Currently reading: Top 10 best 4x4s and off-road cars 2022
Where we're going, we don't need roads; these ten 4x4s are capable on just about any surface

Creating a definitive list of the ‘best’ off-roaders is something of a fool’s errand (although, as you can see, that hasn’t stopped us from trying). Even if you pin down the basic parameters for comparison – breakover angles, wheel travel, wading depth, cost and so on – the problem becomes one of environment.

Some of these vehicles are designed to crawl up boulder-strewn slopes where one crimped brake line will bring an abrupt halt to activities. Others are designed to bomb across loose surfaces at heroic speed, and in a manner entirely at odds with the cars whose incredible traction will haul them across impossibly slippery terrain at no more than walking pace. Then there are the mechanically unstoppable desert survival specialists. Each could be called an off-roader, and each breed has its own particular blend of strengths.

In any case, these are Autocar's preferred exemplars of the traditional, go-anywhere 4x4 breed, in our own particular order of preference. 

1. Land Rover Defender

After a preamble that lasted more than a decade, Land Rover finally showed off the long-awaited follow-up act to the original ‘Land Rover’ in 2019, and launched the car in showrooms in 2020. Having switched from a ladder frame construction to a monocoque, and for plenty of reasons otherwise, this new Land Rover Defender is more of a successor than a direct replacement; and some feared that it wouldn’t be capable of quite the same kind of mud-plugging, rock-hopping, water-fording, slope-scaling and axle-twisting as a result.

The new Defender can do almost all of that and more, however. With approach and departure angles of around 40 degrees, and ground clearance of as much as 291mm thanks to its height-adjustable air suspension, this car has all of the right vital statistics. And yet it’s the style in which is tackles offroad driving, and the way it eases the load on the driver to select just the right transmission mode, to maintain just the right amount of forward momentum, and to keep to just the right line through those ruts, that really impresses.

Land Rover now offers four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines for the car, but the P400e plug-in hybrid has become the only four-pot available, while all the diesels are now inline sixes. The range-topping P525 V8 version certainly has performance and presence to spare; but the D300 diesel would be our pick of them all, which combines plenty of torque with respectable fuel economy, drivability and refinement, and needn’t cost as much as some of the other versions of the car. For fleet users and urban dwellers, of course, the P400e plug-in hybrid (which has a claimed electric range of 27 miles) will have it own particular lures.

The Defender's available in both three-door '90' and five-door '110' bodystyles, as well as as a 'Hardtop' commercial if you prefer; and whichever you go for, you'll find it's a wide, tall and heavy car that isn't ideally suited to the narrowest of tracks or 'green lanes'. But that acknowledged, this 4x4 capabilities remain beyond question, and the way in which it sets about its work offroad makes it seem like a car built for people who don’t even like offroading. 

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Offering all that in a car that also rides and handles so well on the road puts the icing on the cake, and makes this car stand head and shoulders above its rivals. 'The best 4x4 by far' has been given a whole new lease of life. 

Save money with new Defender deals from What Car?

2. Jeep Wrangler

Jeep doesn’t revitalise the Wrangler very often, but the latest generation is more useable than ever on the road as well as more capable off it. That Jeep has carefully preserved the much-loved design – whose circular headlights, famously seven-slatted grille and strict geometry are recognisable still from the original Willys MB jeeps first deployed in World War II – is only part of the appeal. The interior is now more spacious and less cheaply- and sparsely finished, which goes hand-in-hand with the improved efficiency of the car’s downsized engines and better road manners (everything is relative, mind).

Of course, the Wrangler is still spectacular off the beaten track, especially in three-door Rubicon trim with its ladder frame, locking differentials, knobbly tyres, specialised articulating axles, underbody bracing, and outstanding approach and departure angle statistics. It just wouldn't be as nice to live with everyday as the Land Rover Defender, hence it's second-place ranking.

There are now both four-cylinder petrol and petrol-electric plug-in hybrid versions of the Wrangler on official UK sale, with the four-pot diesel now having been removed from showrooms, and other options only available through 'grey' import.

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For expeditions in true wilderness, the Jeep yields to almost nothing. And in Dodge Challenger-engined, 6.4-litre, special-edition Jeep Wranger Rubicon 392 form, it yields to even less. 

Save money with new Wrangler deals from What Car?

