What Is The Best 4×4 SUV?

No matter how sophisticated we get as a society, we still value ruggedness, and that is reflected in our vehicle options and choices. 

The all-around, do-anything capability has been the key to the success of the sport utility vehicle (SUV) over the past decade. SUVs outsell sedans in the US right now, a big reversal over the trends of the past century.

Among SUVs, there are some with greater capability and some with less. In order to be considered one of the best SUVs, a vehicle must have a great 4×4 system. 

Full-time four-wheel drive is not a requirement, but all-speed 4×4 is a must. Overall build quality, smart interior packaging and robust engine choices are also important, and while exterior beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, we lean toward form following function.

If you’re in the market for a sport utility vehicle with four-wheel drive, odds are you’re planning to do something a bit more aggressive than driving the kids to soccer practice in it. 

The best four-wheel drive SUVs offer robust construction and go-anywhere capability. If you need a vehicle capable of transporting you over any type of terrain you might encounter, this is the automotive category to consider. 

The good news is these capabilities can be had across a broad price spectrum and with a wide array of comfort and convenience features. Here’s a selection of the best four-wheel drive SUVs currently available.

Audi Q5

When you want to arrive in style, the AWD Audi Q5 is a head-turner. This SUV was refreshed in 2018 for its second generation, with three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. 

All 2018 and 2019 trims feature leather seats, and Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto™ connectivity. 2018-2019 models also offer two engine options, including the standard 252-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder with an EPA-estimated 24 mpg combined fuel economy.1 The SQ5 model features a 354-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6.

Bmw X7

BMW’s X7 is their largest and most luxurious 4×4 offering to date. It’s a quiet, plush ride with hollow interior space.

Weighing in 2.3 tonnes the X7 disguises its weight issue in the corners with ease, there’s surprisingly little roll, especially when attacking at speed. Planting your foot gives a surge of acceleration rather than a sharp thump in the back.

Whether you’re going across smooth tarmac or hilly terrain, the BMW X7 offers a reliably comfortable ride.

The 40i engine generates 340bhp and revs like it’s going out of fashion, achieving 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds, while the smoothness of the eight-speed automatic gearbox is unmatched. If it’s fuel economy you’re after, however, the xdrive30d engine is a better choice, achieving 33.6 mpg.

Inside, the X7 is comfortable and luxurious, roomy both at the front and in the back, and dotted with handy features like adjustable climate and reading lights, cupholders and power sockets.

The infotainment system is sleek and intuitive, and the seats are both electric and adjustable.

Air suspension comes as standard, 21-inch wheels, a fully connected cockpit and LED active headlights. It’s also amply proportioned to deal with a lot of luggage – human or otherwise.

When all three rows of seats are up, the boot capacity is 326 litres. Choose the two-row setup, however, and you can expect a whopping 750 litres of luggage space. 

Ford Bronco

Well, you can’t exactly buy one today, but the highly anticipated Ford Bronco 4×4 SUV is scheduled to return late this year. 

What we know: It’s expected to be a body-on-frame challenge to the Jeep Wrangler and to be an immensely capable off-roader. Based on the next-generation Ford Ranger midsize pickup, we anticipate the 2021 Ford Bronco to come standard with four-wheel drive and feature a removable roof and detachable doors. 

Like its predecessors, the 2021 Ford Bronco will be offered in two- and four-door configurations. Like the Ford Ranger, the Bronco will likely come standard with the EcoBoost 2.3-liter turbo-four. In that pickup, the engine makes 270 hp and a potent 310 lb-ft of torque. It’s believed that Ford’s 2.7- or 3.5-litre twin-turbo V-6s will be offered as options. 

A plug-in hybrid is also expected to join the Bronco line. The only transmission available will likely be the 10-speed automatic found in the Ford F-150 and Ranger. Everything old is new again.

Ford Escape

This compact crossover SUV is ideal for urban as well as rural drivers. The Ford Escape offers ample room for luggage, gardening supplies, and up to five passengers across two rows of seating, for all model years. You’ll find three trim packages available (S, SE, and Titanium) for 2017-2019 models. 

When it comes to drivetrains, 2WD is standard on the S and SE trims, with an option to upgrade to 4WD on both. 4WD comes standard on the Titanium trim. 

Two turbocharged EcoBoost® engines were introduced in 2017, and a turbocharged 1.5L four-cylinder became standard on SE and Titanium models (with optional twin-scroll EcoBoost). The Ford Escape SEL trim is available for 2018 and 2019 models.

Jaguar F-pace

Jaguar’s F-Pace lives up to its description: a luxury performance SUV that covers the practicalities of life. Sleek, yet sporty with exciting handling, the F-Pace is available with a selection of engines to suit the needs of every SUV driver.

Some of the engines on offer are so impressive that they add a cool £9,000 to the initial price tag – although top-performance powertrains are only available with certain models.

