Best 4x4s and off-road cars 2021
heycar editorial team
When it comes to grip, the best 4x4s and off-road cars are a must for some tricky conditions.
If you live somewhere that’s hilly, muddy, or never gets gritted like, say, the UK, you’ll know how important getting drive to all four wheels is.
Sure, front-wheel drive is great, but the second you try to get a an Audi A1 up a steep hill in - ahem - autumnal conditions, you’re going to find yourself fighting a losing battle with our old friend physics. But choosing a 4x4 can help you win.
That’s because when the front wheels start to slip and lose grip, more power can be applied to the backs to help out. The result? Good ol’ forward propulsion in a safe and controlled fashion.
In days gone by, finding the best 4x4 could be hard. Most of the time, buyers had to choose from a traditional four-wheel drive off-road workhorse that best suited to life on a farm rather than Kensington High Street.
Thankfully, things have moved on and drivers can now enjoy a 4x4 that can tackle mud or tow a caravan when required, but can also do it with plenty of style and minus the hose-down interior.
Our guide to the best 4x4s puts the emphasis very much on their off-road credentials, so you might want to also take a look at our guide to the best SUVs as well. If you're going to need the best 4x4s though to tackle anything British roads (and tracks) can throw at them, then read on to find out what we think are the best off-road cars to buy in the UK. We’ve got big 4x4s, small 4x4s and everything in between.
Year launched: 2018
If you met us in a pub and asked us out of the blue what 4x4 to buy, we’d probably suggest you stand us a pint before suggesting you buy a Honda CR-V. Why? Well, it’s the kind of 4x4 that does it all. Forget our teenage dreams of owning an all-wheel drive rally car like a Mitsubishi Evo V - the CR-V is what we’d opt for if we needed to put our own money where our mouth is.
If you're on a budget and want to spend under £10,000, then you’ll be looking at a fourth-generation Honda CR-V (launched in 2012). Available as a petrol or diesel, it’s got a long list of things going for it. Practical? Check. Spacious? Check. Fun to drive? Check. Comfortable? Check. You get the idea…
If you budget goes up to £25,000 to spend on a used 4x4, you’ll be looking at the latest 2018 CR-V. While it might not look that dissimilar to previous examples, the big change for 2018 was the CR-V was offered with petrol only. If you’re buying a 4x4 because you need to tow with it, that might cause you a bit of head scratching, but don’t worry. The 1.6-litre hybrid in the CR-V can most definitely get the job done - perhaps the only downside is the mpg, which sits about 40. If you don’t believe us, go and try one for yourself. We think you’ll be impressed.
The Honda CR-V might not have the badge appeal of an Audi and the looks are a wee bit dated now, but the interior is definitely built to last. Plus, it’s a great ride and Honda’s ‘reliability as standard’ philosophy means it shouldn’t be a stress to own.
Year launched: 2018
If you want a great 4x4 on a budget, chances are you’ll be in the market for a used car. Unless, that is, you opt for a Dacia Duster. In which case, you can pick one up nearly new for a smidge under £10,000. Whether you’d want to, though, is a different matter...
Don’t get us wrong, the Dacia is an ok(ish) car - but it is a budget motor, no mistake. Go for a new one and you’ll be picking up the entry-level Access trim. That means you get electric front windows and ISOFIX child seat connections - but the steel wheels will be the least of your worries because you won’t get a radio.
If you can, try and hunt out a Duster in Essential trim, which give you air-con, or the top model Prestige, which boasts keyless entry, parking sensors, sat-nav and climate control.
Year launched: 2019
Dire to drive, noisy on road, and not particularly pretty - the Suzuki Jimny is an acquired tasted. But, whether you’re into its Tonka toy looks, this is one supremely capable off-roader.
Buyers love its reliability and low running costs, as well as its ability to get from A to B… even if that means going via X, Y, and Z. That said, the Jimny is not without its ‘quirks’. Or flaws, to you and me. You see, as an old-school 4x4, it’s not that great to pilot on-road… but it’s size and light controls do make up for it.
On the motorway, though, the Jimny can be hard work. There are only five gears and 60mph feels strained. The steering also requires a lot of input, so you’ll be busy. Creature comforts are pretty minimal, too...
