Buying a car Top 10 4x4 buying tips
- How to choose the best 4x4 - whether you want to go mud-plugging or high street posing
- How to keep your running costs as low as possible
- 4x4s can be the perfect answer to winter woes - or a financial black hole
It's amazing how a couple of cold winters can change people's priorities. Sales of 4x4s have been booming recently, as buyers realise the benefits of all-wheel drive.
There's now a huge choice of 4x4s, also know as Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Find out which are the best 4x4s in our in depth tests.
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Regular cars like Vauxhall's Insignia can come with 4x4
1. Do you actually need a 4x4?
The most important question is: do you really need four-wheel drive? If you live on a farm or need to tow a horse box, the answer is probably yes. And if you occasionally need to cross a muddy field, we'd recommend a 4x4 too.
But if all you want to do is take the kids to school and go shopping, there are other, much better choices out there. There's no need to join the ranks of 'Chelsea tractor' drivers.
And if you're concerned about getting about in snow, it may be that you can solve your winter driving needs by buying a 4x4 version of a conventional car, such as a Subaru Legacy, Vauxhall Insignia 4x4 or Audi A4 quattro.
2. Make sure you can afford it
Most 4x4s are complicated animals and much more expensive to buy than the equivalent conventional saloon or estate. But that's not all: running costs can be astronomical. Fuel consumption, insurance, servicing and parts are all typically much costlier than regular cars.
On the flipside, depreciation (loss of value) tends to be less steep for 4x4s than, say, estate cars. However, you'll still need to do all your sums carefully before you buy. We've made this easy with our guide to running costs.
3. Diesel, petrol or hybrid?
Almost all 4x4 sales these days are diesel. The reason is simple: fuel costs. Modern diesels have all the pulling power you'll ever need, so they are not a compromise over petrol versions. Our online calculator will help you work out the cost of petrol versus diesel.
There's also been a recent trend towards hybrid 4x4s fitted with electric motors as well as conventional engines. They can have better fuel consumption and emissions than diesels.
Most reliable 4x4: Hyundai ix35
4. Will it break down?
Unfortunately, the sheer complexity of off-roaders means they often have far worse reliability records than hatchbacks or saloons. For example, the second worst-performing car brand in our latest 2011 Which? Car Survey was Land Rover, while Jeep was rated as poor for reliability by owners.
It's also worth considering a brand that offers a more generous warranty than the industry-standard three years and 60,000 miles. Kia's is the best in the business at seven years or 100,000 miles; Hyundai offers a five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty; and Toyota and Chevrolet both offer five years/100,000 miles. Vauxhall's unlimited-time/100,000-mile warranty is impressive too, although it only applies to the first owner.
5. Don't assume all 4x4s are practical
Surprisingly, 4x4s are not necessarily the practical workhorses that many people imagine. Having lots of four-wheel drive kit under the floor can often mean severe compromises on interior space. In particular, boot space can be quite limited, and the fact that the load floor sits so high off the ground means you have a long way to lift luggage.
On the other hand, some 4x4s can be genuine substitutes for an MPV. For instance, quite a few come with seven seats, including the Chevrolet Captiva, BMW X5, Citroen C-Crosser, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GL.
Style and substance: Range Rover Evoque
6. Luxury and style
The days of Spartan, ultra-basic off-roaders are all but over. Modern 4x4s feel like regular cars to sit in and to drive. And the choice of luxurious and stylish 4x4 vehicles is ever growing.
The new Range Rover Evoque sums this category up perfectly. The world's first three-door coupe off-roader, it looks very striking indeed and is proving a real hit with buyers.
Choosing the right options is also essential. Roof rails, parking sensors and self-levelling suspension are all sensible. But fat alloy wheels and body styling kits are probably a waste of money.
7. Not all 4x4s are gas-guzzlers
SUVs have acquired a reputation for being gas-guzzling monsters. Buy a V8 petrol-engined 4x4 and we'd agree with that analysis. But increasingly, manufacturers are offering 'green' cars for the green-welly brigade.
For example, the Skoda Yeti Greenline II is claimed to average 61.4mpg and has CO2 emissions of 119g/km, meaning car tax will be just £30 per year.
Off-road hero: Toyota Land Cruiser
8. Off-road stars
If you ever need to do proper off-roading, make sure you buy a proper 4x4. By that we mean one with a low-range transfer box that allows the car to crawl over tricky terrain at very slow speeds, and one with proper all-terrain tyres - regular road tyres are all but useless when the going gets rough.
9. When is a 4x4 not a 4x4?
Answer: when it's a 4x2. There's been an increasing trend towards off-road style cars that only have two-wheel drive. It's not only 'soft-roaders' like the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti and Hyundai ix35 that can be bought with front-wheel drive. Traditional 4x4s such as the Land Rover Freelander, Kia Sorento and Volvo XC60 are all also available as 4x2s.
Some of the benefits of a 4x4 remain, including the high seating position and better ground clearance, but you won't benefit from the extra traction of a proper 4x4. On the other hand, the purchase price is usually lower and fuel economy usually better.
10. Best off-roaders on the road
Since you'll probably be spending most of your time on tarmac, it's important you consider how your off-roader behaves on the road.
Crossovers are almost always better as everyday transport than 'traditional' 4x4s. All BMW and Audi 4x4s are great to drive, and for on-road performance we also rate the Mazda CX-7, Nissan X-Trail, VW Tiguan, Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC60 and VW Touareg.
- Check out our free Buying a car advice guides for more info
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