/ Motoring

Are you for or against 4x4s?

Skoda Yeti

If all you want from an SUV is a higher ride, better visibility and acres of interior space, you can get these from a two-wheel drive model. So why buy its four-wheel drive counterpart?

Not only will a 2WD model cost less to buy, but you can get a new front-wheel drive Range Rover Evoque for £29,200. The cheapest 4WD model is nearly £2,000 more. And the difference in fuel economy is also likely to mean savings of more than £150 a year.

So why would you choose to buy a 4×4 instead? Yes, I understand that during the few snowy days we may have each year, you’ll be the only one able to get to work. Or if you’re a good Samaritan, you could spend the day rescuing people stranded in the snow in their grip-less townie cars. But is that really worth the extra spend?

Why buy a 4×4?

Buying a 4×4 could be a sensible move, as I’m starting to discover, having just bought a house that’s at the end of a 10-mile long country lane.

Plus, if I buy a desirable 4×4 at the right age, it’s not actually likely to lose much value in a couple of years of ownership, so I’ll beat the usual new car scourge of depreciation. The difference in price between a 2003 Land Rover Defender with 120,000 miles under its belt and a 2005, 130,000-mile model, both advertised on autotrader.co.uk, is just £250 – that’s £125 a year in value loss.

Easier to repair 4x4s

In contrast with most modern cars, there are precious few complex electrical parts to go wrong with a 4×4. That’s something that definitely can’t be said for my very temperamental six-year-old Renault Modus, which at present decides for itself whether or not it will illuminate the central console and other switches in the dark.

If I did buy an older 4×4, it won’t have the engine and other major mechanical components tucked up in impenetrable casings. I should be able to get my hands on all the oily bits, and maybe even fix some of them myself if they go wrong.

And I could save a lot of money on parts too – Google ‘Land Rover Defender exhaust system’ and you’ll get plenty of results for under £50. Do the same for a new Range Rover Evoque and the prices shoot up past £500.

Do you own a 4×4? If so, what were your reasons for choosing it, and what features are most important to you?


Don’t assume that there’s less to go wrong on a 4×4. I bought a new BMW X5 six years ago, and lots of things have gone wrong over the years. The most annoying thing is the geometry (a bit like the tracking), because it can’t withstand an uneven road surface very well, and when the geometry gets knocked out, it causes excessive tyre wear, and the tyres are around £300 or more each.

The performance on 4x4s is a big advantage, especially when accelerating from stationary. You can really feel the extra grip that the car has on the road. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Lamborghinis are also 4×4.

I had a 4×4 a couple of years ago. I quite liked it at first but eventually realised the thing had abilities I simply didn’t need 99% of the time and, it had a drink problem, got though tyres quicker than I liked and because of the complexity of the transmission was more prone to going expensively wrong.

If you live on a hill, it’s great you can get up that hill on the few days a year it’s covered in snow and ice. However I found most Winters “going” wasn’t really the problem with any car, “stopping” was the problem and 4×4’s are really no better at that than any other car.

Don’t think I really need or will get another. I’ll spend the petrol savings, the repair savings and the tyre cost savings afforded by my mid sized hatchback on me (or the gas bill).

I have never owned a 4×4 as I live in the city and a normal car suits me just fine. I do however find 4×4’s a real hindrance to my comfort and safety. In car parks they take up more than a fair share of a parking space and overflow into mine. I then find that I’m unable to open my door fully so entering or exiting my car, with a sometimes dodgy back is almost impossible. They reverse without thought to smaller vehicles and use their size to dominate. If I follow a 4×4 in traffic I have no idea what is happening ahead as they block my view. The same applies if we are side by side and they are waiting to turn right, I can’t turn left until they move as again I can’t see when it is safe to move. If I’m in a collision with a 4×4/urban tractor, I know I or my supermini will not come off best. Perhaps Motoring Which? has some statistics on the outcome of such accidents. Perhaps all normal sized cars should be fitted with a periscope so we are aware of what is happening around and about 4×4’s.

For most people the 2WD drive version and a set of winter tyres will give them everything they used on the 4WD drive version for less money.

I have never bought or considered buying a 4WD car. Extra cost, more to go wrong and possibly poorer fuel economy are the main reasons.

Pretium says:
29 November 2013

Having owned a Freelander I would say that the major requirement that seems to be missing is reliability. A head gasket blew at 70,000 miles and throughout it’s life with me the electrical connectors were anything but! Apart from the above, oh, and a rear window opener that was always jamming and poor servicing by a Landrover specialist, it was a nice 4×4. I will not be buying another.

ESPUK says:
29 November 2013

I am very happy with my Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 crd. A mercedes engine and gearbox mated to Jeep suspension allows me to live in the deep campo for three months every year which pleases my doctor as well.
Non 4wd visitors have to park at the entrance to the valley where I live having previously arranged a pickup time (poor mobile signals in mountains) which is ideal for ensuring only welcome visitors arrive.
My (mostly Spanish) neighbours in the valley are also 4wd owners from luxury to donkey power and still behave as a community in the poorest region of Spain, helping each other as needed.
They are simply the appropriate vehicles for this region and cope with flash flooded river bed roads as well as motorways. Having bought a four year old it has cost less than 400€ in repairs over the last 4½ years with low fixed costs for this 67 year old.

