Buyers of SUVs expect a lot from their cars: comfort, practicality, a commanding driving position and, in many cases, the added security and off-road potential that comes with four-wheel drive.
All of the models we present here deliver these things, but to varying degrees. Some have seven seats, while others provide incredible ability when conditions get tough. But whatever you're after from your 4x4, you'll find something in this top 10 to meet your needs.
10. Land Rover Discovery
The Land Rover Discovery is an incredibly capable car. Not only can it seat seven adults in comfort, but it also comes with Land Rover's legendary go-anywhere ability. If you want practicality from your 4x4, it's certainly a good way to go.
The only fly in the Discovery ointment is its poor showing in our most recent reliability survey, which limits it to a low placing in our list here. This showed that 34% of Discoverys had problems, with the most frequently cited areas being the less crucial ones such as the bodywork and interior trim. Altogether 96% of these remedial works were done under warranty.
Land Rover Discovery (cont.)
Our advice would be to buy a one-year-old Discovery like the one we've found here and take advantage of the transferable three-year warranty you'd get from new, and then before the expiry of that purchase Land Rover's comprehensive extended warranty.
9. Dacia Duster
A nearly new Duster can be a capable on and off-road tool. The four-wheel-drive models are surprisingly competent if you decide to leave paved roads behind; you can lock them into four-wheel drive via a dial near the gearlever and let the traction control system prevent wheels from spinning, ensuring that power is sent to those wheels that have grip on the terrain. Four-wheel-drive cars also have more sophisticated rear suspension, which is more supple, meaning there's a decent ride, too.
Dacia Duster (cont.)
Inside, space is excellent; four adults should have few complaints about longer journeys and you can even take five – at a pinch. Boot capacity is generous, and the depth of it means you’ll need to carry exceptionally long items without having to fold the rear seats down. At this money for a nearly new example, the Duster is exceptional value.
8. BMW X3
Pretty much every version of the third-generation BMW X3 is a great buy, and it's also remarkably good value at the moment. It’s nice to drive, spacious, well equipped and highly desirable.
The best things about it are probably its surefooted four-wheel-drive handling on the road and its great automatic gearbox.
BMW X3 (cont.)
Inside, there's a smart interior and room for five adults and everything is well laid out. The infotainment system is still one of the best in the business, and it's even relatively economical in our favourite 20d diesel version, as well as impressively refined.
7. Volvo XC90
If you need a big seven-seater, the Volvo XC90 is a car you can buy with your head as well as your heart. Not only can it seat seven in reasonable comfort, but there’s still enough room behind the third-row seats for a decent amount of luggage.
True, the ride can be unsettled on rougher road surfaces and the tablet-style infotainment system is rather fiddly. However, the XC90 is good to drive, nicely finished and wonderfully stylish inside and out. It'll impress the neighbours and it's a used car bargain.
Volvo XC90 (cont.)
There have been a number of recalls during its life, including for cracked fuel hoses, airbags that might not deploy in a collision and even problems with the vehicle connectivity module, that will prevent your location from being sent to the emergency services. So, make sure any necessary remedial work has been carried out.
6. Audi Q5
The original Q5 was a hugely successful car for Audi. It smashed all its sales targets and became the best-selling model in its class – and Audi’s best-seller –for many years in a row. This second-generation version has also proved to be immensely popular and is one of the best SUVs you can buy, new or used.
Audi Q5 (cont.)
It's smooth, refined and incredibly classy inside and out. It drives superbly, is well equipped and spacious and practical, too. With quattro four-wheel drive there's plenty of traction, and the Q5 is stable and smooth riding. It's so good and so popular that the only stumbling block is its relatively high used prices, but it's a car that's definitely worth that premium.
5. Skoda Karoq
The Skoda Karoq is a fantastic family SUV, with compact dimensions that make it easy to handle around town, and a practical and versatile interior that gives it the capability to carry everything you need. Plus, the Karoq's raised ride height and large window area help to give the driver great all-around visibility.
