Top 10 best 4x4s and off-road cars 2023

Open gallery Close News by James Disdale 13 mins read 17 February 2023 Share

When it comes to steamrollering the sales charts you really need an SUV these days, especially as the appeal of their rugged looks and raised ride heights shows no signs of waning. Yet despite their off-roader aping style, these machines are little more than family hatchbacks with some tough tinsellng – drive any further off the beaten track than the odd gravel car park and you’ll be left marooned and mired in mud. If you really want to climb every mountain and ford every stream then you’ll need a proper rough-and-tumble 4×4. 

And that’s exactly what the cars listed here are: proper mud-plugging machines that have been designed to tackle the sort of terrain that would make a mountain goat think twice. As ever, the choices when it comes to this class of car aren’t straightforward, as some prioritise off-road performance above all else while others are the consumate all-rounders, as happy bouncing over boulders as they are tearing along Tarmac. And that’s before you start getting bogged down (well, maybe not in these machines) in the details about breakover angles, wading depths and axle articulation, not to mention locking differentials and low-range gear ratios.

Yet whatever your offroading wants or needs, there should be something in our top 10 of topography-tamers that should suit your requirement and budget.

1. Land Rover Defender

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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 have quite the same kind of mud-plugging, rock-hopping, water-fording, slope-scaling and axle-twisting prowess as a result.

The new Defender can do almost all of that and more, however. With approach and departure angles of around 40deg, 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 off-road 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. And while its square-rigged predeccessor’s all-wheel drive system was simplicity itself, the latest car’s is the height of sophistication, with the brand’s trick Terrain Response system allowing even offroad novices to tackle the most challenging off-road obstacles.

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 in-line sixes. The range-topping P525 V8 version certainly has performance and presence to spare, but the D300 diesel is our pick of them all because it 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 its own particular lures.


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The Defender’s available in both three-door 90 and five-door 110 and 130 bodystyles (that latter featuring a long rear overhang that slightly impairs its departure angle), 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 4×4’s capabilities remain beyond question, and the way in which it sets about its work off road makes it seem like a car built for people who don’t even like off roading.

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

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2. Jeep Wrangler

Jeep doesn’t revitalise the Wrangler very often, but the latest generation is more usable 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 every day as the Land Rover Defender, hence its second-place ranking. That’s partly down to on-road manners that are considerably less salubrious than its British rival’s, with far less accurate handling, a more hyperactive ride and ear-bashing levels of ‘refinement’. Still, if you’re handy with a spanner, you can remove the Wrangler’s roof for some wind-in-the-hair thrills.

There are now only four-cylinder petrol versions of the Wrangler on official UK sale, with the four-pot diesel having been removed from showrooms, and other options available only through ‘grey’ (private) import. These include the Dodge Challenger-engined 6.4-litre V8 special-edition Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 form, which is the Wrangler in its wildest and most unstoppable form.

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