Best 4x4s for off-roading 2024 - the SUVs to keep you moving

Many SUVs look more butch than they really are, but what's the most capable four-wheel-drive model on the rough stuff? We have the answer...

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by
Darren Moss
Published06 May 2024

When the going gets tough, the best off-roaders keep going. Whether you're wading through rivers, driving up mountains, or just want something to get you across the next muddy field or rutted farmer's track with confidence, these off-roaders won't let you down.

Usually our testing of cars all takes place on Tarmac, but to test the off-road prowess of these models, we put all of them through their paces long after the road had run out. As well as steep inclines, these cars took on rock-strewn tracks, flooded roads and deep quagmires – and after all that testing, and a large amount of mud, we've concluded that the Jeep Wrangler is the best off-road car you can buy. To find out which version we recommend, however, as well as which other 4x4s are worth considering, you'll need to keep reading.

Best off-roaders

You can learn more about each model which ranks among the best off-roaders below, and we've included links to our in-depth new car reviews. If any of these models take your fancy, then click through to our free New Car Deals service to see how much we can save you on your next car.

As well as presenting our definitive list of the best off-roaders below, we've also pitted several of them against each other in a series of head-to-head tests. You can read these tests in full by clicking the links below.


How we tested the best off-roaders

We took many of the off-roaders you see here to a specialist off-road centre to assess how well they climb, crawl and wade. To make direct comparisons between the models, we concentrated on specific obstacles.

We started off with smooth gravel inclines ranging from 26% to 35%. If a car could handle these, it was on to the sand and silt hills, which have looser, more rutted surfaces. Even trickier is the Horseshoe, a slippery, churned-up incline with a sharp bend at its peak.

We also used offset ditches and humps to test suspension travel, and a rough ‘green lane’ (dubbed the Dragon’s Back) to assess ease of driving.


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Our pick: 2.0 GME Rubicon 4dr Auto8

MPG/range: 27.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 269g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 548 litres
Insurance group: 40D
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Fantastic off-road ability
  • Good standard equipment
  • Undercuts key rivals on price

Weaknesses

  • Noisy, regardless of speed and road surface
  • Expensive to run
  • Unsettled ride

Model: Rubicon

Like Bruce Springsteen and Harley Davidson motorcycles, the Jeep Wrangler is a true American icon. And while today Jeep makes everything from electric cars to luxury SUVs, the Wrangler is its off-road workhorse.

The latest Wrangler comes with a 268bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine which sends power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. And once you're onto tough terrain, you can make sure that both sets of wheels get equal power by locking the centre differential. There's also a separate low-range gearbox to help maximise pulling power over rough surfaces, while Rubicon models get a clever detachable anti-roll bar which allows for more suspension travel – meaning the body should stay upright even if the terrain you're driving on contains big boulders.

When not exploring off the beaten track, the Wrangler isn't as calm or composed to drive as the best SUVs. Its chunky all-terrain tyres create a fair bit of noise, and its big, heavy axles causes the Wrangler's body to shimmy in a way you just don't experience in rivals like the Land Rover Defender or Mercedes G-Class.

Go for the two-door version of the Wrangler and you'll have about as much carrying capacity as a small car, while four-door models get double the boot space. In both models you can drop the rear seats to increase carrying capacity, but they don't fold flat.

“The Wrangler shares an unlikely connection with an Italian thoroughbred, because its eight-speed automatic gearbox is sourced from the Alfa Romeo Giulia. Sadly, the gearbox is often slow to respond to inputs from the accelerator, but you can knock it into manual mode and do the job of changing gears yourself.” – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Jeep Wrangler review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Big cargo bay with a high payload capacity
  • Space for four six-footers in Double Cab versions
  • Good to drive for a pick-up

Weaknesses

  • Not the cheapest pick-up
  • Warranty could be better

Model: Raptor 3.0 Ecoboost 292 4WD

While the regular Ford Ranger is already handy off-road – indeed, its combination of go-anywhere ability and carrying capacity are two reasons why it's our favourite pick-up truck – the hardcore Ford Ranger Raptor is even more handy in the rough stuff.

Raptor models can't carry as much as regular Rangers – and that also makes them ineligable for the same tax breaks which make double-cab pick-up trucks cheap to run as company cars in the UK – but what it gets in return is boosted off-road prowess. That means coil suspension tuned for off-road handling, beefier bodywork with skid plates to help protect the underside from rocks, and your choice of punchy petrol or diesel power.

