Best 4x4s for off-roading

Fancy a mud-spraying, rock-climbing, dust-flinging 4x4? Many SUVs could get stuck in a puddle, but these 10 are serious capable off-roaders

James Wilson
Dec 9, 2019

You want a car that's a capable of going off-road, one that can tackle a bit of snow, turn a blind eye to floods and ignore the perils of rough and rocky tracks? You'll be looking for an SUV right? Well, no, actually. Many models - especially hatchback-based crossovers - are no more capable of off-roading than the far cheaper and economical hatchbacks they're based on.

You see, just because an SUV looks big and beefy on the outside doesn't necessarily mean it's got the attributes required to make it an all-conquering off-roader, some SUVs don't even have four-wheel drive. To clear things up, we've found 10 of the best 4x4s for off-roading and put them together right here to make the job of finding your next car as simple as it could be.

We also have features on cars that can drive through the deepest floods and the best cars for snow to help you make the perfect winter car choice.

If you want an SUV for serious off-road ability rather than simply the high-riding driving position that more and more drivers seem to want, then it can be difficult to suss out which off-roaders have true off-road ability rather than just tall suspension. Whether you need an SUV to deal with seriously snowy winters where you live or work on a mud-strewn farm or head into the wilderness every weekend, having a capable 4x4 can make life a whole lot simpler.

Many of the models on this list have a lineage which can be traced back to a basic go-anywhere vehicle used by the likes of the military, farmers and even researchers travelling to the farthest-flung corners of the world. They may have been scrubbed up a bit in a bid to make them more presentable (or in some cases not), but they've not lost any of their hard-wired ability.

As technology has developed over the decades, so too did the utilitarian vehicles these groups used. Instead of being heavy, hard-to-drive brutes, some of the most competent off-road vehicles today are at the pinnacle of luxury. But don't think you have to spend mega-money to get a proper 4x4. Choose wisely and you can get a comfy and capable SUV for less than you might think.

 

Not only do the cars below offer incredible off-road capabilities and all the mod-cons you'd expect from a new car today, but they are also relatively affordable - especially if you opt for a used model. These lower price tags don’t mean buyers have to skimp on clever off-roading technology, either.

Many of those on this list offer cameras to help drivers look out for jutting rocks and similar obstacles, while cars fitted with variable ride height can adjust themselves ready to tackle everything from swollen rivers to sharp ascents. Keep reading to find yourself the best 4x4 for off-roading.

Best 4x4s for off-roading

1. SsangYong Rexton

Best 4x4 you've never heard of

Latest SsangYong Rexton deals Limited stock

SsangYong is probably the best manufacturer of 4x4s you’ve never heard of. If you are familiar with SsangYong you will probably be aware they have a history of making fantastically capable cars, some of which were about as attractive as a fungal toenail.

Things have changed dramatically, though, and the latest generation Rexton is not only great off-road, but much easier on the eyes. Underneath the exterior is a ladder chassis which is a hallmark of a tough traditional off-roader, as it is ideally suited for driving over twisting terrain.

Meanwhile, a locking centre differential and low ratio gearbox mean the Rexton will keep going on the kind of surfaces many SUVs can’t even look at, with this kit helping the car to keep moving, even if several of the wheels are slipping. All models use a 2.2-litre diesel engine but there is a choice of manual or automatic transmissions depending on spec. Seven seats are an option, too.

2. Land Rover Defender

Best 4x4 made in Britain

Used Land Rover Defender deals from £24,990
Monthly finance from £549

In the UK, the Land Rover Defender has been a 4x4 synonymous with heavy duty off-roading for decades – thanks largely to the fact it's a favourite with the armed forces and farmers. While range-topping Defenders get seriously pricey, the entry-level model starts just north of £40,000. As the new model is likely to prove super popular, however, expect PCP finance deals to offer surprisingly low monthly payments, making it far more attainable than you might expect.

Land Rover only recently revealed the new Defender and the good news is it still looks set to pack quite the off-roading punch - and can safely wade through 900mm of water, making it one of the best cars for flooding. A low and high range transfer box is present and correct, as are two locking differentials (on for the centre and one for the rear of the car). Together these help the car to grip even on the most challenging terrain.