3. Toyota Land Cruiser

Another icon – one that has historically been the workhorse of choice in the Australian Outback, a place where breaking down simply won’t do. This is an old-school offroader with a body-on-frame construction and big numbers in all departments. For towing, wading and low-ratio, grind-it-out driving across truly inhospitable ground, the Land Cruiser scores very highly. Basic-spec Utility versions, identifiable by their steel wheels, are genuinely affordable; three-door passenger versions aren't much pricier; and five-door Invincible-spec cars offer packed-out equipment rosters and seating for up to seven.

But while you can choose the 2.8-litre turbodiesel Toyota with air suspension and leather seats, don’t expect it to ride and handle like a monocoque SUV from Audi or Mercedes-Benz. It’s a different beast; less sophisticated on the M40 but in another league in places where you might actually need a car like this, with a reputation for mechanical dependability so jealously regarded by every one of its competitors.

Save money with new Land Cruiser deals from What Car?

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4. Mercedes-Benz G-Class

The best off-roaders tend to stick around. Both the Wrangler and the Land Cruiser have been with us for decades, and it’s the same with the G-Wagen (technically now the G-Class, but you’ll forgive us the nostalgia).

This Mercedes – the only one without an official ‘end of production’ date – recently received the only truly substantial redesign in its 40-year history. Underneath you’ll still find a ladder-frame chassis, although the front suspension is now fully independent and the whole set-up was part-developed by AMG. The result is car with locking differentials, improved ground clearance and the same immense off-road abilities as before; but now also one that handles predictably and, at times, even quite enjoyably on the road. A move to rack-and-pinion steering has made the biggest difference there.

Our pick the is the creamy straight-six diesel in the G350d, although it’s possible to get a full Mercedes-AMG G63 with a twin-turbocharged petrol V8 making almost 600bhp, assuming you've got a Premier League footballer's budget to spend.

Save money with new G-Class deals from What Car?

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5. Ford Ranger Raptor

Park, for a moment, any sensible considerations you might have, because the Ford Ranger Raptor is a Baja-inspired pick-up truck that aims, quite simply, to please. It’s a little larger than the standard Ranger, but the real magic lurks beneath the body, where widely re-engineered axles, uprated springs and Fox motorsport dampers take the place of leaf springs at the front and the old Watt's linkage previously found at the rear. The set-up has been tuned to work best with no additional load and at speed, and ground clearance is up 30%. We’ve previously described this car as a ‘rough-track sports car’.

Weaknesses? You get nothing more than a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel under the bonnet and, at just under £50,000, it makes for a quite expensive commercial vehicle. As a workhorse, its capacities are limited; but as a method of covering very rough terrain at big speeds, it’s almost without equal.

Save money with new Ranger deals from What Car?

6. Land Rover Discovery

You might wonder why the fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery doesn’t sit higher up this list, even given the calibre of the cars above. It is, in the grand scheme, terrifically competent off-road but matches that with wonderful road manners for an all-round package that none of the others can quite compete with. Everywhere the Discovery goes, it does so with a calm assurance.

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It isn't, however, quite as gritty, grippy or tenacious as some cars on this list when the going gets really tough. A facelift for the 2021 model year brought new six-cylinder engines to the car of both the petrol- and diesel-sipping varieties, as well as updated suspension and some fresh interior features, and kept a likeable and very versatile car high in our estimations.

Save money with new Discovery deals from What Car?

7. Bowler Bulldog

If you want the world to know how serious you are about your weekend mud-plugging, what better way to show it than by buying a car that looks a bit like the world’s most iconic offroader – but that is actually a highly specialised customer rally raid car underneath? That’s precisely what you get with the Bowler Bulldog; an offroader built on the niche Derbyshire-based motorsport outfit’s latest ‘cross sector’ platform, and engineered well enough to convince Land Rover itself to acquire the whole company not-so-long ago.

The Bulldog is built on a bespoke monocoque chassis and uses long-travel suspension adapted from what you’ll find on a Discovery and Range Rover Sport, with heavy-duty springs and dampers there to take real punishment.  Both supercharged petrol and diesel engines are available, with an enormous fuel tank delivering the desert-crossing range that many rally raid addicts require in the latter case. Opt for a petrol instead – and there’s a hell-raising 5.0-litre V8 with 567bhp, should you want it – and your fuel economy and range drops… well, quite a lot. There’s plenty of room in the flatbed for jerry cans, mind you.

