From the higher driving position to the ability to effortlessly drive off-road, owning a 4×4 offers a wide range of benefits. With crossover vehicles, large SUVs and other vehicles available, working out which 4×4 to choose can be a challenge.
If you know what to look for, however, the process of finding the right 4×4 for your needs is far easier. We’ve taken a look at the leading 4x4s available and put together a detailed list of what to look for when you’re in the market for a 4×4.
Planning to drive off-road? Make sure your 4×4 is designed for driving on rugged terrain.
Should you go with diesel, petrol or a hybrid engine?
One of the most important factors to consider before buying a 4×4 is the type of fuel it uses. Most 4x4s sold in the UK are available with petrol or diesel engines – diesel being the most popular – as well as a select few hybrid models.
Each fuel type offers its own advantages and disadvantages. Diesel typically offers a better average fuel mileage than petrol, as well as higher torque, which is important if you plan to use your 4×4 to tow a trailer or caravan.
Petrol engines typically have better performance, making it a smarter choice if you want a sports-focused SUV. Hybrid engines usually offer the best fuel mileage of all, as well as a less serious environmental impact.
Before you buy anything, check that it’s fuel type is suited to your needs. A serious off-road driver might benefit from the extra torque of a diesel engine, while most people are unlikely to notice its benefits during their daily commute.
Check reliability ratings to find the right manufacturer
Unfortunately, big and powerful doesn’t always mean reliable in the world of 4×4 motoring. Just like coupes and four-door sedans, 4x4s range from very reliable to poorly made and constantly in need of repairs.
Before you shop for a 4×4, check online reliability ratings to find out which models are the most dependable. For a small fee, Which offers detailed reviews of all of the major 4×4 models and rankings based on vehicle reliability.
A well-known brand or good off-road performance doesn’t always mean excellent reliability. For example, the 2004 to 2009 Land Rover Discovery 3 was ranked as one of the least reliable cars in a fairly recent Which survey.
As well as looking at reliability ratings, it’s important to consider a vehicle’s mileage if you’re buying a used 4×4. As time goes on, even the most reliable vehicles can run into issues that prevent them from performing as reliably as usual.
— Allen Tyger ن (@whyofthetyger) February 21, 2013
Like to drive off-road? Check that it’s an actual off-roader
Four-wheel drive doesn’t always mean great off-road performance. Although most 4x4s look the part, there are many models that are designed more for luxury than for off-road performance.
If you’re planning to drive on dirt or gravel, make sure the SUV you’re shopping for is designed for real off-road driving. Keep factors to look for include high clearance and features like a high/low ratio gearbox for climbing steep slopes.
It’s also important to look at a vehicle’s safety in tough situations. Certain models of the Jeep Grand Cherokee perform well on dirt and mud, but have major safety issues that make them unsuitable for highway driving.
If passenger comfort is a concern, avoid sports/crossover vehicles
Over the past decade, a large number of sports/crossover vehicles have been sold as sleeker alternatives to a full-size 4×4. Top-selling crossovers include the Land Rover Freelander and Volvo XC60.
There are also 4×4/sports vehicles, like the fast and powerful BMW X6, that mix the high driving position of a 4×4 with sports car performance. Crossovers have certain benefits, but they also compromise practicality for the sleeker design and profile.
If space and practicality are concerns, it’s best to choose a full-size 4×4 instead of a crossover. The stylish BMW X4, for example, has a sloping roof that means the rear seats have significantly less headroom than the front ones.
Make sure the on-road performance is as good as off-road
There are 4x4s that perform well on the road and poorly off it, and then there are 4x4s that perform well off-road and poorly on it. If you plan to do a lot of on-road driving, it’s best to choose the latter instead of the former.
While crossovers aren’t as good off-road as full-size 4x4s and much less spacious, they generally perform better on the motorway than their more rugged, taller and utilitarian 4×4 counterparts.
Smaller crossover vehicles also typically offer better fuel mileage, meaning you’ll spend significantly less travelling to and from work or around town than you will for a larger, more powerful and less fuel efficient 4×4.
Planning to resell? Check the vehicle’s annual depreciation
Most 4x4s depreciate fairly slowly, holding their value for far longer than sports or luxury cars. However, resale value can differ hugely between brands based on the cost of maintaining a car and the demand for used models.
Since most 4x4s cost more than coupes or sedans, it’s important to check that your car isn’t going to decline drastically in value during the first few years of use. Even premium models, which used to decline slowly in value, can depreciate rapidly.
If you’re concerned about depreciation, you may be able to use it to your benefit by shopping for used 4x4s. Many used vehicles with little mileage are available at 10 to 20 per cent less than their new price for savvy buyers.
If you just need extra space, consider a crossover vehicle
Finally, it’s important to consider whether or not you actually need a 4×4. Buying a 4×4 gives you a higher driving position, extra space and the ability to drive off-road, but it does so at a significant cost premium compared to a coupe or sedan.
If you’re only interested in extra storage space for the weekly groceries, you’ll find better value in a crossover or station wagon. You’ll also benefit from a much larger market of available vehicles and better pricing on many used models.
4x4s are great vehicles, if you truly need one. If you live in a major city and need a vehicle with a little bit of extra space for passengers and luggage, make sure you’re not overspending for a large vehicle that exceeds your practical needs.