Best 4x4 2023
Fancy a mud-spraying, rock-climbing, dust-flinging 4x4? Many modern SUVs never leave the road, but these 10 are seriously capable
If you’re seeking a 4x4 that will dominate mud, floods, snow and just about anything else that an off-road track can throw at it, you’re probably looking for an SUV. While there are plenty of cheap used SUVs on the market, it’s not a simple case of just buying anyone and being ready to go. Many modern SUVs - especially crossovers - are actually no more capable of going off-road than the far cheaper and more economical hatchbacks that they’re based on.
Even if an SUV looks big and beefy on the outside, what lies beneath - where it counts - might not necessarily make it an off-roader. In fact, some SUVs don’t even have four-wheel-drive. In order to make things easier, we've rounded up 10 of the best 4x4s for off-roading and put them together right here to make the search as simple as it can be.
When you're looking at 4x4s though, there's more to it than just confirming whether they can go off-road or not. Some models will be better suited to driving through deep floodwater than others, while some cars will have more astute four-wheel-drive systems ready to tackle snowy winter conditions.
So it's important to know exactly what you're intending to use the car for because a car that's capable of traversing a muddy field might be stumped when the puddles get too deep. But no matter what you're going to need your new off-roader for, we've covered all the bases with this selection of 10 great 4x4s.
Best 4x4s for off-roading
What makes a good 4x4?
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, having a capable 4x4 can make life a whole lot simpler.
Many of the models on this list have a lineage that 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 altered and upgraded in ways to make them more presentable to road-going users, but they've not lost any of their hard-wired ability.
As technology developed over the decades, so too did the utilitarian vehicles these groups used. Now, instead of being heavy, hard-to-drive brutes, some of the most competent off-road vehicles 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 both comfort and capability 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 4x4 you've never heard of
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SsangYong is probably the best manufacturer of 4x4s that 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, although they are not renowned for being the best lookers.
Things have changed dramatically, though, and the latest-generation SsangYong 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 the same 2.2-litre diesel engine but there is a choice of manual or automatic transmissions depending on spec. Seven seats are an option, too, so it can double up as a capable and spacious family car.
Best 4x4 made in Britain
In the UK, the Land Rover Defender has been a 4x4 synonymous with heavy-duty off-roading for decades – thanks largely to its popularity with the armed forces and farmers. While range-topping versions of the new Defender get seriously pricey, even the entry-level model starts just north of £45,000. But, as it's likely to prove super popular like its predecessor, PCP finance deals can offer surprisingly low monthly payments, making it far more attainable than you might expect.
The good news is the new Defender still packs 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 (one 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.
Best 4x4 to make a statement
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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 Ford 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.
Best 4x4 for reliability
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The Toyota Land Cruiser is regarded by many as the 4x4 of choice to get from A to B while driving in the harshest environments across the world - 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.
Best 4x4 for All American charm
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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, not to mention a cracking range of aftermarket accessories on offer.
Best 4x4 for no-nonsense driving
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 Subaru 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.
Best 4x4 for towing and hauling
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Since the first Toyota 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, never mind 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 considering the Ford Ranger, which beats the Hilux's 700mm wading depth with a figure of 800mm - 850mm in Ranger Raptor form above.
Best 4x4 with seven seats
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 under £25,000, compared with starting prices of over £32,000 for new models. Check out the best used cash and finance deals available now by clicking on the link below.
Best 4x4 for navigating narrow tracks
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 digital 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.
Best 4x4 for stylish off-roading
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The Mercedes G-Class - also known as the G-Wagen - traces its roots back all the way to the 1970s when the manufacturer set out to create a vehicle that mixed the spartan qualities of a cross-country vehicle with the comforts of a road-going vehicle. Fast forward nearly 50 years and each generation of G-Class since has retained these qualities in some form - albeit with a much greater sense of lavishness in later years - and every car retains the iconic, boxy looks of the original.
Nowadays, the Mercedes G-Class enjoys a reputation for being the car of choice for the rich and famous. And while this means that very few will actually see even the smallest amount of mud, all variants of G-Class will absolutely dominate any off-road challenge you can throw at it.
Typically, this ‘showbiz’ image has driven G-Class prices sky-high, with top-spec models commanding over £200,000, even on the used market. These models are usually in AMG G63 or G65 guise, with a respective V8 or V12 engine. But, if you’re more interested in this car for off-roading rather than looking good driving down Kensington High Street, then opting for a diesel-powered G-Class will bring the price down considerably, to around £60,000, while retaining the sheer off-road capability and luxuries that a flagship Mercedes brings.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:
48 monthly payments of £192
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
Buyacar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.