With the explosive rise of the compact SUV on our city streets, it is easy to forget that the first 4×4’s were designed for tackling challenging terrain.
With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at the best 4×4 cars for an off-road adventure. So buckle up and prepare for a truly unique experience.
The Jeep Wrangler has maintained its position as one of the most impressive off-roaders on the market, thanks to its unbeatable and enduring off-road capabilities. It may not have the same interior luxuries as some of the city sleek SUVs. However, off-road, it comes to life.
It tackles ascents and descents admirably, allowing you to traverse hilly or mountainous terrain with as much effort as it takes to drive to the local shops – i.e. it is a complete breeze. The high-ground clearance ensures it is entirely capable of scrambling on the roughest and most rugged terrain. While the outlandishly rugged Rubicon spec comes with whopping 33-inch tyres. Plus, thanks to strong axle tubes, larger brakes and steel skid plates, you can travel further than you ever thought possible.
Also, an advanced traction system enables you to handle some of the harshest and most unpredictable conditions. Precision steering and a tight turning radius mean you can adapt to changes in directions and unexpected turns.
With the Jeep Wrangler, it is possible to tackle bodies of water with absolute confidence. This is because the air intake is positioned high in the engine compartment, the electrical connections are sealed against moisture and the body opening close tightly.
Plus, for a truly immersive off-road experience, you can remove the windows and doors to let the great outdoors in.
Land Rover Defender
No self-respecting list of the best 4x4s would be complete without the Land Rover Defender. Synonymous with the British countryside, the Defender has garnered success worldwide, making it one of the most instantly recognisable four-wheel-drive vehicles in the world. From farm life to military workhorse, life has been far from ordinary for the robust Defender. If you want to make every journey feel like an adventure then this is the vehicle for you.
A brand new Land Rover Defender came onto the market last year, and while it remains an incredible off-roader, it ups its game in terms of equipment. Below we’ll focus on the old Defender, which you’ll find in abundance on the used car market.
Thanks to a low-range setup, you get much greater control over tricky terrain and when traversing downhill. It offers unbeatable grip in wet and muddy conditions allowing you to escape the stickiest of situations. Plus, a legal tow limit of three and a half tonnes gives you plenty of pulling power.
Panels and parts are cheap, readily available and easy to replace, meaning if you do find yourself in a spot of bother, you can relax knowing it won’t cost an arm and a leg to sort out. The interior features materials that can be hosed down, meaning there’s no need to worry about how much mud you and your obligatory four-legged companion will be bringing into the cabin.
The utilitarian nature might not feature many mod-cons or luxuries, but few other cars are as capable or as enduring as the Defender.
The Mitsubishi Shogun was one of the first vehicles to combine the ruggedness of a 4×4 with the sophisticated spec often associated with top-end saloons, so offers a bit more as standard. On top of that, it is available with seven seats, making it ideal for those with a busy and active family life.
With unbeatable loading, lugging and pulling power, the Shogun is a real powerhouse that works just as hard as you do. Meanwhile, the lofty driving position gives you a great view of the terrain ahead so you can see what you will be tackling.
Like any real 4×4, the Shogun comes to life when driving it across cross-country. With four selectable drive modes, it offers more versatility, whether on or off-road. The 2H setting is ideal for daily driving, 4H distributes torque between the front and rear axles for slippery on-road conditions, 4HLc enhances traction on snow, sand and dirt while the 4LLc setting provides even greater torque for extreme off-road conditions. The addition of active stability control and traction control further stabilise the vehicle.
Best Small 4×4
The Suzuki Jimny is arguably one of the best small 4×4s. Affordable to buy and cheap to run, it puts in a commendable performance.
A back-to-basics off-roader, the Jimny comes with a low-range gearbox, 19cm of ground clearance, and short overhangs both front and rear ensure it will manage to deal with a variety of terrains. Plus, thanks to its lighter footprint, it is more nimble off-road and will have no problems tackling waterlogged terrain, as unlike heavier models, it won’t get bogged down.
With a run forever quality, you can trust in the Suzuki Jimny to keep going no matter what. While the option of a petrol engine is a refreshing change in a sector still dominated by diesel engines.
Another contender in the small 4×4 is the rugged Jeep Renegade. Few other cars in its class can compete when it comes to capability for the price.
Jeep’s success came during the Second World War, as it responded to the US Government’s need for a small lightweight vehicle capable of tackling any terrain.
Since then, Jeep has continued to evolve, yet its distinctive 4×4 DNA remains at the heart of the brand. It means the Jeep Renegade offers unprecedented ability off-road, making it a top choice for off-roading
The Renegade features Jeep’s signature seven-bar grille and plenty of chunky styling, which means there is no mistaking the Renegade for anything other than a Jeep.