Skoda Karoq (cont.)
The 1.0-litre petrol engine is great for those on a budget, but you'll need a 2.0-litre diesel or the 2.0-litre petrol if you want four-wheel drive. In any case, the diesel is great if you do loads of miles every year, and the additional torque helps when you’ve got a full complement of passengers and luggage. Automatic gearboxes can be hesitant when pulling away from a standstill, but are smooth once up to speed.
4. Audi Q2
Small SUVs are becoming a big part of the motoring landscape, and while there are ever greater numbers available on the used market, the best one to go for is the Audi Q2.
Small doesn’t mean cheap, you see. Take the Q2. It has bold styling on the outside, a well-finished and sporty interior and tidy handling. You also have the benefit of driving around in a compact vehicle that’s easy to park in town and should be relatively fuel-efficient compared with bulkier premium SUVs.
Audi Q2 (cont.)
It comes, in some versions, with quattro four-wheel drive, too, so if your regular journeys involve a little mud or gravel you'll appreciate this. Inside, it comes with one of the easiest infotainment systems to use in the class. The standard 7.0in screen is controlled using a rotary dial by the gearlever and dedicated hard keys, which are often much easier to use on the move. The rest of the interior is nicely put together with enough soft-touch plastics to make it feel a cut above the herd.
3. Volvo XC60
Beneath the classy looks of the Volvo XC60 lies a thoroughly spacious, practical and comfortable car. There’s enough room for five adults and the rear is even just about wide enough for three.
What’s more, the XC60 has a great reputation for safety, especially if you find one with the optional Intellisafe Pro Pack, which features lots of semi-autonomous driving tech.
Volvo XC60 (cont.)
Petrol models can be pretty thirsty, but a mid-range diesel is much more affordable to run. The XC60 is great to drive, too, especially in four-wheel-drive mode, and exceptionally classy. All in all, the XC60 is an easygoing and hassle-free car to own.
2. Seat Ateca
The Seat Ateca is a great family SUV and one of the best-handling 4x4s on the market. A clan of five would have no practicality concerns, because it’s got a really big boot, wide-opening rear doors and lots of head and leg room for all. Even the interior, while not built of the plushest materials, is suitably well made and fairly classy.
Seat Ateca (cont.)
There have been a few issues with electric parking brakes disengaging when they shouldn’t, a small number of rear wheel-bearing faults, some examples of poor headlight adjustment and problems with the centre rear head restraint, but on the whole reliability is pretty good.
Both the 1.0 and 1.4-litre petrol engines are fine choices, but four-wheel-drive models are mostly found paired with a torquey 2.0-litre diesel engine that is economical and quite refined at a motorway cruise.
1. Audi Q7
The Audi Q7 has long been our favourite luxury SUV, and the good news is that it’s perhaps even better as a used buy; the 2019 facelift left it with a more hesitant automatic gearbox and a less user-friendly infotainment system, and opting for an older version sidesteps these issues.
Building on all the good points of the original Q7, the second-generation car is better to drive, more comfortable and noticeably more spacious. It offers a selection of superb diesel engines and a wonderfully classy interior, while the quattro four-wheel-drive system is formidable.
Audi Q7 (cont.)
True, the ride can be a little too firm on sporty, S line models, so it’s worth finding an example equipped with air suspension. Plus, there was a recall to reinforce the third-row seats on some earlier versions, and a small number of cars had issues with their dampers. But buy a well-maintained Q7 and you'll be getting a truly sensational 4x4.
Aside from the more dubious changes mentioned above, the 2019 update also brought some positive tweaks, including mild hybrid assistance that allows the engine to switch itself off when decelerating in order to reduce fuel consumption.
Find out what the 4x4 to avoid is on the next slide...
And the used 4x4 to avoid...
There are rivals with better handling, comfort, interior space and infotainment systems available for similar or less money, plus the X-Trail performed poorly in our 2020 Reliability Survey.
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