Best SUV alternatives

Want a four-wheel drive car that isn’t an SUV? There are plenty of cars with strong all-weather grip without the bulk or expense of an SUV

James Wilson
Nov 15, 2019

SUVs have been stealing sales from all over the market due to their tough looks, high driving positions and the perception of all-terrain ability. However, many SUVs lack four-wheel drive, can't wade through deep water without getting stuck and lack the hardware for serious off-roading, making them no more capable than a typical hatchback.

So what do you do if you need four-wheel drive ability, but don't want the considerable cost or showy nature of an SUV? One of these highly impressive four-wheel drive cars that aren't SUVs could be the answer, offering 4x4 go without the SUV show. 

Reasons for choosing a four-wheel drive car can vary greatly. It could be to scramble up rutted tracks in the pursuit of adventure, to pull a caravan halfway across the country, deal with seriously snowy roads or even to provide an edge around a racetrack.

The 10 cars listed here are not particularly focused on racing, though. Instead, they all perform very strongly in the practicality, slippery road and off-road stakes. This means features such as extra ground clearance (or at least variable ride height), protective underside panels and systems which distribute an engine’s power while maintaining maximum grip are all commonplace and should replicate the benefits that might come from SUV ownership.

 

If you don’t want your 4x4 to be an SUV your options are dominated by estate cars, but there is the occasional oddball you could go for as well. Before making any kind of decision, though, it's good to have a realistic idea in your mind about much off-roading you're actually going to be doing and what you need extra grip for. If you're mainly worried about being stuck in the snow for example, a decent set of winter tyres could be all you need to keep driving safely. Meanwhile, if towing is the key element for you, a car with four-wheel drive and a high towing capacity is more important than having increased ground clearance.

If you only have an occasional need for four-wheel drive, a 'part-time' system, which steps in when grip is low, could be the way forward. These systems have the bonus of keeping running costs lower by only driving two wheels for the majority of the time. On the flip side, if you need four-wheel drive all the time, a permanent system with additional mechanicals such as locking differentials could be the ticket.

Whatever you're after, we've got a great selection of four-wheel drive cars that aren't SUVs available for you to check out right now, with some excellent value used car deals that might just be what you're looking for.

Best 4x4 alternatives to SUVs

1. Audi A6 Allroad

Used Audi A6 Allroad deals from £18,580
Monthly finance from £330

The Audi A6 Allroad means business. Not only does it offer an upmarket cabin and plenty of on-board technology, but it also boasts some proper off-road credentials. This includes a locking centre differential for extra grip, a permanent four-wheel-drive system and variable ride height that can be raised by up to 45mm, at which point it stands 184mm above the ground, which is higher than a Jeep Renegade.

The latest generation A6 Allroad only arrived in 2019 and is available with a choice of two diesel engines – both of which come with an automatic gearbox. The range of equipment available with the A6 Allroad is extensive, even if you have to pay extra to take advtantage of much of it.

As standard, motorists are treated to matrix LED headlights - lights with elements which illuminate independently to light the greatest proportion of the road ahead without blinding oncoming traffic - air suspension and an electric tailgate. With prices starting at around £55,000 for a new model, it's a pricey proposition. Go for the similarly capable previous version, however, and used models could be yours from well under £20,000, making it a much wiser buy.

2. Volvo V90 Cross Country

Latest Volvo V90 Cross Country deals Limited stock

The Volvo V90 Cross Country is very much of the same ilk as the Audi A6 Allroad above. However, it is available with petrol and diesel engines. Changes made by Volvo over the standard V90 include a 60mm rise in ride height, chunkier tyres and rear air suspension – all of which make the Cross Country supremely comfortable and help it off-road.

While there is a choice of engines, there is only the option of an automatic gearbox. As standard, the Cross Country comes with equipment such as 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, a 12-inch driver display and adaptive cruise control. There are, of course, a wide range of optional extras of which air suspension with variable ride height is one and a canoe holder is another.

Second-hand values for the V90 Cross Country fall quickly. While this is bad news if you plan to buy the car new, it makes the V90 great value as a used purchase, with savings of more than £10,000 possible even on models that are less than a year old. 

3. Suzuki Swift 4x4

Latest Suzuki Swift 4x4 deals Limited stock

Want a small car but need four-wheel drive? There are very few options, but the Suzuki Swift 4x4 - or the Suzuki Swift Allgrip to give it its proper name - is one of them. Sure, small off-roaders such as the Fiat Panda 4x4 and Suzuki Jimny exist, but both feel much more like an off-roader than the Swift.

Every Swift Allgrip model is powered by a 1.2-litre petrol with mild hybrid power for a little extra power and fuel economy. A mild hybrid normally means there are marginal gains in economy and emissions over standard cars thanks to a small amount of assistance from a diminutive electric motor.

While there is no extra ride height or trick suspension to speak of, an Allgrip Swift could be perfect for those who need four-wheel drive for extra grip on snow, muddy tracks or very mild off-road use, with extra peace of mind while on wet and slippery roads - don't expect it to be much use in more extreme environments. The  Allgrip does come in very well specced SZ5 trim, though – with equipment such as Bluetooth, sat-nav and adaptive cruise control all included as standard.

4. Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain

Latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain deals from £45,500
Monthly finance from £645

Mercedes is relatively new to the off-road estate market, in comparison to Volvo and Audi, which have made numerous versions over the years. As Mercedes only offers the E-Class All-Terrain with one engine - a powerful 3.0-litre diesel - and one gearbox - a nine-speed automatic - you won’t exactly be lost in a sea of options.

That said, the lack of choice is not necessarily a bad thing as the setup is very refined indeed and offers serious muscle for towing heavy loads - on or off the road. To help make sure all E-Class All-Terrains can handle the tough stuff, Mercedes has included front and rear air suspension, plastic body cladding and retractable towbar as standard.

