Best 4x4s and off-road cars to buy 2021
After a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a bit more off-road clout than the average SUV? Our top 10 best 4x4s list is the place to go…
So, you want to buy a 4x4. Here we’ll answer the key questions you might be asking yourself right now, including the big one about which are the 10 best 4x4s and off-roaders currently on sale in the UK. Our selection covers the whole 4x4 market from the smallest SUVs built to tackle off-road driving to big 4x4 models with up to seven seats that come with more off-road ability than you’ll probably ever need.
If you do require a tough vehicle with extra grip for slippery road conditions or serious off-road forays, but also something that’s well set up for normal road driving, the best 4x4s will cover both 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.
With all that in mind, below are the best 4x4s you can buy today…
Best 4x4s on sale now
- Land Rover Defender
- Dacia Duster
- Land Rover Discovery
- Mercedes G-Class
- SsangYong Rexton
- Mitsubishi L200
- Jeep Renegade
- Range Rover
- Toyota Land Cruiser
- BMW X5
1. Land Rover Defender
It was an unenviable job, but Land Rover has succeeded in bringing the Defender firmly into the modern age with new levels of luxury and refinement, while crucially not losing any of the 'go anywhere' ability it had become renowned for.
The Defender remains as practical as ever, available in three-door (90) and five-door (110) guises, with a range of capable petrol and diesel engines on offer. The 398bhp P400e plug-in hybrid model delivers low emissions and is capable of travelling up to 26-27 miles on electric power alone, while sprinting performance is also impressive: 0-62mph taking just 5.6 seconds.
Although the Defender is relatively pricey to buy, it is supremely accomplished with a stylish image that will appeal to urban families and an all-conquering practical quality that stays true to its heritage.
2. Dacia Duster
Dacia’s Duster 4x4 sticks to the budget brand’s established formula as a no-nonsense, low-cost family vehicle. There’s more to the Duster than its attractive up-front price, however, as it’s adept off-road and has a spacious interior. The cheapest Dacia Dusters are front-wheel drive, but the 4x4 models further up the range still undercut equivalent rival cars by a significant amount. While it’s not the last word in cutting-edge design, either inside or out, the latest model looks smart enough and build quality seems well up to scratch. In terms of value, the little Dacia can’t really be beaten.
3. 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 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. Mercedes G-Class
If you want to stand out from the 4x4 crowd, then opting for a Mercedes G-Class might just do the trick. It's been around for donkey's years as the G-Wagen, but more recently has been thoroughly updated with a new moniker to fit the Mercedes family tree and a host of driving and tech upgrades to keep it (just about) relevant.
If you can afford the £100,000-plus starting price, then you might as well go all in and stretch to the rather entertaining 4.0-litre V8 G 63 model. With 577bhp and 850Nm of torque, it has enough grunt to haul itself from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds, while towing anything short of your own house shouldn't prove to be too much an issue.
5. SsangYong Rexton
There are plenty of big, capable 4x4s, but not many can match the SsangYong Rexton when it comes to value for money. The big SsangYong has smartened up its act considerably in its latest generation, adding sharp looks and improved build quality to its arsenal. If you’re after a spacious family 4x4 that can cope well in the rough, the Rexton is an often overlooked but extremely competent choice.
6. Mitsubishi L200
The pick-up truck is a great option for buyers seeking a large, affordable and tough 4x4 vehicle, and the Mitsubishi L200 is the best of the current crop. Classed as a commercial vehicle for tax purposes, the L200 can save company car users a tidy sum and comes close to matching the family-friendly practicality of an SUV when a load bay cover is fitted. The L200 is a little more rough and ready than most SUVs of a similar size, both in terms of the materials used inside and the overall driving experience, but it does have a strong engine, plenty of standard equipment and impressive off-road ability.
7. Jeep Renegade
Jeep is famed for its 4x4 expertise and the Renegade is probably the best-judged all-rounder in the brand’s current range. It’s the smallest Jeep, too, a rival for small SUVs like the Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, but it trumps all of those models for off-road ability.
The Renegade is practical and well equipped with tough looks that help it stand out from the vast selection of models elsewhere in the segment. It is at the upper end of the small SUV market price-wise and isn’t the best for road driving, but with its mix of style and off-road ability it’s an excellent choice.
8. Land Rover Range Rover
The Range Rover is the flagship model in the Land Rover range and remains the go-to 4x4 for those seeking the perfect blend of capability and luxury. While luxury SUV rivals in a similar price bracket often prioritise roadgoing performance, the Range Rover stands out with its cosseting ride, high driving position (even by big SUV standards) and remarkable off-road ability. The interior is beautifully designed and brings a real air of luxury, while the classy exterior lines make the Range Rover stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
9. Toyota Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser is an off-road icon that’s as popular in some parts of the world as the Land Rover Defender is in the UK. These days, the Toyota leaves something to be desired in terms of driving dynamics on the road when compared with leading family SUV rivals, but it’s still up with the very best in terms of toughness and that unerring talent for not getting stuck. Toyota has a fantastic reputation for reliability that cars like the Land Cruiser have played a significant role in establishing. There’s now a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel in the nose so fuel economy has improved and you still get the cavernous interior with room for seven occupants. It all contributes to making the Land Cruiser look like a huge amount of car for the money.
10. BMW X5
A polished on-road performer, the BMW X5 is arguably better suited to smoother tarmac than navigating its way through muddy fields or wading through troughs of standing water. Launched in 1999, the X5 has evolved into a modern, luxurious SUV, that although isn't quite able to mix it with the very best 4x4s in this list, still offers decent off-road ability.
If you are buying an X5 and think you'll be covering some rough terrain, then you might want to tick the xOffroad Pack on the options list. It'll cost around £2,500, but adds four selectable driving modes (xSand, xRocks, xGravel, xSnow), an electronically-controlled locking differential and underbody protection.
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.
Tell us your favourite current 4x4 in the comments section below...