Top 10 best 4x4s and off-road cars

We don’t need roads to get us where we want to go; these ten 4x4s can handle just about any surface

It is difficult to create a definitive list defining the best off-roaders. But, we have tried. The problem is not in the parameters – breakover angles and wheel travel, wading depth, cost, etc.

These vehicles can crawl up boulder-strewn slopes, where one crimped brake will stop activities abruptly. Others are built to blast across loose surfaces at a heroic speed and at a pace that is completely at odds with the cars’ incredible traction, which will propel them across difficult terrain at a walking pace. There are also the unstoppable desert survival experts. Each breed could be described as an off-roader and each has its own unique combination of strengths.

These are Autocar’s favorite exemplars for the traditional, go anywhere 4×4 breed. We have our own order of preference.

1. Land Rover Defender

Land Rover launched the long-awaited successor to the original Land Rover in 2020 after a lengthy preamble. The Land Rover Defender has gone from a ladder frame to a monocoque construction, but for many reasons, it is more of an evolution than a replacement. Some feared that the car wouldn’t be able to do as much mud-plugging or rock-hopping, waterfording, slope scaling, axle-twisting, or even rock-hopping.

The Defender can accomplish almost all that and more. This car boasts an impressive set of vital statistics, including a 40 degree approach and departure angle, as well as ground clearance of 291mm due to its height-adjustable suspension. It’s the way the car handles off-road driving that impresses.

Land Rover offers four- to six-cylinder and eight-cylinder engines. However, the P400e plug in hybrid is the only four-pot engine available. All diesels are now six-cylinder sixes. Although the P525 V8 version is the most powerful and visible, the D300 diesel engine offers more torque, good fuel economy, and refined driving. It also doesn’t have to be as expensive as the other versions. The P400e plug in hybrid, which has a claimed electric range that is 27 miles, will be a great choice for urban dwellers and fleet users.

There are two body styles available for the Defender: a three-door 90′ and a five-door version – or you can choose to be a Hardtop’ advertisement. You’ll notice that it is a tall, heavy, wide car that’s not well suited to narrow tracks and ‘green lanes. It is obvious that the Defender’s 4×4 capabilities are unquestioned. The way it handles offroad work makes it appear like a car for people who don’t like offroading.

This car is a winner because it offers all of that and a car that handles and rides well on the roads. This car is now referred to as “the best 4×4 ever”

2. Jeep Wrangler

Although the Wrangler isn’t resurrected very often by Jeep, the new generation is both more usable on the road and more adept off it. Jeep has preserved the beloved design – whose iconic circular headlights and seven-slatted grille are still easily recognisable from the original Willys MB jeeps deployed in World War II – but that’s only part of its appeal. The car’s smaller engines are more efficient and the interior is now spaciousr and more sparsely finished (everything is relative).

The Wrangler’s off-road performance is not diminished by its Rubicon trim, which features a ladder frame, locking differentials and knobbly tires. It also has underbody bracing and exceptional approach and departure angle statistics. It wouldn’t be as easy to live with every day as the Land Rover Defender, which is why it was ranked second.

Official UK sales now include both the four-cylinder petrol and the petrol-electric plug in hybrid versions. The four-pot diesel has been removed from showrooms and the other options are only available through ‘grey import.

The Jeep is almost unbeatable for expeditions in wilderness. It yields even less in Dodge Challenger-engined, special-edition Jeep Wranger Rubicon 3392 form.

3. Toyota Land Cruiser

Another iconic – this is the one that has been the Australian Outback’s workhorse for many years. It can be found in places where it is impossible to break down. This classic offroader features a body-on frame construction and large numbers in all areas. The Land Cruiser is a great choice for towing, wading, and driving on inhospitable terrain. The basic-spec utility versions, distinguished by their steel wheels and three-door passenger versions, are very affordable. Five-door Invincible-spec vehicles, on the other hand, offer packed-out equipment lists and seating for up seven.

You can still choose the 2.8-litre turbodiesel Toyota, but don’t expect it will ride or handle like an Audi or Mercedes-Benz monocoque SUV. This car is a completely different beast. It is less sophisticated than the M40, but it’s still a formidable choice in areas where you may actually need it.

4. Mercedes-Benz G-Class

The best off-roaders are the ones who stay put. The Land Cruiser and Wrangler have been around for decades. We’re the same with the G-Wagen, technically the G-Class. But we’ll be forgiven for the nostalgia.

This Mercedes, the only Mercedes without an official “end of production” date, recently underwent the most significant redesign in its 40-year-old history. The chassis is still based on a ladder frame, but the front suspension has been fully independent. This whole setup was developed by AMG. This car has locking differentials, better ground clearance, and the same incredible off-road capabilities as before. However, it also handles predictably and sometimes even very well on the road. The biggest improvement was made to the rack-and-pinion steering.

Our choice is the G350d’s creamy straight-six diesel, but it’s also possible to buy a Mercedes-AMG G63 with an almost 600bhp twin-turbocharged petrol engine, provided you have a Premier League footballer budget.

