Best petrol 4x4 cars

Fancy four-wheel drive but don’t want a high driving position or bulky SUV? Read on for normal petrol cars with added all-wheel drive grip

James Wilson
Apr 30, 2020

Like the idea of four-wheel drive for all-weather grip or even safe towing, but don't want a hefty, high-riding diesel-powered off-roader that devours fuel, is hard to park and costs the earth? Tracking down a normal, non-SUV, car that packs four-wheel drive can be tricky, so we've rounded up some of the best petrol 4x4s to give you a hand.

If you spend most of your time on the road and don't want to pay a premium for a four-wheel-drive SUV, these models should provide strong grip on snow, muddy roads or simply wet Tarmac. All without tonnes of plastic cladding and in-your-face looks. For the best winter grip, get yourself a set of winter tyres and you're likely to be able to travel far further and more safely on snow and even cold, wet roads, than those with posey SUVs and standard 'summer' tyres.

With more and more questions being raised over diesel emissions, we've focused on petrol-powered machines here. If you want four-wheel-drive grip, but don't need off-road ability, you open up the option of a number of desirable performance cars, too, which feature four-wheel drive to better control their significant power. These include the Ford Focus RS, BMW M5 and Volkswagen Golf R as but a few examples.

Keep reading for Fiesta- and Golf-sized four-wheel drive hatchbacks, super-practical all-wheel-drive estate cars and even an incredibly fast sports car that can keep up with all but the most rapid supercars. 

Best petrol 4x4 cars

1. Suzuki Swift AllGrip

Best petrol 4x4 supermini

BuyaCar used deals Limited stock

If you're after a compact, easy-to-drive supermini that offers four-wheel-drive, the Suzuki Swift AllGrip (that's Suzuki speak for having four driven wheels) is about the only option. Thankfully it's a good option, though, as the Swift is affordable and because only the better-equipped versions are available with four-wheel-drive, you get an impressive amount of equipment included.

While the Swift doesn't feel as upmarket as a VW Polo, the cabin is well laid out and features easy-to-use controls for kit such as air-conditioning. Suzuki’s four-wheel-drive system predominantly sends power to the front wheels - to improve fuel economy - but when the car senses that the wheels are slipping, it then sends power to the rear wheels as well, which should keep you going on slippery roads or when tackling a steep, muddy driveway.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Audi A6 Avant

Best petrol 4x4 estate

BuyaCar used deals from £18,500
Monthly finance from £281

Looking for a big, upmarket estate car, with the benefit of four-wheel drive? The Audi A6 Avant could be perfect for you. The outside is bold but subtle, while the interior feels very high quality, as you'd hope. New prices are steep, however the A6 Avant is surprisingly good value as a second-hand purchase, with big savings to be made. On top of its upmarket image, the A6 Avant is practical with a massive boot and tonnes of interior space, efficient and better to drive than older versions.

Entry-level 4x4 petrol models are powered by an engine Audi calls the 45 TFSI (any model badged TFSI means it uses petrol not diesel). If you fancy more muscle, however, a more powerful 55 TFSI engine is available. Or you can go all out and choose the monstrous RS 6 Avant, which is seriously rapid, with the four-wheel drive system helping it to transfer its hefty horsepower count to the road without spinning its wheels wildly - especially in wet or cold weather.

AUDI A6 AVANT BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Jaguar XF

Best petrol 4x4 saloon

BuyaCar used deals from £15,400
Monthly finance from £239

The Jaguar XF is a seriously sleek car and if you don't want to advertise the fact your car powers all four wheels, it could be perfect. The Jag isn’t just a pretty face either, as it is one of the best handling cars in its class, proving comfortable but sharp enough around corners to be fun to drive. You don’t have much in the way of choice when it comes to engines and gearboxes, though, as there is just one petrol 4x4 on offer and it is a range-topping 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol. This gives you plenty of power, though, and good refinement when cruising.

Furthermore, the interior is stylish and feels upmarket. Like many alternatives, the XF uses a four-wheel-drive system that sends most of its power to two wheels until slip is detected, however, unlike many alternatives the XF sends power to the rear wheels under normal operating conditions and not the front. This makes it feel a little more sporty, as should the wheels begin to spin it will be the rear ones momentarily, rather than the front ones, which you would feel through the steering.