There are two body styles on offer – the 90 and the longer 110. The latter comes with variable air suspension as standard, while the former comes with more traditional coil springs as standard. Furthermore, very practical equipment such as rubber flooring (easy to clean) and cameras which feed video footage of the area around a Defender into the cockpit - for easy and safe off-road manoeuvring - are on offer.

3. Ford Ranger Raptor

Best 4x4 to make a statement

Used Ford Ranger deals from £13,990
Monthly finance from £250

What happens when a car manufacturer takes one of its toughest 4x4 vehicles and hands it over to its performance division who like nothing more than turning the wick up to 11? The Ranger Raptor is what. 

This beast builds on the standard Ford Ranger but has been fettled to be able to travel over harsh terrain fast. There is, of course, a price for this, which sits near the £50k mark but, for the money, motorists get something unlike anything else on the market. And again, PCP finance deals make the Ranger a much more realistic proposition for many drivers.

If you like splashing through fords - the river-running-across-the-road type - then the Raptor is even more capable than the standard Ranger, being able to shrug off 850mm of water, compared with 800mm. Both figures are seriously impressive, so if you need a practical pick-up and don't want to change your route home just because half of the road is underwater, then the Raptor is the one to go for.

Standout off-roading features include a strengthened ladder chassis, trick suspension and a range of off-road technologies which allow you to tailor the Ranger Raptor’s performance to the terrain – for example, steep ascents and descents on the likes of snow, mud and sand. All Ranger Raptors come with a 2.0-litre diesel engine and while that may seem a little lacking compared with the looks, it offers more muscle than you'd expect.

4. Toyota Land Cruiser

Best 4x4 for reliability

Latest Toyota Land Cruiser deals Limited stock

Toyota’s Land Cruiser is seen the world over as the 4x4 of choice to get from A to B while driving in the harshest environments - and far away from any kind of mechanic. Proof of this is the number of 10-, 20-, 30- and even 40-year-old Land Cruisers still motoring up and down some of the toughest roads on the planet.

In its current form (Toyota last updated the Land Cruiser in 2018), it is as well suited to going off-road as ever, even if this means it feels a little less refined on the road than some of its mud-fearing rivals.

Since 2015 all UK models have come with a 2.8-litre diesel engine which is supported by low range gears, a locking centre differential, ladder-frame chassis and smattering of off-road technology to keep the wheels turning, whatever the surface. Depending on your preference there is a manual or an automatic gearbox on offer.

5. Jeep Wrangler

Best 4x4 for All American charm

Latest Jeep Wrangler deals from £23,541
Monthly finance from £367

The Jeep Wrangler is the USA’s equivalent of the Land Rover Defender. Interestingly, if you go back far enough into both modern-day models’ history, they actually come from the same ancestor, with strong military lineage. Much like the Defender, the Wrangler is very capable off-road.

In terms of specification, you must first decide if you want the smaller two-door or larger four-door model. Both variants come with low range gears, an automatic gearbox, front and rear locking differentials and the option of petrol or diesel engines. Plus, Jeep has designed the Wrangler so that motorists can easily remove/fold down many panels (including the doors, roof and windscreen) so they can get closer to the outdoors when off-roading.

Granted, a Jeep Wrangler won’t be the cheapest 4x4 to run or buy and isn’t exactly the last word in comfort, but it does have a huge following and therefore cracking range of aftermarket accessories on offer.

6. Subaru Forester

Best 4x4 for no-nonsense driving

Latest Subaru Forester deals from £12,495
Monthly finance from £222

For those unfamiliar with Subaru off-roaders, they have two unique selling points: their symmetrical all-wheel-drive systems and 'boxer' engines – both of which are used throughout the range. The latter refers to engines that are laid on their side rather than being upright, which together with that sophisticated all-wheel drive both helps promote agile roadholding and strong levels of grip.

While the Forester may trail some of those on this list when it comes to locking differentials and low range gearboxes for really tricky terrain, it represents one of the best options for those after a slightly smaller 4x4 which still comes with impressive off-road credentialss. All models come with an automatic gearbox and a 2.5-litre petrol engine.

While the Forester may not scream and shout about itself, it is very well built and Subaru has a very strong reputation for reliability, so even if you go for an older model, you should benefit from thousands of miles of reliable motoring.