The all-wheel-drive Jaguar F-Pace comes with a choice of three petrol and five diesel engines. The three petrol powertrains achieve 0-62mph in 7.0, 6.1, and 4.3 seconds respectively; the types of diesel will make the same sprint in 10.2, 8.6, 9.0, 7.2, and 6.4 seconds respectively.

Typically, the petrol engines produce the best performance, but the diesel options offer higher MPG. Models achieve between 37.9 to 41.9 MPG on the whole – pretty impressive taking into account the model’s pacey performance and size.

Inside the F-Pace is everything you’d expect from Jaguar: luxury materials, an interface that’s intuitive and easy to use, with plenty of places to store odds and ends. There’s loads of room along with a 650-litre boot capacity.

Centrally positioned on the dashboard is Jaguar’s InControl infotainment system, complete with an eight-inch touchscreen display and tech functionality including a DAB radio, satnav, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, smartphone integration and a wi-fi hotspot feature.

Jeep Cherokee

In the compact 4×4 SUV range, there isn’t much competition for the Jeep Cherokee in terms of off-road chops. 

The only vehicle in its segment to offer proper 4WD (though AWD is available, too), the 2020 model received no major updates after a comprehensive set of improvements in 2019. This means the five-passenger SUV continues to straddle the entry-level people mover and rough-and-tumble off-road segments, with a variety of trim levels intended to satisfy a wide range of buyers. The most off-road-capable trim remains the Trailhawk 4×4.

The Trailhawk comes standard with a 271-hp/239-lb-ft 3.2-liter V-6; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 270 hp (and a substantial 56-lb-ft torque advantage) is optional. 

A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard. It also comes with a mechanical locking rear differential and various off-road drive modes for added traction and performance. 

In a rigorous comparison against the off-road-oriented Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD, we came away impressed by the go-anywhere capabilities of the Cherokee Trailhawk, as it comfortably dispatched a series of mud, rock, and clay off-road obstacles. Off-road on a budget? This is your rig.

Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler was probably the first make and model that popped into your head when you thought 4×4 SUVs, and for a good reason. Our 2019 SUV of the Year was among the best-selling 4WD SUVs last year. 

The Wrangler is a legend. Our pick for pure off-roading, however, is the Rubicon 4×4, available in either two- or four-door configurations with electronically locking front and rear differentials, a two-speed (high/low) transfer case, and a front anti-roll bar disconnect feature. 

A standard 285-hp/260-lb-ft 3.6-litre V-6 can be paired with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

A 270-hp/295-lb-ft 2.0L turbocharged I-4 is available. A 260-hp/442-lb-ft turbodiesel V-6 engine makes its debut for 2020 (automatic transmission only), and an eTorque mild hybrid is now available with the I-4 or V-6 on Sahara Unlimited. 

New Willys Edition, Freedom Edition, and Black and Tan packages now join the options list. Like the 2020 Porsche 911, remastering a master is a tightrope act, but Jeep has walked a mile—and then some—for its loyal customers with mile-high expectations.

Land Rover Defender

Like the Ford Bronco, the release of the Land Rover Defender has been highly anticipated. Features editor Christian Seabaugh drove several through western Africa and came away saying, “The Defender expertly balances modern construction, technology, and comfort with the off-road capability, performance, and payload that hardcore rock crawlers and overlanders demand.” He continued, “A P300-badged 296-hp 2.0-litre turbocharged I-4 is standard for the US market; a P400-badged mild hybrid with a 3.0-litre turbocharged I-6 and an electric supercharger is optional. The hybrid powertrain makes a healthy 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. 

All Defender powertrains are paired with an eight-speed automatic and permanent four-wheel drive. The high-output 2.0-litre turbodiesel I-4 making 236 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque in the D240 models are not headed to America.” The US will, at least, get a plug-in hybrid version of the Defender in the near future. Like both the Bronco and the Wrangler, the Defender is available in two-door (90) and four-door (110) forms.

Land Rover Discovery

Redesigned for the 2017 model year, the Land Rover Discovery’s off-road prowess dates back to its 1989 introduction. Many might remember the iconic yellow Camel Trophy competitive and support vehicles. 

Today, the five- or seven-passenger 4×4 SUV is offered with either a 335-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged V-6 or a 254-hp/443-lb-ft turbodiesel V-6. Regardless, both are paired with an eight-speed automatic. The turbodiesel is a real stump-puller, but it runs out of breath on the highway. 

For serious off-roading, we recommend the HSE Luxury trim that features adjustable air suspension and a two-speed (high/low range) transfer case that gives it proper four-wheel drive. The selectable auto terrain response automatically adjusts to the terrain, recognizing, for instance, deep sand and adapting the driveline to best traverse it. Off-road, the Discovery has few peers.