JAGUAR XF BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Skoda Superb

Best petrol 4x4 family car

BuyaCar used deals from £9,691
Monthly finance from £184

The Skoda Superb is a supreme family car. It is practical, pleasant to drive and great value for money new, proving even more affordable if you go for a nearly-new or used one. Choosing a 4x4 petrol model does increase the price, somewhat, but it's still excellent value.

As Skoda is part of the same company as Volkswagen and Audi, the building blocks (such as engines, interior and equipment) which make up the Superb are tried, tested and ahead of much of the competition.

Skoda updated the Superb in 2019, meaning there are slight differences between brand new and nearly-new models and older ones. Regardless, all four-wheel drive models use the same setup - which like many on this list only sends power to all four wheels when it detects that the front wheels are slipping.

SKODA SUPERB BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Subaru Impreza

Best petrol 4x4 for rugged engineering

BuyaCar used deals Limited stock

Subaru specialises in four-wheel-drive cars. In fact, bar one rear-wheel-drive sports car it developed with Toyota - the Subaru BRZ, which is closely related to the Toyota GT86 - it only sells vehicles with four-wheel drive. Subaru's expertise in all-wheel drive means that if you need the absolute best grip for dealing with slippery surfaces or a particularly rough driveway, for instance, the Impreza is a safe bet.

The current version is only available with an automatic gearbox, but if you'd rather a manual, older versions are available with a choice of both. Unlike other four-wheel drive cars that only power two wheels normally, shunting power to the other pair if they  start to slip, the Impreza sends power to all four wheels all the time. This means that the Impreza should prove more sure-footed than some four-wheel drive on particularly slippery surfaces or those with variable grip.

Subaru also prides itself on safety and the Impreza comes with something called EyeSight which helps prevent collisions - or at least minimise their severity.

6. BMW 3 Series

Best petrol 4x4 for an upmarket cabin and fun drive

BMW 3 Series

BuyaCar used deals from £12,590
Monthly finance from £232

BMW claims to sell 'ultimate driving machines' with part of this down to the fact that the company used to only sell driver-focused rear-wheel drive cars that offered strong grip when accelerating and precise steering that never tugged in your hands as in cars that send power to the front wheels. However, with more and more drivers looking for the extra traction of four-wheel drive, BMW now offers xDrive models that send power to all four wheels. As with the Jaguar above, this system predominantly sends power to the rear wheels for a more satisfying drive, with power being sent to the front wheels should the rears begin to slip.

The 3 Series was overhauled in 2019, which makes the latest car far more sophisticated than the one that went before, though the previous version now offers great value as a used purchase. Performance, practicality and quality are all better than ever in the new car and with the option of xDrive you have a better chance of keeping moving in snow if you're used to being marooned every winter.

Be aware, however, that the best way to stay safe when driving on slippery snowy and icy roads is to fit winter tyres, which offer much improved traction in cold temperatures. If you only want four-wheel drive for dealing with rare snowfall, you're likely to be better off sticking with a two-wheel drive car - which should prove cheaper to purchase or finance and offer better fuel economy - and getting a second set of tyres to fit when the temperatures plummet every winter.

BMW 3 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Audi TT

Best petrol 4x4 for style and a little practicality

BuyaCar used deals from £12,490
Monthly finance from £230

The first Audi TT was focused on style over substance, proving incredibly desirable, but less than satisfying for keener drivers. With more recent versions, however, you no longer have to choose between style or substance - you get both. And whichever generation of TT you go for, there are four-wheel drive versions available, labelled with the name 'Quattro'.

Although the Quattro system here is different in construction to the four-wheel-drive system used in the A6 Avant mentioned earlier, it fundamentally works in the same way by sensing wheels slipping and sending more power to the ones that have more grip.

One of the real selling points of the TT is that it is available in both coupe and convertible form. On top of this, Audi nailed the interior design with the TT thanks to features (some of which are options) such as Audi’s 'Virtual Cockpit' which replaces traditional driver dials with a digital display. So whether you want a stylish car to enjoy being seen in, or a grippy sporty car to enjoy driving, the TT could fit the bill.

