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? Our off-roader megatest reveals the answer...

It’s fair to say that the UK has something of a love affair with SUVs, due to their high driving positions, spacious interiors and, not least, their rugged looks. But shall we let you in on a little secret? Peel the body panels away from a lot of modern SUVs and you’ll find that they share underpinnings with regular family hatchbacks. That’s good news for comfort, fuel economy and handling, but it tends to limit their capabilities off the beaten track.

So, what if you need a car that won’t be phased by a steep, rock-strewn hill, a flooded road or a deep quagmire? Which cars fit the bill? To find out, we’ve gathered together 10 SUVs equipped with four-wheel drive and divided them up into rival pairs. 

The relative bargains of the group are the sub-£25,000 Dacia Duster and Suzuki Ignis. These models may be similar in price, but they plough very different furrows when it comes to design and mechanical make-up.

Off-road megatest cars

Electric power is championed by our next pairing, the Nissan Ariya and Subaru Solterra. However, while both of these have four-wheel drive, only the Subaru is claimed to have real off-road chops, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Nissan compares. 

Representing the old school, the Ineos Grenadier and Jeep Wrangler use traditional methods to get the off-road job done. The Grenadier is a relative newcomer, while the Wrangler can trace its roots back to the early 1940s, so we’ll be finding out whether the young upstart teaches the old-timer a thing or two.

At the other end of the tech spectrum, the Ford Ranger Raptor and Land Rover Defender let electronics do a lot of the hard work. Finally, the BMW X7 and Range Rover represent the pinnacle of luxury off-roading.

BMW X7 vs Range Rover rears wading throuh water

How we tested the off-roaders

We took them all to a specialist off-road centre to assess how well they climb, crawl and wade. To make direct comparisons, 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.

To read the head-to-head comparisons follow these links:

Dacia Duster vs Suzuki Ignis
Nissan Ariya vs Subaru Solterra
Ineos Grenadier vs Jeep Wrangler
Ford Ranger Raptor vs Land Rover Defender
BMW X7 vs Range Rover

Alternatively, read our guide to the best SUVs on sale today. 

The best 4x4 for off-roading

1. Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler front static

In ths case, choosing an overall winner meant ignoring our usual metrics of ride quality, handling, refinement and practicality; those are the disciplines our regular group tests are designed to assess. No, this test was all about answering one simple question: which is the best off-roader you can buy today? And it didn’t take long before we had our answer.

Put simply, not only is the Wrangler, in Rubicon form, the most capable off-roader currently on sale, but it’s perhaps also the most fun. With three differential locks and a proper low-range gearbox that you engage with a good old-fashioned lever, you feel properly involved in the off-road driving experience. 

“But didn’t the Ineos require you to get stuck in, too?”, we hear you ask? Well, yes, it did, but unlike in the Ineos, not once did we find the Wrangler’s low-range gearbox or differentials difficult to engage. It’s perhaps telling that whenever any of our team needed to go and scout out a trickier, more challenging part of the course, it was the Wrangler they made a beeline for.

Jeep Wrangler rear off-roading

Despite its American roots, the Wrangler also feels surprisingly well suited to the kind of tight, technical terrain found here in the UK. It’s not only smaller, lighter and more compact than the Defender 110, Grenadier and Ranger, but it’s also easier to see out of, giving you the confidence to tackle green lanes that you might baulk at in a larger vehicle. You
can even remove the Wrangler’s roof, doors and windscreen for a better view out. 

What’s more, while the Wrangler Rubicon is far from cheap, with prices starting at £62,520, it still manages to undercut the equivalent Defender and Grenadier, despite coming absolutely packed with specialist off-road kit. In the US, Wranglers “stay stock for about five minutes”, according to Jeep, but after experiencing the ease with which our test car shrugged off every challenge we threw at it, we’re not quite sure how we’d improve the package. 

So, there you have it. The original off-roader just so happens to be the best off-roader.

2. Ford Ranger Raptor

Ford Range Raptor fron in the mud

The Raptor was perhaps the surprise star of this test. Given that it was developed in Australia, we suspected that it would excel on fast dirt roads and wide expanses of dirt and gravel, but we didn’t think it would be quite so capable over technical terrain. It shrugged off every off-road challenge we threw at it, all the while plastering huge smiles on the faces of our test team.

3. Ineos Grenadier

Ineos Grenadier front cornering

Judged as the first effort from a new brand, the Grenadier is hugely impressive. It has a greater off-road capability than most buyers will ever need, it delivers a wonderfully tactile approach to off-roading, and it feels absolutely bulletproof. If Ineos can find a way to simplify the diff-locking procedure and sharpen the steering, it would be an even more tantalising proposition for off-road enthusiasts.

Next: Dacia Duster vs Suzuki Ignis >>

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