GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Once the choice for serious off-roading, the 4x4 has carved out a niche in the luxury car market
THE 4x4 market just keeps on growing — and so does the range of vehicles that qualify as 4x4s.
From large, proper off-roaders to ‘crossover’ saloons, to compact 4x4s, the choice can appear endless these days.
It can seem strange, but it is often the very features that 4x4s evolved to help them out of muddy tracks that have endeared them to family buyers in our towns and cities.
Particularly appealing are the high driving position, loads of interior space and ingenious cubby holes, and other design features that make them so very usable. There is basically a 4x4 to suit everyone these days — whether that be new, approved or used.
That’s not to say that 4x4s have had an entirely free ride. Particularly in the early days of their popularity, they were mocked as giant gas-guzzlers eating up the planet.
Much of this was based around size, whether it’s in terms of the actual size or engine capacity.
Like much of politics, there was a grain of truth in the criticism, but it didn’t reflect the complicated reality of the sector.
If you want a huge off-roader with pathetic urban fuel economy, it is possible to get one, but most people don’t. And that’s why the majority of 4x4s sold are from the compact sector.
These ‘soft-roaders’ typically takeup no more space on the road than the average family saloon and have modest engines.
Most — but not all — are more comfortable on tarmac than they are with any serious mud-plugging, but generally they do have at least some
off-road ability, particularly if they are four-wheel drive rather than 2WD.
Big players in this sector include Nissan’s X-trail, Honda’s CR-V and Land Rover’s Freelander, with Subaru’s Forester being a popular choice for those that like to tow caravans.
Many 4x4 enthusiasts of a more practical nature have started to consider popular 4x4 pickup models like the Mitsubishi L200 and the Isuzu Rodeo. These are tougher, with their roots in the more manly end of the genre.
Family 4x4s like the Hyundai Santa Fe are bigger and more expensive than their compact counterparts. Many feature an additional row of seating in the rear, boosting capacity to as many as seven persons. Increasingly, they also incorporate Mpv-style seating systems, where the individual chairs slide, fold or lift out altogether to give greater flexibility to the cabin space. Leg room in the middle row tends to be quite adequate, but the rear seating in most models is best reserved for smaller children.
The luxury 4x4 sector is populated by vehicles which attempt to bring the refinement and lofty specifications of high-end saloon cars such as crafted leather to the 4x4 market.
Leading players include BMW’S X5, the Mercedes M- Class, the Range Rover, the Porsche Cayenne, Lexus GS450H, Audi Q7 and the Volkswagen Touareg.
The latest member of this sector is the Sports Utility Vehicle or — as they have come to be known — SUVS. These vehicles, as their name would suggest, offer a more sporting flavour in their design and performance than the standard 4x4 and are epitomised by models like the Ford Kuga, Nissan Juke, Nissan Qashqai, Suzuki SX4 and the upmarket Range Rover Evoque.
Six of the best:
From large luxury vehicles to sporty compacts, the choice is almost endless for 4x4 drivers these days. There are of course some serious mud-pluggers, but most modern 4x4s are more comfortable on the road. Residual values hold up well, so 4x4s make a great second hand option as well.
Here’s a list of some of our favourites (all prices approximate and for new models): 1. SUBARU FORESTER: Subaru’s doughty Forester has been around for a while, and is undoubtedly a proper off-roader. If you need something roomy, rugged, reliable and to use as a good tower, look no further. The Forester has had a loyal band of followers for many years now. Prices range from £24k to £30k.
2. ISUZU D-MAX: If a modern, lifestyle pick-up is your requirement, the Isuzu D-max, introduced in 2013, is a great choice. It comes in a range of choices, including a utility truck and luxurious double-cab versions that will suit the family at the weekend. The price range is good, too: £14k-£20k. Plus, there’s a five-year warranty.
3. NISSAN X-TRAIL: The old X-trail’s rather boxy design never struck a chord with me, but Nissan has now repaired this rather obvious gap in its line-up with a stylish makeover of the X-trail. The new model is a great leap forward, featuring excellent build quality, great looks and a modern design. Price range: £25k-£31k.
4. HYUNDAI SANTA FE: Korean brands like Hyundai and Kia are light years away from where they were when they first entered the European market as value competitors. Now they are building sophisticated and stylish cars including the Santa Fe, a very well appointed large 4x4 which is better styled and kitted out than its predecessor and which features a very tasty 2.2-litre diesel engine choice. Price range: £26k-£35k. 5. FORD KUGA: The second generation Kuga is bigger, smarter and better. It’s also got clever technology and is perfect for familes, having been packed with kit and clever additions. Women in particular love the remote entry and start, which means that the keys never need to leave your handbag. Price range: £20k-£29k.
6. NISSAN QASHQAI: This is the vehicle that invented the ‘crossover’ segment, where 4x4s meet family saloons. The all-new generation car is out now and is sleeker, better apportioned and more efficient than ever before. Nissan has made the decision to drop the seven-seater Qashqai +2, but overall this is an even better car than its predecessor. Price range: £16k-£27k.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE