The arrival of winter brings an inevitable spike in interest in 4x4s as drivers begin to question whether their regular car is up to the task of dealing with slippery roads, snow, ice and heavy rain.
Faced with more difficult conditions, it’s tempting see a rugged all-wheel-drive as the best solution but depending on where you live and how you use your vehicle, a tough off-roader could well be overkill, according to James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars. He says: “It’s worth thinking about the kind of driving you intend to do before deciding on whether you need a full blown 4x4 SUV such as a Land Rover Discovery, or a more modest crossover like the Toyota RAV4. Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were originally designed to tackle hard terrain and had tough chassis with proper four-wheel drive systems but many modern SUVs have smaller engines and lighter bodies and often aren’t four-wheel drive, although some come with the option of AWD.”
In fact, for a lot of drivers a decent set of winter or all-season tyres is enough to provide the additional capability and reassurance they need. However, especially for those living and working in the wilder parts of the UK, a more rugged all-wheel-drive vehicle could be the right solution, so, with James’s help, we’ve come up with a list of 10 of the best used 4x4 choices.
Its almost toy-like size means the Jimny won’t suit everybody but from the way it looks to the way it performs off-road this is essentially a mini Land Rover. Suzuki has a long history of building 4x4s and the Jimny is an astonishingly accomplished vehicle when conditions get tricky, with a proper four-wheel drive system and low-range transmission. Its not as refined or well-equipped as many modern cars but if you need a small, affordable but truly rugged vehicle it’s a good choice.
Says James: “The Jimny boasts a small 1.3-litre petrol engine, meaning it is not as expensive to run and insure as others on the list. Its lightness offers other benefits too, and it gives much larger 4x4s a run for their money when it comes to ability. Make sure you weigh up where you do most driving, however — the Jimny is a great off-road car, but may not be as well suited to people doing lots of miles on tarmac.”
Land Rover Discovery
Almost no brand is more associated with rugged, capable vehicles than Land Rover. It has built its reputation on tough go-anywhere vehicles and even its most luxurious models are more capable off-road than most rivals. The original Defender is its most iconic and rugged vehicle but by today’s standards, used models are crude, cramped and unrefined. Instead consider the Discovery - a more well-appointed seven-seater with Defender-like abilities.
Says James: “Land Rover is synonymous with producing quality 4x4s and the Land Rover Discovery is one of the finest all-rounders they offer. It’s a spacious, practical seven-seater and is full of Land Rover’s best off-road attributes. It merges luxury and practicality making it a great choice for both urban and rural drivers. Its Terrain Response system permits the driver to adapt the braking, traction and stability control systems to drive safely in the worst of wintery conditions. It has separate modes for mud and snow, making winter driving far less challenging.
Toyota Land Cruiser
Imagine a car with the Land Rover Defender’s rugged abilities but the reliability of a mainstream Japanese car brand. You’ve just imagined the Toyota Land Cruiser. A rival for both the Defender and Discovery, the Land Cruiser is a big, tough 4x4 with loads of space, up to seven seats and a rugged reputation. Available with seven seats and a heavy duty diesel engine, it’s perfect for large families or people who tow. If it’s good enough for the UN to use in war zones, it’s good enough for Britain’s winter roads.
Dacia Duster 4x4
Dacia knows a thing or two about affordable motoring, being the brand behind some of Britain’s cheapest new cars. While its biggest seller is a jacked-up front-wheel-drive hatchback, the budget Romanian brand also produces a four-wheel-drive variant of its more rugged Duster. This relatively compact SUV might not have the outright off-road abilities or luxury of some of the cars on our list but it does feature a raised ride height and basic all-wheel-drive powertrain along with a frugal diesel engine for those seeking a little more reassurance without breaking the bank.
Nissan has just launched a new version of the X-Trail but the name has been around for more than 20 years and the model is well-established as a capable family off-roader. Nissan has plenty of experience in building tough 4x4s and while the X-Trail is smaller and more road-biased than the Patrol or Pathfinder, that knowledge means it’s a strong choice for buyers after something that can handle a bit of snow or stormy weather. Behind the boxy design is a practical, family friendly interior and third generation models which just sneak into our sub-£10k bracket offer the option of seven seats ast well.
The Skoda Yeti has built up quite a cult following over the years thanks to its quirky looks and impressive practicality. The boxy bodystyle with modular rear seats means it’s a hugely flexible vehicle that can quickly be transformed from a family car to cargo van and as well as two-wheel-drive models Skoda sold a range of 4x4 versions. These feature a clever Haldex clutch system and off-road driving mode which make the Yeti surprisingly capable in tough conditions. They also come with a range of frugal diesel engines offering up to 168bhp and offer decent on-road manners when conditions are less severe.
Says James: “The Yeti was Skoda's first SUV, impressing with its spacious interior, good build quality and funky styling. It remains a very popular family car, and they tend to hold their value well. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine in particular is known for being very dependable, and benefits from being a lot more efficient than other models on this list.”
Suzuki Grand Vitara
Yes, a second Suzuki on this list but with good reason. The Japanese brand has made a name for itself over the years thanks to its expertise in four-wheel-drive systems and its focus on the more compact and affordable end of the market. That means, especially when it comses to second-hand cars, there’s a wealth of relatively affordable but eminently capable 4x4s bearing the Suzuki badge. The Grand Vitara isn’t quite as rugged or capable as the Jimny but it is bigger, more practical and more comfortable and comes with the company’s well regarded AllGrip four-wheel-drive system. Over the years the model has been offered with a variety of engines, including punchy petrols and diesels well suited to towing.
Fiat Panda 4x4/Cross
Visit any tiny Alpine village in France or Italy and you’re almost guaranteed to spy at least one Fiat Panda Sisley lurking under a carport. These tiny but tough all-wheel-drive variant proved their worth over the years providing compact but capable transport, so it’s only right that the more recent Panda pays homage to the original version. The third generation Panda 4x4 and Cross take the basic city car, jack up its suspension, fit a four-wheel-drive system with electronic rear diff and stick on a load of protection for the bodywork and oily bits. The Cross has a taller ride height than the 4x4 and a selection of off-road specific drive modes but both version offer a cheap and compact means of tackling tricky conditions.
Subaru is most famous in this country for the huge rally success the Impreza enjoyed at the hands of the likes of Colin McRae and Richard Burns. But while the Impreza was grabbing attention, the Forester was using that same rally-derived four-wheel-drive knowledge for more prosaic and practical purposes. The brand’s trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive won’t get you across the Amazon like a Land Rover but the quick reacting system that can distribute power between individual wheels is great at ensuring a stable and balance drive in slippy conditions, while the boxer engine’s low centre of gravity means it doesn’t feel unweildy on the road. The Forester has a practical and spacious five-door, five-seat design with a big boot, making it a great choice for families. While the interior leaves a little to be desired Subarus have a repution for living forever, making even older models an attractive proposition.
Like some of the other models on this list, the Rav4 straddles the line between road-focused SUVs and hardcore 4x4s. It doesn’t quite have the off-roading capabilities of the larger Land Cruiser but it is generally cheaper and its four-wheel-drive versions still benefit from Toyota’s decades of experience in the segment, meaning it is perfectly able to meet most drivers’ needs.
James comments: “Toyota’s three generations of RAV4 are all well known for their reliability and robustness — and can be much more affordable than the Land Cruiser or Hilux. This car isn’t meant for extreme off-roading, but its four-wheel-drive option should be more than useful in wintery conditions. Three-door models were offered on the first two generations of RAV4, but the five-door models are a much more practical option, and don’t cost much extra to buy either.