5. Ford Ranger Raptor

For a moment, forget about all the sensible thoughts. The Ford Ranger Raptor pick-up truck is Baja-inspired and aims to please. Although it is slightly larger than the standard Ranger model, the real magic lies beneath the body. Widely re-engineered axles and Fox motorsport dampers replace the original Watt’s linkage at the rear and leaf springs at both the front and front. Ground clearance has increased by 30% and the set-up is optimized to run at high speeds and with minimal load. This car has been described as a “rough-track sports car”.

Weaknesses? Weaknesses? It’s not a great workhorse but it can cover very difficult terrain at high speeds.

6. Land Rover Discovery

It’s possible to wonder why fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery Discovery isn’t higher on this list, despite the quality of the cars. The Discovery is both incredibly capable off-road and matches this with exceptional road manners to make it an all-round package unlike any other. The Discovery is calm and confident wherever it goes.

However, it is not as tough, gritty, or grippy as other cars on this list. The 2021 model year saw a facelift that brought new six-cylinder engines to both the petrol-and diesel-sipping versions of the car, as well as an updated suspension. This made the car very likeable and versatile.

7. Bowler Bulldog

You want the whole world to see how serious you take your weekend mud-plugging. What better way to do that than to buy a car that looks like the most famous offroader in the world, but is actually a highly-specialized customer rally raid car? The Bowler Bulldog is exactly that. It’s an offroader built using the latest platform from the Derbyshire-based motorsport company, and engineered so well Land Rover was able to purchase the entire company.

Bulldog’s monocoque chassis is unique. It uses long-travel suspension that was inspired from Range Rover Sport and Discovery. Heavy-duty springs, dampers and shock absorbers are there to take serious punishment. There are two options: supercharged petrol or diesel engines. The huge fuel tank delivers the incredible range many rally-riding addicts need. You can choose a petrol engine instead. There’s also a helluva 5.0-litre V8 that produces 567bhp. However, your fuel economy and range will drop quite a bit. Back to top

The Bulldog’s performance is hot-hatchback-to-sports car-quick, depending on the engine choice. Its ride and handling are amazingly precise and controllable on the road, but also indefatigably rugged, and great fun over ruts and gravel. The Bulldog is the best choice for anyone who wants to be wild off-road. It’s expensive.

8. Suzuki Jimny

The Suzuki Jimny is marketed as the world’s lightest proper off-roader. This is refreshingly true. It weighs in at just over 1100kg and has a ladder-frame chassis, rigid-axle suspension at each corner, and a low-ratio 4-wheel-drive gearbox. The car does not have locking differentials. However, the price of the car in the UK was below PS16,000 in 2018.

We’ve shown it off-road with a twin-test against Land Cruisers. It is indeed smaller than the Wrangler’s approach, breakover, and departure angles. This is quite remarkable.

We guarantee that you will fall in love with Jimny’s kei-car looks. It’s just as well because the 1.5-litre petrol engine, which is naturally aspirated, isn’t very economical and has a small boot. Also, its road manners are a mere notch above dismal.

Suzuki UK pulled the Jimny out of sale in 2020 because it was incompatible with stricter emissions laws. However, grey imports are still possible and the car has been returned to UK showrooms via the backdoor.

9. Ford Bronco

The Bronco is Ford’s answer for the modern Jeep Wrangler. It has a long history. This car was designed for American roads, and its use pattern is dependent on access to large open spaces. It’s also not available in Europe in right-hand drive form. It’s therefore a niche addition to this chart. It would require some compromises to run it on UK roads. The first would be paying a premium for a grey import. The car has a rugged appearance, and it is capable of mixing it in even the most difficult terrain.

The Bronco shares a ladder-frame chassis and Ranger pick up. It has a live rear axle and independent front suspension. It is available with V6 and inline four-cylinder engines, as well as fixed-head and convertible body options.

Although the car isn’t as refined on the road as some cars in this chart it is still enjoyable to drive. With approach and departure angles of 30 degrees and a wading depth approximately 850mm there are few places it won’t take you.

10. Ssangyong Rexton

This is the offroader that goes everywhere for the value-conscious buyer. Although the Ssangyong Rexton may not have been as neatly designed as it is today, it has always been a 4×4. This latest version includes seven seats, ladder frame construction, lockable four-wheel drive with low range and electronic hill descent control, and a 201bhp, 2.0-litre diesel engine. It’s also available in a cheaper trim, which can be as low as a three.

It handles and performs well than it rides. The ladder-frame chassis makes it feel a bit rough on bumps and lumps, but it handles reasonably well for a large car. The engine and gearbox also do a good job.

Fixed-height steel coil suspension is best for serious mud-plugging. Clearance angles of just 20 degrees in some cases are not world-class. The Rexton may be worth looking into if you only have tracks or fields to cross and want an efficient, large, and cost-effective solution.