Despite all of this, Jimny's hold their value. The current model was launched in 2019 and demand outstripped supply before being taken off sale as Suzuki looked to meet emission targets in Europe. This has meant used models fetching significantly more than the list price of new ones. The model before that was originally launched in 1998 and while it has gone through some minor updates, it hasn't changed significantly. A 2014 model with around 30-50,000 miles will set you back £15,000.
Year launched: 2013
When it comes to 4x4s, most drivers have to choose between style and substance. Don’t get us wrong, there are a few mud-pluggers that can do it all and offer the ability to traverse the Sahara in the automotive equivalent of palatial luxury, but most of the time you have to choose between an interior you can host in or an interior you can hose down.
The Subaru Forester falls closer to the latter category. Budget, low-rent, cheap… call its cabin what you like. This is the kind of car bought by people who need a working vehicle. And that’s because it’s incredibly capable. It’s got all-wheel drive as standard and can manage to make progress on the muddiest of fields. It’s also got a braked trailer rating of between 1800kg and 2000kg, which means pulling a medium-sized caravan or small horsebox is no drama.
As a family wagon, it’s pretty good. There is a lot of luggage space - 505-litres to be precise - while the back of row of seats is comfortable for adults as well as children. It’s got decent visibility, too, which makes it easy to see over hedges or spot the corners when parking. Perhaps not as plush as rivals, the Forester is still a worthy 4x4.
Fiat Panda 4x4
Year launched: 2012
Want something that’ll stand out from the usual 4x4 fare? Then take at look at the Panda 4x4. Based, as you’ve probably guessed, on the Fiat Panda hatchback, the Panda 4x4 is the latest in a long line of capable all-wheel drivers from the Italian car company.
The 4x4 Panda uses an ‘on demand’ system, which means power is delivered to the wheels that have the most grip, whether that’s front or rear. But don’t be fooled - it’s still a pretty capable off-roader.
Chunky looks come as standard (so you can let the world know you’re a go-anywhere kinda driver). That means black body mouldings around the wheel arches, larger bumpers and under-body protectors. Gadgets like an electronic locking differential mean you’ll barely even notice that muddy hill you’re driving up.
Year launched: 2009
What do you get when you bring together the best parts of a hatchback and go anywhere attitude of an off-roader? The Skoda Yeti. Remember it was this sort of thinking that brought us the ubiquitous ‘crossover’ but few cars can deliver like the Yeti.
Essentially, you’ve got the affordability and low running costs of a hatch mixed with the practicality, styling, and pulling power of a 4x4. Not only does it work, but the result has been a huge success. Here is a versatile family car that you can easily tow a small trailer with or get across a muddy field.
It is a genuinely capable off-roader but one that is a pleasure to drive on road with neat, responsive steering, decent body control and an excellent gear change. Bottom line? Easy to park in town, easy if you fancy a spot of green laning. Combine with the 1.2 TSI and you’ll have nippy performance and decent fuel economy.
Year launched: 2016
The Volkswagen Tiguan is a fine 4x4 and you'll be able to find a great example with a budget of £20,000. It’s easy to drive, family-friendly and is fitted out with loads of safety kit and in-car tech. If you’re in the market for a high-quality four-wheel drive then it’s a great choice.
All-wheel drive or 4Motion cars are offered with either petrol or diesel versions of the 2.0-litre engine and if you’re prepared to scour the classified adverts you should be able to find them in either manual or automatic flavours.
As you’d expect, the Tiguan is a refined car - even at motorway speed. Perhaps our one gripe would be an overly-firm suspension. It’s not uncomfortable, but it sometimes makes a bit of a fist of the UK’s poorly surfaced roads.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Year launched: 2015
If you need a 4x4, but don’t want something with an interior that you can hose down, then the Discovery Sport could be the car for you. Not only is it a hugely competent off-roader (as you’d expect from Land Rover) it’s also great to look at, both inside and out.
As a family car, it is extremely capable. There’s lots of room inside and with the seats down the boot space on offer is impressive. There’s even a ‘5+2’ configuration available - five full time seats and two ‘pop up’ rear seats (best suited for older children).
But - looks aside - it’s both on and off-road where the Discovery Sport impresses. On road, it’s capable and even fun to drive with plenty of grip available. Turn off the beaten track and Land Rover’s excellent Terrain Response system means the Disco is better than any of its rivals when it comes to taking on slippery surfaces and poor terrain. Outstanding.
