tyres fitted they can prove extremely capable.
Want the interior space but intending to stay firmly on the road? Check out our list of the best large SUVs…