The 2.0-litre diesel will be cheaper to run long-term, but the fire-breathing 3.0-litre 288bhp V6 petrol is our pick. Not only is it incredibly powerful, but petrol models also get adaptive dampers which improve ride comfort on the road. Indeed, the Raptor is more comfortable over big distances than the similarly hardcore Isuzu D-Max AT35.

“You can choose from four sound modes for the Raptor's exhaust, but a word of warning – only activate Baja mode off-road, because while it's entertaining, it's also very loud.” – Claire Evans, Consumer Editor

Read our in-depth Ford Ranger Raptor review

Our pick: 3.0 T Trialmaster Edition 6dr Auto

0-62mph: 8.8 sec
MPG/range: 19.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 325g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 1152 litres
Insurance group: 50U
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Fantastic off road
  • User-friendly physical buttons for everything inside
  • Commanding driving position

Weaknesses

  • Light and vague steering response
  • On-road manners could be better
  • Off-set driving position takes some getting used to

Model: 3.0L Turbo Diesel Trialmaster

Let's be clear – the Ineos is not especially good on the road. Its automatic gearbox has a tendency to flick between the top two gears when you're on the motorway, there's lots of lean through corners, and its light steering means that you have to constantly adjust the wheel to stay on course.

Step away from the Tarmac, though, and it's a different story. For a start, Trailmaster models, with their locking front and rear differentials and all-terrain tyres, are near unstoppable off-road, while the 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six petrol engine you'll find under the bonnet offers enough power and low-down grunt to keep you moving in any situation. And while a Land Rover Defender or Mercedes G-Class are more comfortable, the Grenadier at least matches those models for off-road ability.

Elsewhere, the Grenadier places you nice and high inside the car, so you can easily see what's in front of you, and all of its interior controls are large, physical and easy to get to grips with – even if the sheer number of them can be a little baffling at first.

“Unlike in some rival SUVs, a third passenger travelling in the rear won't struggle for head room, because the Grenadier's middle seat isn;t raised. They will have to straddle a large tunnel, though.” – George Hill, Staff Writer

Read our in-depth Ineos Grenadier review

Our pick: 3.0 D250 S 110 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 8.3 sec
MPG/range: 33.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 223g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 786 litres
Insurance group: 38E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Comfortable on the road, excellent off it
  • Up to eight seats
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Higher trim levels are very pricey
  • Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are poor
  • Tiny boot in 90 models

Model: D300 X-Dynamic S

If you picture an SUV going off-road in your mind's eye, the chances are that the model you're picturing is a Land Rover Defender. Yes, the Defender is as well associated with the rough stuff as Aston Martin is with James Bond, or as Whiskas is associated with cat food. But while the latest car is even better off-road than the Defenders which came before it, it's also much better on it.

While the entry-level D250 246bhp diesel engine has plenty of low-down grunt, we think hardcore off-roaders will appreciate the extra punch of the 296bhp D300 engine. Go for the medium-length 110 version of the Defender and you'll get air suspension as standard, which helps to take the sting out of road imperfections. And when the road runs out, that the Defender remains so calm and composed is nothing short of remarkable.

Our recommended D300 diesel model is only available in mid-range X-Dynamic S form, which adds to the Defender's muscular looks with a contrasting black roof and grey wheels.

“I already like the way the Defender looks, but Land Rover offers extra kit to give it an even grittier style, ranging from a ladder and roof rack to a protective wrap to stop paintwork scratches and off-road tyres. If you want full safari spec, they're worth looking at.” Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our in-depth Land Rover Defender review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Great sense of theatre on the road
  • Interior looks and feels luxurious enough
  • Excellent off-road ability

Weaknesses

  • Handles like a supertanker
  • Expensive in every way
  • Lumpy ride

Model: G400d AMG Line

You're more likely to see a Mercedes G-Class cruising the streets of London than attacking the nearest mountain, but despite its status as a celebrity SUV, it's also an extremely accomplished off-roader. A low-range gearbox, locking differentials and long suspension means that the G-Class can continue to plod along through just about any terrain. And while we suspect that very few G-Class buyers will buy one with the intention of going further off-road than a muddy field, it's good to know that it can.

On the road, the G-Class isn't quite as accomplished as its Range Rover or BMW iX rivals, because its slow and heavy steering can make it feel quite cumbersome. Plus, its large turning circle makes piloting the G-Class along crowded urban roads feel trickier than it should. At least the 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine in the G400d doesn't leave you short on power, and while the V8 petrol engine in the range-topping G63 offers even more punch, it's also louder and substantially thirstier.

Inside, you're greeted with a more luxurious interior than you'll find in many of the off-road focussed models here, and there's plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel, so drivers of all shapes and sizes should have no trouble getting comfy.

“I'm a big fan of the G Manufaktur package that's offered on the G-Class, because it brings extended leather to an interior which already feels plush. If you want to experience ultimate comfort in an off-roader, it's worth choosing.” – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Read our in-depth Mercedes G-Class review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Brilliant off road
  • Roomy third row seats
  • Attractive PCP deals

Weaknesses

  • Rivals are quieter
  • Wallowy handling
  • Terrible reliability

Model: D300 S

Given the brand's history of making tough vehicles, it should come as little surprise to see Land Rover well represented within this top 10. The Discovery is less off-road focussed than the more hardcore Land Rover Defender, but can still out-shine most SUV rivals on rough terrain. Every model comes with the option of an Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack, which effectively gives you cruise control for off-roading at speeds of up to 19mph.

Our recommended D300 diesel engine offers more brawn than the entry-level D250 option, and can hit 60mph from a standing start in 6.5sec on Tarmac. We like that the Discovery's standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox is responsive, and that every model can tow up to 3500kg – the equivalent of a large trailer.

You sit high up in the Discovery, meaning you'll be able to look down on almost any other car. The dashboard is user friendly, too, with clear dials and chunky rotary controls for the climate settings – useful if you're wearing gloves. The rival Audi Q7 and BMW X7 can both fit more into their boots, but we still managed to fit nine carry-on suitcases below the tonneau cover in five-seat mode.

"You can spend a lot of money on a Discovery if you wish, but I think there's no need to look beyond entry-level S trim. It's the cheapest option in the range, but still gets you all the kit you'll want.” – Stuart Milne, Digital Editor

Read our in-depth Land Rover Discovery review

Our pick: 3.0 D300 SE 4dr Auto

0-62mph: 6.3 sec
MPG/range: 38.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 194g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 1093 litres
Insurance group: 50E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Fabulous driving position
  • Fantastic off-road ability
  • Useful seven-seat versatility

Weaknesses

  • Very expensive
  • Reliability is a concern
  • More physical controls for the infotainment would be preferable

Model: D350 Autobiography

You might associate the Range Rover more with luxury than off-roading, but it's more adept in the rough stuff than any rival. So while the BMW X7 is an even better luxury SUV, it can't hold a candle to the Range Rover if off-roading is your top priority.

No version of the Range Rover feels underpowered, but for the best balance of brawn, costs and economy, we'd recomend the smooth and punchy D350 3.0-litre diesel engine, which drops the official 0-62mph sprint time down to 6.1sec.

Air suspension means the Range Rover's ride is as pillow-soft as they come, with the extra benefit being that you can raise the car by an extra 145mm when needed to tackle boulder-strewn fields and the like. There's a whole array of off-road settings to explore from the infotainment touchscreen, which can do everything from helping you descend hills carefully to peeking through the bonnet to see what's underneath you.

“I ran a Range Rover as a company car for four months, and loved the high-set driving position. Not only was it immensely comfortable, but being able to see over most of the other road traffic allowed me to anticipate what was ahead of me.” – Darren Moss, Deputy Digital Editor

Read our in-depth Range Rover review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Very good off road
  • Lots of standard kit
  • Less ubiquitous than most rivals

Weaknesses

  • Rivals are far cheaper to tax
  • Disappointing hybrid drivetrain
  • So-so interior

Model: Overland

In the UK, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is only available as a plug-in hybrid. If you can plug it in regularly, and in doing so make best use of its 30-mile electric range, then it shouldn't cost you much to run at all. Thanks to the grunt from its 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor, it's also pretty quick.

Standard-fit air suspension with five stages of adjustability allows you to set the Grand Cherokee's ride height to tackle the deepest tracks, while its short front and rear overhangs allow it to tackle higher approach angles than the rival Range Rover Sport. In short, it should keep you moving off-road long after some SUVs have thrown in the towel.

Away from an off-road setting, though, the Grand Cherokee falls well behind the standards of its rivals. It feels heavy and ponderous, and has more shimmy at motorway speeds. It's also not especially refined, with the six-cylinder engines in rivals like the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport being altogether more pleasant to live with.

