While our best SUVs round-up focuses more on the cars that excel in the kind of everyday driving to which SUVs are usually exposed – namely on the road with the occasional snowfall or gravel driveway to contend with – 4x4s can go the extra mile when rough terrain is more regularly encountered.

Choosing the best 4×4

A big part of the decision-making process here will be working out how much off-road ability you actually need. As 4×4 cars get more capable over rough terrain, they tend to become less comfortable and composed on the tarmac. While 4x4s that are brilliantly comfortable on the road and capable off it do exist, you’ll need to pay a premium to buy one. More extreme off-road driving is ultimately about not getting stuck and, at a basic level, that means good tyres and lots of ground clearance. 

4x4s designed to be driven off-road will have lots of ground clearance and suspension travel, plus protection underneath for when either runs out. There are numerous 4×4 systems available, too. For off-road 4x4s, being able to fix the transmission in all-wheel-drive mode is useful and many models will also offer locking differentials and low-range gearboxes for really difficult terrain. 

You will find all manner of electronic aids for off-roading fitted to various models. Advanced traction control systems that adjust the car’s settings for different types of terrain are common in higher-end cars, as are air suspension systems that can adjust the ride height to suit the conditions. More commonplace are extras like hill descent control that will lower a car down a steep descent automatically using the ABS braking system. Many 4×4 models also come with 360-degree camera systems to give you a better view of obstacles around the car.

The 4×4 market

These days almost every car brand builds an SUV of some kind, but if you want a 4×4 with genuine off-road ability, there are certain marques that have a strong reputation, and deservedly so. Land Rover is an obvious choice for UK buyers, although the US has Jeep and many of the Japanese marques are renowned 4×4 specialists with dominant positions in different markets around the world.

Size is very important, but it’s not necessarily a reliable indicator of off-road ability. Small 4x4s like the Suzuki Jimny and Jeep Renegade deliver a lot of rough-terrain prowess for not a lot of money. Pick-up trucks are also a value-for-money choice that happen to be very tax efficient for businesses and company car users, while models at the upper end of the scale like the mighty Range Rover can give you genuine luxury.  

If you’re after traction rather than ultimate off-road ability, there are lots of 4×4 estate cars that don’t quite have the same raised ride height of an SUV but do provide the same kind of practicality and all-weather grip. They can be a good bet in areas that get regular snow and with a good set of winter tyres fitted they can prove extremely capable.

Planning to stay firmly on the road? Check out our list of the best large SUVs

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