Mercedes-benz G-class

Speaking of icons, the ever-boxy Mercedes-Benz G-Class (née Geländewagen) may be seen more often chugging down Rodeo Drive. Still, its original and true mission of pounding the terrain into submission remains intact. 

As it was from the beginning, the recently redesigned/re-engineered G-Wagen is built in Graz, Austria, by what is now Magna-Steyr. 

It is offered with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8 engine in two forms of power: 416 hp/450 lb-ft of torque in the G 550, and a whopping 577 hp/627 lb-ft in the G 63. All that power is routed through a nine-speed automatic with a two-speed transfer case and electronic locking front, centre, and rear differentials. 

An electronic adaptive suspension system designed to improve the G-Class’ performance both on- and off-road is optional on the G 550 and standard on the G 63. As Seabaugh wrote in a thorough First Drive, “It’s always daunting, reinventing an icon. But Mercedes nailed it.”

Toyota 4runner

Recently updated infotainment and safety systems have brought the five-generations-mature Toyota 4Runner into modern times, but it’s what hasn’t changed that makes it a terrific off-road companion, especially in either TRD Off-Road or TRD Pro trim. 

The former is equipped with an electronically controlled locking rear differential, a crawl control feature, and the Multi-Terrain Select set of off-road driving modes. 

The latter further adds Fox shocks with remote rear reservoirs, unique front springs, a skid plate, and 17-inch wheels. 

The rugged body-on-frame midsize 4×4 SUV is powered by a 4.0-litre V-6 making 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. 

A five-speed automatic is the only available gearbox. Despite its off-road cred, it’s also a reasonably comfortable daily driver that can seat up to seven passengers across three rows.

Toyota Highlander

Need plenty of passenger space? The midsize Toyota Highlander offers three rows of seating for up to eight people, so your whole crew can ride along. 

Now in its third generation, the 2017-2019 Highlander boasts eight trims. Gas-version trims include LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, and Limited; hybrid trims include LE, XLE, and Limited. 

If you’re looking for an off-road vehicle, check out the 2017-2019 SE with its sport suspension. The Toyota Highlander comes in both AWD and 4WD options. On 2017 models, a 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine comes standard on all trims above the base level.

Toyota Land Cruiser

With a history going back nearly as far Jeep, the storied Toyota Land Cruiser carries decades of 4×4 SUV experience. 

Although it has morphed into a somewhat luxury-oriented SUV with room for up to eight people, it remains an old-school, body-on-frame, live-axle 4×4 that’s intended to take on tough terrain with a mechanically limited-slip centre differential and two-speed transfer case. 

The Land Cruiser is powered by a (thirsty) 5.7-litre V-8 that produces 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is an eight-speed automatic. 

Features of note are Toyota’s legendary Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which hydraulically adjusts the front and rear stabilizer bars, increasing wheel articulation and traction when the terrain is uneven. There’s also an array of cameras that provide front/side/rear views of the tricky or potentially damaging trail. 

Because of the Land Cruiser’s full-size dimensions, an off-road turn assist—when activated—applies brake pressure to the rear wheel on the inside of the turn. 

This creates a rolling pivot point, similar to how a tank turns. Want to get there, wherever there is, in comfort and style? The Land Cruiser’s got you covered.

Volvo Xc90

The Volvo XC90 is a class-leading 4×4 that offers great value for money, so it’s no wonder the model was named Auto Express’s Car of the Year in 2015.

Every version of the XC90 features a permanent four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox with manual mode. Striking a neat balance between comfort and agility, the XC90 has great body control, offering a composed ride even when pushed.

The B5 mild hybrid system generates 232bhp, the T5 petrol 247bhp and the T6 a whopping 306bhp via a turbocharged and supercharged petrol unit.

Don’t be fooled by the impressive performance, though – Volvo’s XC90 scores well on safety too. Euro NCAP tested the XC90 in 2015 and gave it a full five-star rating, as well a 97 per cent score for occupant protection and 100 per cent for safety tech.

A vast interior has always been one of the Volvo XC90’s strengths, and the current model is roomier than ever. The seats are large and comfortable, and even the third row is reasonably generous for adults.

With the seats up, the XC90 offers 451 litres of boot space. Fold the third row down, and you get 1,102 litres. Fold all the rows, and you get a voluminous 1,951 litres.

Standard kit across all models includes adaptive cruise control, keyless start, and auto LED headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, park assist, a hands-free power tailgate, two-zone climate control and electrically adjustable heated leather seats.

There’s also Volvo’s excellent portrait-mounted touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, navigation and connected services.

Before you embark on your quest for the ideal car, bear in mind your priorities. Size, space, towing requirements, initial and ongoing outlay, performance, Euro 6 compliance – they’re are all factors that could – and probably should – influence your decision.

A family of six, for example, will need something different from a singleton and is likely to push for seven seats. Where one driver might be looking for a stylish, practical cruiser, another could be in the market for a pure off-roader that gets pulse racing over rough terrain.

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