AUDI TT BUYERS' GUIDE

8. VW Golf R

Best petrol 4x4 for everyday driving

BuyaCar used deals from £15,495
Monthly finance from £226

Volkswagen has just overhauled its super-popular Golf hatchback, but while you may think that makes it a bad time to pick up one of the outgoing models, it's actually a great time to buy a used or nearly-new Golf as you should get far more for your money. And the R is one of the most exciting versions you can get, offering tonnes of power with four-wheel drive to make the most of that muscle on the road.

Powering the R is a 2.0-litre petrol engine which produces up to 310hp and puts power down on the road via a part-time four-wheel drive system. This means that power is predominantly sent to the front wheels until wheelspin is detected and then the rear wheels come into play. There are manual and automatic versions available and thanks to being on sale for a number of years now, there are plenty of used versions available, from great value older models to very good condition newer ones.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF BUYERS' GUIDE

9. Nissan GT-R

Best petrol 4x4 for speed and performance

BuyaCar used deals from £74,995
Monthly finance from £1,148

The Nissan GT-R is getting old in new car terms, but still accelerates like nothing else with massive power from its muscular motor and huge grip thanks to the addition of four-wheel drive. At the centre of such performance is a turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine which feeds power to all four wheels to make sure it's not all spun away in a cloud of tyre smoke.

Power output sits at an immense 560hp - translating to a top speed of 196mph and a 0-62mph sprint time of 2.7 seconds, which is incredibly fast, even in the context of Ferraris and Lamborghinis. To handle the performance, Nissan designed a four-wheel-drive system which sends a little more power to the rear wheels than those at the front, but should the situation demand it, up to 50% of the power can be fed through the front wheels.

As standard, all models are automatics and come with four seats, although the rear seats aren’t particularly adult-friendly. On top of this, thanks to having been on sale since 2007 used models can be picked up for less than a new Audi TT, provided you are happy with an older model. Over the years Nissan has made a wide range of changes to the GT-R so the newer car you choose, the more developed a vehicle you will be buying. Even if you go for an older one, though, you'll get a seriously impressive four-wheel drive supercar.

10. Infiniti Q30

Best petrol 4x4 that no one has heard of

BuyaCar used deals Limited stock

If you want a sensible, stylish hatchback, but would like something rare and distinctive, the Infiniti Q30 could be just the ticket. Infiniti was Nissan’s luxury sub-brand (like Lexus is to Toyota) and consequently its cars were expensive brand new, meaning few people bought them. We use ‘was’ as from January 1 2020, Infiniti has stopped selling cars in the UK car market.

Don’t let that put you off a used model though, as Infiniti leaving the UK means used prices are very low, so you can find yourself a bargain. And you can still get the car serviced by Nissan. What few people realise is that the Q30 is based on the same platform as the Mercedes A-Class - meaning that much of the engineering underneath and interior trim are borrowed from its German counterpart. While the Q30 isn’t the most exciting car to drive, it offers a comfortable drive and pleasant cabin, making it a top value upmarket hatchback.

The alternative option: Tesla Model S

Best electric saloon that's as good as a petrol one

List price £77,700

If you're keen to avoid diesel, but aren't wedded to the idea of getting a petrol car, the electric Tesla Model S is a fantastic four-wheel drive option. Not only do you get the benefits of having a zero-emission car (remember that it isn't truly zero-emission unless you charge it using energy from renewable sources), but you can also top up easily at home or at one of Tesla's large network of Superchargers, that add charge to the battery very quickly.

More than this, the Model S offers breathtaking acceleration - it's both rapid and silent. All new models come with four-wheel-drive and the entry-level variant (pegged as a long-range model) boasts 379 miles' worth of range from a single charge. The Model S uses two separate electric motors to drive the front and rear wheels, which means it can fine-tune how much torque is sent to the front and rear wheels based on road conditions.

If you're looking at used models, just make sure the one you choose has four-wheel drive if this is something you're after, as older models were available in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive form.

 

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