Year launched: 2018
The Mercedes G-Class certainly isn’t one of the most affordable options here, but if you can stretch to it, you'll end up with one of the best 4x4s going. The original G-Wagen that proceeded the G-Class is able to trace it's routes back to the early 70s, and while the latest G-Class might look like the old car, a lot has changed.
Its plush cabin wouldn’t look out of place in one of Mercedes luxurious saloons like an S-Class. Its upright design has lots of pretty trim pieces and you get a pair of large and colourful infotainment screens. Four adults have loads of room to stretch out and the boot is wide and square.
The G-Class is available with a range of powerful engines and comes with a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system with locking diffs that mean it can tackle pretty much anything you throw at it. Yet it’s also easy to drive and comfortable. A class act.
Land Rover Defender
Year launched: 2020
When you think 4x4, you'll probably think Land Rover and the mighty Defender. Land Rover set itself no easy task of replacing such a landmark car like the Defender with and all-new model, but it's pulled it off.
The new Land Rover Defender was launched in 2020 and thanks to its boxy outline, is unmistakably a Defender. But bought bang up to date for the demands and expectations of the modern day user. This includes matrix LED headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, the brand's 10-inch Pivi Pro infotainment system and a panoramic sunroof.
But what's it like off-road? There's plenty of clever tech on hand to ensure the Defender will conquer any type of terrain. All models come with four-wheel-drive, naturally, with Land Rover's Terrain Response off-road system that ensures the Defender's settings are optimised for the terrain (sand or mud, for example). There's also air suspension as standard and an optional 3D surround camera that can help when wading in deep water or reversing a trailer.
While the phrase 4x4 conjures up images of mud-plugging Land Rovers on mucky farm tracks, there are plenty of - er - ‘normal’ cars that offer drive sent to all four wheels. From the Ford Kuga to the Dacia Duster. Heck, you can even get an all-wheel drive BMW.
In most cars, power is sent from the engine to the gearbox and then on to two driven wheels. Normally the front, but car’s like the BMW 3 Series are (mostly) rear-wheel drive. With a 4x4, the power is sent from the engine to the gearbox and then drive is split to both the front and rear wheels. Some systems allow for all wheels to be driven permanently, while others opt for a more front-wheel drive focus until grip goes AWOL.
The best 4x4 depends entirely on your needs. If you’re a farmer, you might opt for something like a Land Rover Defender to get across the fields. If you’re towing a horsebox or a caravan but want a car that's comfortable for daily use, then something like a Range Rover will suit your needs. If you're looking for a cheap but dependable 4x4, get a Fiat Panda 4x4.
Not necessarily. Most crossover SUVs are now available as two-wheel-drive models, which are cheaper to buy and run as they use less fuel. You might find that a two-wheel-drive crossover SUV with a set of all-season or winter tyres is almost as capable as a four-wheel drive.
1.2 TCe 125 Prestige 5dr
- 49,086 miles
- Renault Retail Group Bolton
- Greater Manchester, BL32NU
Representative example: Contract Length: 37 months, 36 Monthly Payments: £168.86, Customer Deposit: £1,408.00, Total Deposit: £1,658.50, Lender Deposit Contribution: £250.00, Optional Final Payment: £3,289.00, Total Charge For Credit: £1,636.46, Total Amount Payable: £11,026.46, Representative APR: 9.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 9.9%, Excess Mileage Charge: 8ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000
1.5 dCi 110 Ambiance Prime 5dr
- 26,149 miles
- Renault Retail Group Wolverhampton
- West Midlands, WV22PT
Representative example: Contract Length: 37 months, 36 Monthly Payments: £182.34, Customer Deposit: £1,410.00, Total Deposit: £1,660.00, Lender Deposit Contribution: £250.00, Optional Final Payment: £2,737.00, Total Charge For Credit: £1,561.24, Total Amount Payable: £10,961.24, Representative APR: 9.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 9.9%, Excess Mileage Charge: 8ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000
1.5 dCi 110 Laureate 5dr 4X4
- 31,200 miles
- Specialist Cars Dacia Aberdeen
- Kincardineshire, AB123AD
Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 36 Monthly Payments: £209.47, Customer Deposit: £1,170.00, Total Deposit: £1,170.00, Total Charge For Credit: £910.92, Total Amount Payable: £8,710.92, Representative APR: 8.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 8.9%