Michael Keen says:
29 November 2013

I bought my first Discovery new in 1995, having first seen the car at the London motor show when it was launched. 235,000 miles later I reluctantly decided to get part with it because of rust and replaced it with a second hand, low mileage series 2 TD5 model. I tried a series 3 but found it a bit of a “tank”. (Incidentally, my old Discovery is still going strong as an off-road special with more than 250,000 miles on the clock!)
I have no experience of other 4x4s, but with Discoverys, you either love them or hate them – and I love them.

Interested to hear that you nada good experience with your discovery. I had heard that they had a lot of reliability problems.

Michael Keen says:
2 December 2013

I hammered my Discovery up and down the country for business for the first few years, and we drove down it to Italy every year for 12 years. My annual mileage was between 15,000 and 20,000 miles for several years. We had to change the clutch at 105,000 miles and again around 200,000 miles, and the gearbox gave trouble around 225,000 miles. The only part that was less than reliable was the alternator which we had to change at least 3 times. (But that’s hardly a 4×4 part!)
If you are thinking of one, try the different models – the series 1 and 2 are very different from the later series 3 and 4 cars. If you find you like them, then go for the best you can afford and don’t rush and buy the first one – there really are some good ones out there. I took many months to find my current Discovery.

I have some experience of driving my fathers X5 and Vitara 4x4s. I personally drive a coupe. My view on them is they are potentially useful in winter, but have lots of big disadvantages for the rest of the year. These are
-high purchase costs, most view them as a status symbol
-low fuel economy, even on diesels
-high emissions, so high road tax
-expensive tyres e.g £300/corner for the X5
-most are ugly looking boxes, but I think the X5 is one of the better ones.
-poor handling due to high weight and centre of gravity
-can be much harder to stop than a smaller car.
-most have high depreciation.
-I would not agree they all have less to go wrong. Diesels are complex with turbos and DPFs, most 4×4 makers have poor reliability e.g Land Rover, BMW are no better than average. Older non turbo petrol models can have less to go wrong with simpler engines.

I wouldn’t agree either that there is less to go wrong with a 4×4. It’s not the engine, they don’t really differ much compared to engines in normal cars. Although they do have to work harder dragging all that extra weight around and they will as a result consume much more fuel.

The big reliability problem is the transmission. I had a Freelander and can from first hand experience testify that the weakness is the transfer box and viscous coupling. Very expensive to fix and very unlikely to get to 100k. In fact many people “blank off” the transfer box turning their Freelanders into front wheel drive only, because a dead transfer box is in many cases, especially older cars, a one way trip to the scrap yard. Repairs often cost far more than the thing is worth.

And all 4×4’s have transmission mechanics based on a similar theme, so all have to a greater or lesser degree the same inherent weakness.

I have a nice midsized hatch now, cheap, comfortable and quite capable of doing what I need of it.

Most people haven’t a clue that smaller cars can be 4x4s – or that some are only use 4wd when they need it.

Shame on you! Are you for or against 4x4s . . . Would you say the same for vans? Or hatchbacks? For some owners purposes a 4×4 is necessary and the ‘class war’ overtones that being ‘for or against’ stir up irritate me. The fact that some people who have no use for them whatsoever choose to buy them is not the fault of the vehicle nor some dreadful act committed by all owners or users. It reminds me of the ‘Yuppy’ sneers that used to be levelled at everyone who owned a mobile phone . . . until everyone had them then attitudes changed.

I travel into woodlands and forests and have to have a vehicle that will do the things that my ancient but reliable Discovery does and, incidentally, by not driving it as a ‘point and squirt’ on rural lanes, A roads and motorways I regularly get 40 mpg running on biodiesel made from waste cooking oil.

Townies may complain that they have no place in the leafy suburbs and they may be right however I have dragged many a townie out of the woods or from a ‘nice place for a picnic’ but that doesn’t result in my saying that their low ground clearance, poor visibility, (comparatively) smooth tyred, two wheel drive conveyances should never venture away from the city.

Most people have a car, or other vehicle, that is unsuitable in one or more significant ways but this particular spite seems to be motivated by personal factors, a form of envy, rather than rationality like the ‘Mr Angry’ and his self righteous partner who laid into me in an Aldi car park for driving a ‘Chelsea Tractor’ . . . I opened the back door and dragged out my industrial size chainsaw and asked where would I put that and all my kit and safety equipment in a little saloon?

Our other car? My partner has an ageing little two door as a city run around so generally we can fit the car to the purpose.

Clearly the army and folk who need to earn a living by motoring off road need to have four wheel drive vehicles.
As for most of the rest of us we really don’t need them and we could save a lot of CO2 production if we stopped using them or converted them to two wheel drive.