See this as a luxurious family car with the ability to deal with wet, snowy or muddy tracks and tow heavy loads without fuss. Yes, the All-Terrain offers reasonable ground clearance, but if you plan to do travel far off the beaten track, one of the best 4x4s for off-roading is likely to serve you better.

5. Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer

Latest Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer deals Limited stock

Although no longer available to buy new, the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is still a great purchase. Production was stopped due to slow sales, so finding one might be a touch trickier than hunting down a regular Insignia estate. However, the fact there's little competition to buy a Country Tourer means there should be some fantastic value used models available.

If you do manage to source one, you will get a ride height which is 25mm higher than the standard model plus a four-wheel-drive setup which is the same kind of system as those used in the Range Rover Evoque and Ford Focus RS. Better still, comfort levels are very high, making this a super comfy all-weather machine with the security of four-wheel drive.

There is also the addition of exterior plastic cladding plus front and rear skid plates to help prevent any major damage from knocks picked up during off-roading. While the interior is not as luxurious as alternatives such as the Mercedes and Audi models above, the Insignia is far, far cheaper and it is still a very appealing model in its own right.

6. VW Passat Alltrack

Latest VW Passat Alltrack deals Limited stock

Volkswagen has a long history of making 4x4 versions of its cars. In fact, as far back as the mid-1980s VW was offering 4x4 variants of its Golf and Type 2 camper van.

To make sure the current generation Passat is ready to go off-road - or simply deal with snow and wet, slippery roads - VW raised the ride height by 28mm, bestowed the exterior with numerous bits of plastic cladding and attached protective skid plates to underneath the car. It also installed an all-important part-time four-wheel-drive system.

As the Passat Alltrack sits near the top of the Passat range standard equipment is great – with niceties such as matrix LED headlights, 9.2-inch touchscreen media system and digital dials all included as standard. You are, however, limited to one transmission and one engine – a seven-speed automatic and 2.0-litre diesel. With the new model only launched in 2019 prices are high, though used versions of the previous model are available from well under half the price of a new one.

7. Subaru Outback

Used Subaru Outback deals Limited stock

Subaru has long had a reputation for making durable and off-road capable cars that offer many of the things that UK buyers now look for - petrol engines, raised ride height and four-wheel drive - but haven't quite captured the attention of UK customers. Consider one of these models, however, and you could get yourself a strong value car that offers far more all-weather ability than many pricier SUVs.

Thanks to a sophisticated all-wheel drive system the Outback is a car which is sure-footed on the road and very capable off it. While many of those on this list are merely modified versions of a normal road car, Subaru’s Outback is a 4x4 in all but looks. On the flip side, like many on this list, the Outback is only available as an automatic.

Standard equipment is plentiful, with keyless entry/start, dual-zone air conditioning, heated door mirrors and reversing camera included as standard. There is also Subaru’s suite of safety technology called EyeSight, which brings tech such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.

8. Skoda Octavia Scout

Used Skoda Octavia Scout deals from £12,999
Monthly finance from £209

Skoda may be phasing out the Octavia Scout ahead of the 2020 Skoda Octavia, but the fact remains it is a great all-round 4x4 for those not wanting an SUV. This is largely thanks to it being based on the regular Octavia which is spacious, comfortable and relatively cheap to run.

The Scout’s off-road resume includes a 30mm lift over standard models - meaning you're less likely to catch the bottom of the car on rough terrain - plastic cladding on the bodywork and a four-wheel-drive system that distributes power to each wheel depending on which ones are slipping; under normal road conditions, only the front wheels are driven.

Skoda made sure Octavia Scouts came well-equipped but it is the practical touches that help make the Scout stand out – such as an ice scraper built in behind the fuel filler cap and torch in the boot. As a final note on the Scout, all more recent models came with a diesel engine and automatic gearbox, though older manual versions are available. 

9. Volvo V60 Cross Country

Latest Volvo V60 Cross Country deals from £27,513
Monthly finance from £375

The Volvo V60 Cross Country is the little brother to the V90 Cross Country above. It doesn’t have to trade on the quality and appeal of its sibling to attract buyers, though, as the V60 (Cross Country or not) is one of the best estate cars on sale in its own right.

For V60 Cross Country models, ride height is raised by 60mm (partly thanks to revised suspension and partly thanks larger tyres) and the obligatory plastic cladding is accounted for, too. Buyers can choose from petrol or diesel engines but an automatic transmission is mandatory. Standard equipment is good, with 18-inch alloy wheels, 12-inch driver display and cruise control all included.

Cross Country versions of the previous generation V60 are also available, with prices starting at well under £15,000. This makes the V60 a great value option if you're after a comfortable car with four-wheel drive ability and slightly raised ground clearance for dealing with challenging roads.

10. Toyota Hilux

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

Yes, the Toyota Hilux is big and yes it looks as square and chunky as an ordinary SUV, but it's much more capable off-road, more practical and better value than many SUVs - even far smaller models. If you can cope with their size, the latest crop of pick-ups are easier to live with than ever and, thanks to their role as tough commercial vehicles, they are also very capable off-road.

To back this up, the Hilux comes with a locking rear differential - which helps spread power between the wheels when one starts to spin due to lack of grip - along with high and low ratio gears for keeping moving even on slippery surfaces. Buyers can choose between automatic and manual gearboxes but either way the transmission is connected to a 2.4-litre diesel engine.

For those who need strong load-hauling capabilities as well as 4x4 ones, the Hilux can carry up to one tonne in its load bed and tow up to 3.5 tonnes – no others on this list can come remotely close to these figures.

 

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