Best large SUVs and 4x4 cars for 2019
By Martin Pratt
Article 8 of 16
Our best SUVs and 4x4 cars are refined, efficient and practical – and a used best 4x4 needn’t cost you a fortune.
Large SUVs and 4x4 cars are one of the most popular types of car in the UK. Favoured for their rugged good looks and the confidence they inspire, thanks to their raised driving position and perceived safety.
4x4 cars are also pretty practical, with large, comfortable interiors.
And – on most large models at least – you get four-wheel-drive and the ability to venture off road. Few do, but beefy suspension and large tyres also do a good job of smoothing out rough roads and squashing speed bumps.
The large SUV and 4x4 car class includes luxury models, such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Range Rover. Plus more affordable mainstream offerings, including the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail.
But popularity is no guarantee that a large SUV will be good to drive or own. Our testing has found SUVs and 4x4 cars that are a nightmare to drive anywhere other than a muddy field. Long braking distances, wide turning circles and harsh suspension may be fine on a dirt track, but they become significant problems on a motorway or in town.
Scroll down to the tables below for our best SUV and 4x4 car recommendations. Plus we reveal some models that aren't worth your money. If you want to find out more about SUVs, use the links below to jump to:
Best new large SUVs
Imposingly large, yet with an agility that belies its enormity, this full-sized SUV pulls off a seemingly impossible feat. It's not just super-fast in a straight line, it also corners with precision and confidence. And it can also seat up to seven passengers in one of most comfortable, high-quality cabins we've come across.
This is one of the best premium compact off-roaders we've had the pleasure of driving. It's supremely comfortable, the interior exudes quality, and it's practical and spacious. However, for a lot of buyers - particularly those with families - the deciding factor is likely to be its excellent safety credentials.
Best used large SUVs
Not found the car for you? Browse all our large SUV and 4x4 reviews.
Three large SUVs and 4x4 cars to avoid
4x4s and beefy SUVs have a certain image to uphold. They look strong and durable - surely a car that can barrel across frozen tundra and rutted fields won’t break down?
Sadly not. Our survey has found high-profile 4x4 cars that regularly suffer from brake and electrical faults, leading to multiple breakdowns and garage visits – hardly expected of a rugged off-roader.
There’s also the matter of fuel consumption. No one is expecting a hulking SUV or 4x4 to be as efficient as a Toyota Prius, but people’s expectations aren’t an excuse to produce cars that do less than 20 miles to the gallon. We’ve tested non-hybrid SUVs that achieve over 40mpg, so it’s not as if it can’t be done.
Below, we’ve rounded up three unreliable or gas guzzling 4x4s that you should avoid.
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Large SUVs to avoid
If you live on a farm, the answer is probably SUV. A large off-roader with four-wheel drive and high ground clearance is recommended if you need to cross muddy fields, or regularly travel across difficult terrain or in particularly adverse weather.
However, if your driving life largely consists of commuting or school runs, and you simply want four-wheel-drive for added security in slippery conditions, you can save money by opting for another car class.
Selected medium and large car models are available with four-wheel-drive and muscular diesel engines for improved traction and towing ability, as well as mildly raised ground-clearance. They retain the benefits of a regular car - namely being more fun to drive and easier to manoeuvre.
Models such as the Audi A4 Allroad, Volvo V60 Cross Country and the Skoda Octavia Scout will go further off the beaten track than the conventional versions they’re based on, but won’t eat parking spaces for breakfast.
Most large SUVs sold in the UK are diesel, as they normally offer more reasonable fuel economy over the big petrol engines needed to power these large cars.
Modern diesels are generally very refined and offer plenty of torque (pulling power) – which is great for towing. Our petrol vs diesel calculator will help you work out the relative costs of petrol and diesel engines.
There's also a trend towards large hybrid SUVs fitted with electric motors as well as conventional engines. These often claim to have better fuel consumption and emissions than diesels, though in reality this will depend largely on the type of driving you do.
In our tests, both conventional self charging hybrids (which charge using energy recuperation, such as from the brakes, rather than needing to be plugged in) and plug-in hybrid SUVs often outperform comparable petrol or diesel models in stop-start city driving. This is where hybrid systems are at their most effective.
However, this advantage is often lost in higher speed driving, such as on the motorway.
The Lexus RX and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, for example, come as a petrol-electric self-charging hybrids. Porsche, meanwhile, offers a plug-in hybrid version of its Cayenne. Peugeot's 508 RXH estate car is a mildly-lifted, diesel-electric hybrid with four-wheel drive.
Not all large SUVs are the practical workhorses you might imagine. Having lots of four-wheel-drive kit under the car's floor can lead to compromised interior space. Boot space, in particular can be quite limited. And the fact SUVs sit so high off the ground can make them difficult to get in and out of.
On the other hand, some large SUVs are genuine substitutes for an MPV. Off-roaders available with seven seats include the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.
The days of ultra-basic off-roaders that you could hose out after a day's work are all but over. Modern large SUVs are much more like conventional family cars, with premium models encroaching into the space of the traditional luxury limousine.
The Range Rover family of cars sums this category up well. Each model has serious off-road hardware but it’s their styling, opulence and tidy road manners that have seen them become a hit with buyers.
In this regard, choosing the right options is important. Large alloy wheels and styling upgrades are less useful than advanced driver aids, but will appeal to style-conscious buyers when the time comes to sell.
If you’re serious about going where few cars have gone before, then there is no real substitute for a large SUV. However, while most talk the talk, you need to ensure it has the right off-road hardware.
The main thing to consider is a low-range gearbox, which allows the car to crawl very slowly, and minimises the risk of wheel-spin. Locking differentials (which force two wheels on the same axle to move in unison) are also useful for not getting stuck.
One of the easiest ways of improving a car’s off-road ability is to fit it with proper all-terrain tyres. The sporty road tyres fitted as standard to most models might benefit handling on Tarmac, but are a serious limitation in the rough stuff.
‘Proper’ off-road models to consider include the Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Discovery 4 and Toyota Land Cruiser.
There's an increasing trend towards off-road-style cars that only have two-wheel drive. It's not only crossover models like the Nissan Qashqai that can be bought with front-wheel drive; some more traditional-style 4x4s, such Volvo XC60 and even some Land Rover models, are available as 4x2s.
Of course, some benefits of a 4x4 remain in two-wheel-drive SUVs, including the high seating position and ground clearance. But you won't benefit from improved traction. On the other hand, the price is usually lower and fuel economy is often significantly better.
There is also all-wheel drive (AWD) rather than 'permanent' four-wheel-drive. This means power will only go to the second axle (either front or rear, depending on model) when the car decides it is needed. In normal operation, such cars are two-wheel-drive.
Increasingly, SUV models that aren’t specifically designed for off-road use (such as the latest Toyota RAV4), will have AWD, as it has less of an impact on fuel consumption.
Since you'll probably be spending most of your time on tarmac, it's important to consider how your off-roader behaves on the road.
Our comprehensive reviews cover important dynamic traits such as braking, suspension and how cars behave in emergency manoeuvres - particularly important in high-sided vehicles such as SUVs.
Visit our new and used car reviews for definitive verdicts on more than 800 new and used cars.
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