Motoring.co.uk loves the reassurance of four-wheel-drive – particularly on treacherous winter roads. We therefore enthusiastically conquered the highest mountain (okay, hill) to evaluate the top five 4x4s. So, which terrain tamers make the grade?
The 2009 Subaru Legacy Tourer makes a triumphant entry into position five. This stylish workhorse is the 4x4 for motorists who appreciate traditional estates. There is a choice of two engines, the most economical being the 2.0-litre diesel. This produces 148bhp, hits 60mph in 9.6 seconds, and achieves a combined average of 46mpg. The Legacy is also more comfortable than most armchairs and robust enough to become a family heirloom.
The Volvo XC90 swerves past the Legacy to finish fourth. Launched in 2002 this stylish 4x4 was initially available with two engines – the 272bhp 2.9-litre six-cylinder and the 163bhp 2.4-litre diesel. These were later joined by three additional petrol units including the thrilling 4.4-litre V8. These engines are smooth and refined and beautifully complement the excellent handling. However, consider the XC90 a capable road car with limited off-road ability – and not a hard-core mud plunger.
The 2007 BMW X5 leap-frogs the Volvo into third. Like the XC90 it prefers cruising on tarmac to crawling through undergrowth – but this leviathan is by no means useless on the rough. On-road handling is particularly impressive partly due to the firm suspension which minimises roll. The ride is therefore rather harsh but X5 remains a capable, versatile, and beautifully constructed vehicle.
Missing out on the top spot by a whisker is the 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser. This rugged 4x4 is extraordinarily capable across the most horrendous terrain - even the school run. Power comes courtesy of a 171bhp 3.0-litre diesel which propels the runner-up to 62mph in 11.7 seconds. The Land Cruiser is also enviably reliable, beautifully equipped, and extremely comfortable. On-road handling is less accomplished than off-road, but its 'go anywhere' abilities more than compensate.
So, those are the runners-up in Motoring.co.uk's top five 4x4s. The winner is the enviably talented Land Rover Discovery (2004 onwards). This prestigious beast is the ultimate four-wheel-drive. On-road handling is composed and comfortable and its off-road capabilities are staggering. This is partly due to the 'terrain response' system which allows motorists to change the set-up. Factors such as ride height can be adapted to cope with challenging conditions such as mud, gravel, deep ruts, etc.
Whichever vehicle you choose everything on this list is a worthy purchase. However, the 'best choice' is always the machine that meets your specific criteria. So, if you fancy driving a bright pink dustcart - go for it!