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The Bulldog’s performance ranges from hot-hatchback- to sports car-quick depending on engine choice, while its ride and handling is amazingly precise and controlled on the road, yet also indefatigably rugged and huge fun over ruts, gravel, mud and sand. If you really want to go wild off road, the Bulldog - pricey as it is - has very few equals.

8. Suzuki Jimny

Suzuki markets the Jimny as the world’s only lightweight proper off-roader, which is all very true, refreshingly. The car weighs just over 1100kg but uses a ladder-frame chassis with rigid-axle suspension at each end and a low-ratio four-wheel-drive gearbox. There are, alas, no locking differentials; but with price that started below £16,000 when the car was officially on sale in the UK back in 2018, nor would you expect there to be.

This thing really works off-road, as we’ve demonstrated with a twin-test against a Land Cruiser. Indeed, with tiny overhangs, its approach, breakover and departure angles are all superior to those of the Wrangler, which is quite something; and being so small and light makes it surprisingly spry on mud and gravel, and pleasingly easy to handle. 

You will also, we guarantee, fall for the Jimny’s kei car looks. Which is just as well, because its naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine isn’t particularly economical, its boot is tiny, and its road manners are only a notch or two above dismal.

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Suzuki UK withdrew the Jimny from sale in 2020 due to its incompatibility with tightening emissions laws, but grey imports are still possible, and a commercial version has seen the car return to UK showrooms via the back door.

Save money with new Jimny deals from What Car?

9. Ford Bronco

Ford's answer to the modern Jeep Wrangler, the Bronco, has fairly long history itself. It's a car designed very much for American roads and a pattern of usage dependent upon access to wide open spaces; and it's not officially on sale in Europe, nor in the UK in right-hand drive form - making it a niche inclusion in this chart. To run one on UK roads would demand some compromises - and the first would be accepting paying over the odds for a grey import. But the car does have a particularly rugged look about it; and when it comes to mixing it in the roughest terrain, it can hold its own.

Sharing a ladder-frame chassis with the Ranger pick-up, the Bronco has a live rear axle but independent front suspension. Inline four- and V6 engines are available in it, as are fixed-head and convertible bodies.

The car doesn't have the on-road refinement of some of the cars in this chart, but it's pleasant enough to drive; and with approach and departure angles from 30 degrees, and a wading depth of some 850mm, there are very few places it wouldnt' take you. 

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10. Ssangyong Rexton

This is the full-size, go-anywhere offroader for the value-savvy buyer. The Ssangyong Rexton hasn't always been as tidy-looking a car as it is now, but it's always been a proper 4x4. In this latest version you get seven seats, ladder-frame construction, lockable mechanical four-wheel drive with low range, electronic hill descent control, a 201bhp, 2.2-litre diesel engine - and all for a price which, in the cheaper of two available trims, can start with a three.

The car handles and performs better than it rides, its ladder-frame chassis making it feel a little crude on the road over lumps and bumps; but it also handles acceptably well for a big car, and its engine and gearbox do a decent job too.

For serious mud-plugging, fixed-height steel coil suspension and clearance angles that are, in some cases, only just above 20 degrees aren't world-beating. But if it's mostly tracks and fields you have to cross, and you want a big, cost-effective way to cross them, the Rexton might be worth investigating.

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iamamirrahmati 21 October 2021
Audi Quattro; I am a Joke For you?!
WinstonAlexanderson 16 July 2020

New defender is absolute masterpiece

Jaguar land rover is on an absolute roll.What a beautiful car the new defender is, and a fantastic year to follow for JLR, brilliant work lads!

jason_recliner 26 June 2020

Yeah. Nah.

Completely unproven Defender the No. 1 4x4?  I don't think so.

jonboy4969 6 July 2020

jason_recliner wrote:

jason_recliner wrote:

Completely unproven Defender the No. 1 4x4?  I don't think so.

 

the defender had been drived on 3 million miles in the last couple of years and been driven by some of the best off road drivers alive, in places all over the globe, i suggest you stop writing rubbish and read ALL the road test reports from ALL the magazines, off road titles too, and they all state the same thing, that the new car is amazing, and far out strips the old tank it replaces..and why the hell the jeep is at #2 is beyond me, it is the most fragile thing there, even the Jimny is a better car than that.