7. Toyota Hilux

Best 4x4 for towing and hauling

Latest Toyota Hilux deals from £12,990
Monthly finance from £241

Since the first Hilux rolled off the production line decades ago, around 18 million more have followed suit. In its current form, the Hilux is as useful as ever, thanks firstly to still being a capable 4x4, but also offering a cabin that feels like it would be just as at home in a family hatchback nevermind a utilitarian truck.

Off-road credentials include a locking rear differential and selectable four-wheel-drive system. There is the choice of a manual or automatic gearbox – the former being more impressive than the latter – but there is only one engine on offer and that is a 2.4-litre diesel.

Perhaps more important for anyone looking to use their Hilux for commercial purposes is that the latest generation Hilux comes with a one-tonne payload capacity for the truck bed and a towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes. If you expect to spend a lot of time wading through rivers, streams or floods, though, it's worth consider the Ford Ranger, which beats the Hilux's 700mm wading depth with a figure of 800mm - 850mm in Ranger Raptor form above.

8. Land Rover Discovery Sport

Best 4x4 with seven seats

Used Land Rover Discovery deals from £17,690
Monthly finance from £241

For those after a family SUV which looks good, isn’t too big, yet offers class-leading off-roading abilities, the recently updated Land Rover Discovery Sport could be the one. Those wanting four-wheel drive will need to opt for an automatic gearbox, but if you can live with that you will be treated to Land Rover’s impressive Terrain Response 2 system.

Terrain Response 2 works by automatically sensing the type of surface you're driving on and adjusting the power delivery for maximum traction, to ensure you can get up the steepest hills and down even the most slippery roads. You also get an upmarket interior to match which automatically puts the Discovery Sport ahead of many other seven-seat cars in the desirability stakes.

Land Rover updated the Discovery Sport in 2019 and greatly improved the overall package. Changes to the exterior are more subtle, including new lights and bumpers, but the most important changes come inside, with better information and media systems being one of the most important areas of progress. It is still a pricey car, new, however, so if you want the most car for your money, there are some great value low-mileage used options from well under £20,000, compared with starting prices of well over £30,000 for new models. Check out the best used cash and finance deals available now by clicking on the link below.

9. Suzuki Jimny

Best 4x4 for navigating narrow tracks

Used Suzuki Jimny deals from £11,922
Monthly finance from £207

No modern-day 4x4 list is complete without the Suzuki Jimny. What it lacks in size it makes up for in rugged charm and the ability to squeeze through gaps and down narrow tracks that standard 4x4s simply couldn't fit down.

Powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine - with either a manual or automatic gearbox - the Jimny comes with a tough ladder-frame chassis and selectable four-wheel drive - with the option of low range four-wheel drive for tackling the steepest slopes or most slippery ground.

Equipment levels are impressive throughout the range with Bluetooth, DAB radio and lane departure warning included as standard. There is one small snag with the Jimny, and that is interior space. If you want to transport a number of passengers and luggage, you will more than likely need a roof box to put their stuff, since load space is tiny if the rear seats are in use.

10. Range Rover Evoque

Best 4x4 for stylish off-roading

Used Range Rover Evoque deals from £16,499
Monthly finance from £247

For those who argue the Range Rover Evoque isn’t a proper 4x4, they should ask themselves which small SUVs there are out there can outperform the Evoque off-road. The answer is one – very small Suzuki Jimny that's also on this list.

The latest Evoque - launched in 2019 - feels more modern than its predecessor and also offers greater off-road credentials, with the wading depth, for instance, increased from 500mm to 600mm. Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system for maximising grip on different surfaces is also present, further helping off-road.

Away from 4x4 tech the Evoque feels very plush indeed – but that comes with the territory of being a Range Rover. Be aware, however, that some models are front-wheel drive only which will limit their ability off-road.

That's not to say they're not capable, but if you need to deal with wet, muddy ground, steep ascents and descents and navigating rough terrain, the extra traction of four-wheel drive is likely to make a real difference. If you want a more affordable Range Rover Evoque, however, we'd recommend tracking down a second-hand four-wheel drive model, for the best combination of value and off-road ability - now the 2019 model has arrived there are great used deals available on the previous generation model.

 

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