Best 4x4s for winter

BMW X3

The best 4x4 SUVs can take the worry out of driving in winter, whether you want a family-friendly seven-seater or a compact model that will fit into the tightest parking space. 

 
Bear in mind that not every SUV has 4x4, so you may need to specify the four-wheel-drive model when ordering your car. Four-wheel drive won't stop you skidding once you're at speed, but with double the wheels providing traction (most cars are powered by the front or rear wheels alone) you're more likely to get the grip you'll need to set off and get moving on snow or ice. 
 
What's more, cars with a better ground clearance will be better suited to coping with the aftermath of snow melts as flood waters rise – which makes them worth considering if you regularly have to deal with this problem in warmer months, too. 
 
We've rounded up our favourite SUVs with four-wheel drive, all of which are equipped to deal with the worst the weather can throw at them. Prices are only for 4x4 models if a range also includes 2WD cars; the Target Price is the most you should have to pay after dealer discounts.  
 
Price from £13,950
Target Price from £13,094
 
If you want four-wheel-drive in a truly compact and affordable car, the Fiat Panda is the one to go for. 
 
There's a lot more to it than simply an extra pair of powered wheels. Compared with standard Panda models, the 4x4 Pandas also featured a raised ride height to help clear snow, flood waters and off-road surfaces, and bespoke bumpers that are much more likely to help it avoid prangs with low-level obstacles than those of the Mini Countryman or Nissan Qashqai. The Panda 4x4s always send a small amount power to the rear wheels but increase this automatically when the going gets tough.
 
Fiat has even positioned the Panda's air intake higher for improved wading capability, and plus systems to increase the car's low-speed strength and traction when necessary. 
 
Both petrol and diesel versions are available; our favourite is the 0.9-litre Twinair petrol, which gives an average of 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions of just 114g/km. That's a match for many superminis, as is a list price of just £13,950. 
 
Fiat Panda
 
Price for 4x4 from £23,510
Target Price from £21,971
 
Thanks to a recent facelift the Land Rover Freelander now looks more like its larger brothers, and its Land Rover DNA means that its 4x4 versions are also formidable off-road.
 
They all come with the latest version of Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which allows the driver to select different settings for maximum traction.
 
As ever, the Freelander is comfortable to travel in and, although it's not as nimble as some rivals, it's still good to drive. 
 
Cabin space isn't a Freelander strength but there's enough for most families and the latest version has a plush interior that looks similar to pricier Land Rover models'. Go for the 2.2 TD4 150 and the Freelander is surprisingly cheap to run. 
 
Land Rover Freelander
 
Price for 4x4 from £24,695
Target Price from £24,095
 
The Mazda CX-5 might not look as rugged as many of the cars here, but opt for the 2.2D Skyactiv-D 150 SE-L AWD model and you get the reassurance of part-time four-wheel-drive, which automatically cuts in when the car detects the need for more traction. Thanks partly to Mazda's 'Skyactiv' technology – a blend of lightweight construction and efficient engines – average fuel economy is 54.3mpgh and CO2 emissions are below 140g/km so road tax is just £120 a year. 
 
Whichever CX-5 model you go for, you'll have plenty of fun driving it, thanks to decent handling and responsive steering. The cabin has all the space and quality you could ask for, and other ownership costs are low, too.  
 
Price for 4x4 from £26,895
Target Price £25,170
 
The Hyundai Santa Fe has always been great value for money, and although the latest model is a lot more expensive than its predecessor, it's still a great choice for families who want a large, rugged vehicle that doesn't cost a lot to buy and run.
 
The cheapest Santa Fe models come with five seats, but we reckon it's worth paying extra for the added practicality of two more which fold up from the boot. 
 
In the four-wheel-drive models, 4x4 cuts in whenever conditions demand it, and while it doesn't have the off-road ability of some rivals, it does include downhill-brake-control and hill-start-assist systems. Seven-seat four-wheel-drive versions emit only 4g/km more CO2 than the front-wheel-drive equivalent. 
 
Hyundai Santa Fe
 
Price from £28,580
Target Price from £26,954
 
The BMW X3 was overall winner of the 4x4 and SUV section in What Car?'s Car of the Year 2013 awards, and it was a clear winner. Most of all, the X3 is a brilliant family car, with a spacious cabin that's every bit as plush as BMW's executive saloons'. 
 
The X3 is great to drive, too, thanks to sharp handling and a forgiving ride, while the engines are strong, quiet and incredibly efficient. Our favourite model – the Drive xDrive20d SE – has full-time four-wheel-drive and averages 50.4mpg. 
 
BMW X3
 
Price from £38,825
Target Price £36,409
 
If you're looking for the best seven-seat 4x4 bar none, the Land Rover Discovery remains our top choice. Thanks to a series of updates over the years, it's now better than ever. 
 
Even its looks suggest its ready for anything, and it delivers on that promise. Thanks to its rugged construction and clever full-time four-wheel-drive system, it stands a good chance of going wherever you point it, whatever the conditions. 
 
Just as importantly for most buyers, the Discovery is as refined and comfortable as many executive cars, while the seven-seat cabin matches many MPVs for space and versatility. 
 
Ownership costs are rather high, but considering the Discovery rolls all the best bits of an SUV, executive saloon and MPV into one, it represents decent value overall. 
 
Land Rover Discovery
 
Price from £71,295
Target Price from £71,295
 
If there's one car you'd choose if you were going to drive through a blizzard, it has to be the all-new Range Rover. It has permanent four-wheel-drive, and chances are it'll get you to your destination in conditions that would leave any other car stranded, thanks to its incredible off-road ability. 
 
Whatever the weather, the Range Rover's exceptional composure, sumptuous cabin and smooth ride cocoon you from the outside world as well as any luxury car. The latest model now provides lots of space for passengers and luggage, too. 
 
The Ranger Rover is expensive both to buy and run, but even if you have the budget you might still want to limit the cost by choosing the basic 3.0 TDV6 Vogue SE model – it's so good and so well equipped that there's no need to consider pricier models in the range. 
 
Land Rover Range Rover

 

For advice on how to drive and arrive safely on long winter journeys, don't miss our essential feature on winter car journeys