4x4 contenders

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4x4 contenders

What Car? Awards 2012 website

Best buy less than 30,000
Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Style 7st
List price 22,840
Target Price 21,744

The Hyundai Santa-Fe is a great all-rounder. Its cheaper than most full-size 4x4s by several thousand pounds, but theres nothing cut-price about the lavish standard specification and the amount of metal you get for your money.

Our favourite model is a seven-seater that gives you the freedom to ferry the kids and their mates around, while its 194bhp 2.2-litre engine is easily muscular enough.

Therell be little reason for you to stop, either, thanks to the big fuel tank that makes the most of the 41.5mpg average economy.

The comfort-oriented ride makes long trips a pleasure, while the self-levelling rear suspension adds further to the Santa Fes versatility by making it an ideal towcar.

The quick-folding rear seats and large tailgate come in handy when loading up after an intensive shopping session, too.

Think all this sounds too good to be true for a shade over 22k? Then a decent discount in the region of 1500 and the added reassurance of Hyundais comprehensive five-year warranty should really seal the deal.

Hyundai Santa-Fe review

0-62mph 9.8sec Top speed 118mph
Running costs
Economy 41.5mpg CO2 176g/km
Insurance group 29
Best buy 30,000-40,000
BMW X3 xDrive20d SE
List price 30,490
Target Price 29,602

BMW has always been renowned for building cars with great driving dynamics, but these days its equally famous for its Efficient Dynamics fuel-saving technology. Take the X3: even though it comes with permanent four-wheel drive, the 2.0-litre diesel model is still more fuel-efficient than most front-wheel-drive crossovers.

Getting all the benefits of a 4x4 with the running costs of a family hatchback is an irresistible combination. The 181bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel is also capable of averaging 50mpg and delivering sports-car performance, so its clear the X3 can give you the best of all worlds.

The Land Rover Freelander will leave the X3 for dead in the trailblazing stakes and an Audi Q5 could be said to be even more desirable, but neither can match the X3 for breadth of talent.

For your 30,490 you get a great driving experience, an immaculately appointed cabin and enough space for all the family and their gear. Add plenty of standard kit and the way that BMW badge will pay dividends come resale time, and the X3 is about as good as it gets.

BMW X3 review

0-62mph 8.5sec Top speed 130mph
Running costs
Economy 50.4mpg CO2 149g/km
Insurance group 28
Best buy more than 40,000
Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 XS
List price 43,345
Target Price 40,950

Decisions, decisions. The adventurous side of you wants a big off-roader to get you to the back of beyond at weekends, while the city slicker in you wants a refined executive car to whisk you to the office on Monday mornings.

The BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne do the executive car bit with a frisson of sportiness thrown in, but their five-seat cabins will be undermined if you have an ever-demanding, ever-expanding family.

Theres an easy choice: head straight to your local Land Rover dealer and get behind the wheel of the latest Discovery. Its big enough and strong enough to cope with a rugby league front row, thanks to its seven full-size seats, burly 3.0-litre diesel engine and vast boot.

Escape the call of the kids for the call of the wild, and the Discovery will be right there with you. Its Terrain Response System will smooth even the trickiest driving conditions.

It doesnt matter where you are, either: the plush interior, relaxed, commanding driving position and high-quality stereo will keep you cocooned in your own luxurious bubble.

Land Rover Discovery review

0-62mph 9.0sec Top speed 112mph
Running costs
Economy 30.4mpg CO2 244g/km
Insurance group 39
Tester's view
It isnt just recent bouts of horrid weather that have caused a resurgence of interest in 4x4s. Cars such as the Land Rover Discovery and Hyundai Santa Fe are constants among the top 10 most searched-for cars on whatcar.com, whatever the weather.

This year one car and one figure in particular caught my eye the BMW X3 and its ability to travel more than 50 miles on a single gallon of fuel. So much for the old gas-guzzling 4x4s headlines.

Im an unabashed fan of 4x4s, and not only for their ability to get me to work in the snow and ice. The space is a real boon for my family of five (plus dog), and the high-up driving position improves visibility and therefore safety. If, like me, you dont particularly want (or need) an MPV, 4x4s still have huge appeal.
Steve Fowler Editor in chief
Steve Fowler@whatcar.com