The Renegade also comes equipped with an advanced kit that helps you stay stable no matter where your journey takes you. Selec-Terrain optimises the differentials to snow, mud or rocky ground while the Active Drive system transfers torque to rear wheels when sensors detect the front wheels are slipping. So heading off the beaten path has never been easier.
Land Rover Freelander 2
As one of the smallest Land Rovers in the range, the Land Rover Freelander 2 deserves your consideration if looking for a smaller 4×4.
The Freelander 2 has now been replaced by more urban-friendly models. But, when it was on sale, it was incredibly popular, so there are plenty of used examples available.
Models feature a pared-down version of Land Rover’s Terrain Response System that adjusts traction control to condition, meaning you can relax knowing the car can deal with whatever comes in your path.
Add to this impressive ground clearance and shorter overhangs, and you will soon find that you can head further than your thought possible.
Meanwhile, the interior is more high-spec than old Land Rover Defenders, with more onboard comfort making it a good option for those who don’t want to compromise.
While the Duster does not have quite the same toughness as some of the other vehicles mentioned, we think it is still a pretty formidable vehicle. The 4×4 system might not traverse a mountain, but it will manage all manner of conditions from mud and sludge to bumps, jolts and even obstacles in the road, providing a solid, steady and stable ride throughout.
The long-travel suspension setup makes light work of bumpy country lanes, while the 205mm of ground clearance allows you to cope with whatever is in its path. On top of that, there is a selectable traction control system allowing you to adjust from front-wheel drive, automatic or a half and half front and rear setup to gain extra traction in the slipperiest situations.
A massive selling point of the Duster is its ridiculously low selling price. You can pick one up brand new with a warranty for less than many of the other listed examples second-hand.
Fiat Panda Cross
If you want a cheap 4×4, then the Fiat Panda Cross is worth your consideration. That’s right, we’re recommending a Fiat for off-roading! Sure it may not be the first model you think of, and it certainly doesn’t look like your average off-road vehicle. But it is actually pretty capable, especially when you consider its low price.
A more rugged version of Fiat’s popular and versatile Panda, the Panda Cross features chunky body cladding and a 9mm raised ride height. It also comes with mud and snow tyres as standard. Plus with decent kit, including a torque-on-demand selectable traction control system and hill descent control, the Panda Cross has no problems forging a path over a muddy field.
The Fiat Panda Cross is not only cheap to buy, but it is also pretty light on your wallet when it comes to running costs. Thanks to a surprisingly efficient engine, you can enjoy off-roading for less.
As such, for many people, the Panda Cross will prove more than capable of the kind of off-roading they are likely to experience.
Best Used 4×4
Toyota Land Cruiser
Like the Land Rover Defender and the Jeep Wrangler, the Land Cruiser has a reputation for being an exceptional off-road vehicle. It is popular with aid organisations and military institutes, thanks to its incredible ability and reliability in challenging conditions.
With a full-time four-wheel-drive, differential locks, low and high range gear ratios and adjustable rear ride height, it offers everything you need when the going gets tough. Plus, the high ground clearance means nowhere is off-limits.
The spacious interior offers plenty of room for up to seven passengers and ample storage for luggage, so is ideal for packing all your camping equipment. While a 3,000kg towing capacity means it can tow a large caravan, horsebox or trailer packed with vital equipment, the possibilities are endless.
On top of all that, you can be confident when buying a used Toyota Land Cruiser as a used 4×4. Not only does the Land Cruiser have an excellent reputation for reliability, but Toyota as a brand holds legendary status for its highly reliable models.
Land Rover Discovery
Another Land Rover we’d be mad to neglect is the Land Rover Discovery. First introduced in 1989, the Discovery has evolved over the years, yet despite this has remained one of the best seven-seat family-friendly off-road 4×4 models.
Like the rest of the Land Rover’s mentioned in this blog, it comes fully equipped to enhance capabilities. As an effortless off-roader, it monitors surfaces and makes adjustments to differentials, traction control, ride height and throttle response without you giving anything a second thought.
Meanwhile, behind the wheel, the Discovery offers an unrivalled sense of impregnability and security, giving the driver confidence that nothing is off-limits.
On the inside, the Discovery offers more refinement, luxury and comfort, which help bolster its appeal among family buyers keen to everyone happy.
Your Favourite Off-Road 4×4?
Whether you’re already a keen off-roader or new to off-roading, we’d love to know your thought on our top picks. Did your favourite off-road model make it on our list? Let us know in the comments below.