“The Grand Cherokee's 10.1in infotainment system is small by modern standards, which means some of its icons can be hard to hit. It's also not graphically impressive. At least there's a separate screen for the passenger to use, so they can help you plumb in sat-nav directions.” – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Read our in-depth Jeep Grand Cherokee review

Our pick: 1.2 Dualjet 12V Hybrid SZ-T 5dr

0-62mph: 12.7 sec
MPG/range: 56.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 112g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 260 litres
Insurance group: 21D
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Good fuel economy
  • Spacious for a small car
  • Generous equipment

Weaknesses

  • Ride can be fidgety
  • Vague steering
  • Poor infotainment system

Model: 1.2 Hybrid SZ5 Allgrip

Proving that you don't need to spend a lot of money on a great off-roader, the diminuitive Ignis is the cheapest car here by some margin. Just because it's cheap, though, don't think it can't keep up off-road.

The 82bhp made from the Ignis' 1.2-litre petrol engine is modest, but thanks to it being a mild hybrid, it doesn't feel all that slow around town. And while the Allgrip technology is more geared towards muddy fields than mountain ranges, it helps the Ignis to scamper along country trails and rutted tracks like an excited puppy.

The Ignis also comes with some proper off-roading tech, such as hill descent control and an off-road focussed traction setup called Grip Control.

Four-wheel drive versions of the Ignis lose a little bit of boot space compared with the standard car, meaning that you'll get more into the boot of the Hyundai i10, and rear space is tighter for rear passengers  than in the Skoda Kamiq or Volkswagen T-Cross.

“Enthusiastic corner-takers take note – the Ignis' seats don't have much in the way of side support, so holding on to the steering wheel is your only real form of support in tight corners.” – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Suzuki Ignis review

Our pick: 150kW Limited 71.4kWh 5dr Auto AWD

0-62mph: 6.9 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 452 litres
Insurance group: 38E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Capable off-road against other electric cars
  • Refined
  • Comfortable

Weaknesses

  • Lack of two-wheel-drive car pushes up starting price
  • Kia EV6 and Tesla Model Y can be charged faster
  • No front boot to boost practicality

Model: Limited

Subaru's SUV is the only electric car to make this list, and borrows its two electric motors and 71.4kWh (usable capacity) battery from its Toyota bZ4X sister car. The official range is a reasonable 289 miles, which dips to 257 miles if you choose a high-spec Touring model with large 20in alloy wheels.

The Solterra comes with a terrain control system dubbed X-Mode, which allows it to maximise traction on slippery surfaces. Drivers can choose from different modes designed to tackle snow, mud and other surfces, and in our experience it helps the Solterra to keep plodding along over most surfaces. 

Despite being a tall car, the need to accommodate the Solterra's hefty battery means it actually sits lower to the ground than most rivals here, so its ground clearance isn't the best.

“There's a handy storage area for your charging cables under the Solterra's boot floor, but unlike in some electric car rivals, there's no separate storage area under the bonnet.” – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

Read our in-depth Subaru Solterra review


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FAQs

Which is the best off-road vehicle in the UK?

The Jeep Wrangler is the best off-roader you can buy in the UK. It's near-unstoppable over every kind of terrain, and comes with a 268bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine which provides plenty of pulling power. Four-wheel drive and off-road features including a low-range gearbox and locking differentials mean that whatever the situation, the Wrangler should keep moving.

While it's not as impressive on the Tarmac as many other SUVs, when it comes to the rough stuff, the Wrangler is our top option.

What is the most reliable 4x4?

While our annual What Car? Reliability Survey doesn't specifically rank off-roaders, the Range Rover, which features among our favourite 4x4s, is one of the most reliable luxury SUVs we've tested. Indeed, its reliability rating of 95.6% suggests that very few issues plague the latest Range Rover – and that's not something we would historically say about Land Rovers. 

What is the difference between four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive?

Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are key terms for off-road driving, and the difference between them comes down to how the engine's power gets sent to the car's wheels.

Four-wheel drive cars are capable of sending power to every wheel, but the car will usually only do that when it detects that it's needed – or if the driver selects a four-wheel drive mode. All-wheel drive cars, meanwhile, send their power to all four wheels all of the time.

What is Toyota's best off-road vehicle?

No Toyota features among our list of the best off-roaders, but if you are looking for an off-roader with a Toyota badge, then two options you might consider are the Land Cruiser SUV and the Hilux pick-up truck.

Both models are designed to be worked hard off-road. All versions of the Hilux feature selectable four-wheel drive, for example, and a locking rear differential to get you out of sticky situations. The Land Cruiser was similarly dependable in the rough stuff, but it's worth noting that an all-new version is due to arrive soon.