The best 4x4s can take the worry out of driving in the snow, whether they're a family-friendly seven-seater or a compact model that will fit into the tightest parking space. We've rounded up our favourite four-wheel-drive cars, all of which are equipped to deal with the worst the weather can throw at them. Here's our guide to the best 4x4s for winter.
Best budget choice - Fiat Panda 4x4 1.3 Multijet
Perhaps not a tool for genuine forays off-road, but the rugged version of Fiat’s Panda is surprisingly capable. Body cladding and bespoke bumpers mean the Fiat Panda 4x4 looks the part; it has genuine off-road ability, too. If you want a proper 4x4, but don't don't want to pay the earth for it, the Fiat Panda 4x4 is the car to go for. There's a lot more to it than simply an extra pair of driven wheels, too. Compared with standard Panda models, 4x4 versions feature a raised ride height (by 47mm) giving it better approach and departure angles than a Mini Countryman or Nissan Qashqai. Fiat has even positioned the Panda's air intake higher for improved wading capability, and there's an electronic locking differential and a torque-on-demand system to maximise traction. Haggle hard to get prices below £13k.
Best all-rounder - BMW X3 xDrive20d SE
The BMW X3 was overall winner in the 4x4 and SUV section of our Car of the Year 2013 awards, and it was an easy decision to make. Most of all, the X3 is a brilliant family car, with a spacious cabin that every bit as plush as BMW's executive saloons. The X3 is great to drive, too, thanks to sharp handling and a forgiving ride, while the engines are strong, quiet and incredibly efficient. Our favourite model - the xDrive20d SE - has four-wheel drive and averages 50.4mpg. There are better cars for serious forays off-road but for a car that copes in bad weather and excels the rest of the time, the X3 is hard to beat.
Best seven-seater - Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 XS
If you're looking for the best seven-seater 4x4 bar none, the Land Rover Discovery remains our top choice. Thanks to a series of updates over the years it's now better than ever. Those Tonka toy looks suggest the Discovery is ready for anything, and it delivers on that promise. Thanks to its rugged construction and clever four-wheel-drive system, it stands a good chance of going wherever you point it, whatever the conditions. Just as importantly for most buyers, the Discovery is as refined and comfortable as many executive saloons, while the seven-seat cabin matches many MPVs for space and versatility. Ownership costs are high, but it rolls the best bits of a 4x4, executive saloon and MPV into one, and as a result, represents decent value overall.
Best company car - Mazda CX-5 2.2 Skyactiv-D 150 SE-L AWD
Thanks to Mazda's Skyactiv technology the CX-5 is more fuel-efficient than many of its rivals but it is fun to drive too. Compared with many of the cars here, the Mazda CX-5 might look a bit weedy, but opt for the 2.2D Skyactiv-D 150 SE-L AWD model and you get the reassurance of four-wheel drive and a hill-start-assist system. Mazda's 'Skyactiv' terminology roughly translates into a blend of lightweight construction and efficient engines. This gives average fuel economy of 54.3mpg, and there's a sub-140g/km (136g/km) CO2 emissions figure. Competitive list pricing and a 18% benefit in kind charge is competitive for a chunky four-wheel drive too.
Best for economy - Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC SE
The CR-V is loved by owners. Bullet-proof reliability, smooth engines and impressive economy are all things to be admired in a potential purchase. The 1.6-litre diesel is very economical, but our choice for adverse weather would be a 2.2 i-DTEC diesel as they all come with four-wheel drive as standard and still offer impressive economy. In terms of trim level, the SE model is the sweet spot of the range, coming with all the kit you need for a reasonable price. They are not cheap cars and dealers are notoriously hard to negotiate down, but strong residuals ensure you’ll get the money back in the long run.
Best luxury choice - Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE
If budget isn’t too close to the top of your considerations, there’s one car that demands consideration; the Range Rover Sport. Chances are it'll get you to your destination in conditions that would leave any other car stranded, thanks to its incredible off-road ability. Even if it's just a bit wet and windy, the Range Rover's exceptional composure, sumptuous cabin and smooth ride cocoon you from the outside world as well as any luxury car. The latest model now provides lots of space for passengers and luggage, too. It may surprise some that the Sport rather than the standard Range Rover is our choice, but with so little to pick between the two in terms of performance, refinement and comfort, we think the cheaper, marginally more compact Sport is the one to go for.
Best avoided - Suzuki Jimny 1.3 SZ4
There are not many cars which it we really do not recommend, but the Suzuki Jimny comes close. On the plus side, it is cheap and tough. By all other measures though, the little 4x4 struggles terribly. On the road, it is bouncy and uncomfortable, leans something terrible in bends and has little grip. Getting up to speed requires hard revving of the noisy engine. The engine noise is drowned out by road- and wind noise as the speed builds. The interior is basic and lacks even basic comforts on offer in other small SUVs. Space is tight, too - it's best see the Jimny as a two-seater and fold the rear seats down to extend the cramped boot. Off-road is the only place where this dinky 4x4 is any good, although, even there is lacks power for the toughest terrain. All told, unless you need to go off-road, regularly and cheaply, there is little commend it.