The ability to drive on rough, uneven, slippy and loose terrain away from the public roads is an important asset to some motorists.
While 'soft-road' SUVs capable of coping with snow and ice in winter are increasingly popular, the rugged off-roader is a perennial need for many who need to go off the beaten track.
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For this guide we want to focus on the more truly off-road 4x4 vehicles on the market. What are the SUVs on the current market which can wrestle down the rough ground and eat mountains for breakfast? In short, what are the best SUVs on sale today?
Here is MotorTorque's guide on the best off-road 4x4s both recent and upcoming in the UK market. The list features both classic and utilitarian beasts, as well as more premium entries which blend luxury and off-road capability into one package.
If you're looking for something smaller like the best compact SUVs or the best compact MPVs in the UK, click the links.
One of the more luxurious entries on this list, the Audi Q7 is an imposing full size SUV which offers a reasonably sporty performance on the road. As standard the Q7 uses a 3.0-litre TDI V6 turbodiesel engine with 201 or 241bhp.
Alternatively customers can get a 335bhp 4.2-litre V8 petrol engine or even a 493bhp 6.0-litre V12 which gives the Q7 a 0-62mph sprint time of just 5.5 seconds.
To tackle off-road conditions, the Q7 utilises Audi's clever Quattro four wheel-drive system which ensures the SUV retains traction even in slippery conditions. The air suspension can also be raised for better clearance and for tackling tricky obstacles.
Audi Q7 prices currently start at £40,010.
Hyundai Santa Fe
An all-new Hyundai Santa Fe is set to go on sale in the UK during October 2012, starting from £25,495. The large 4x4 features more modern styling and the options of two or four-wheel drive. The cheapest 4WD model is priced at £26,895.
A new feature of the next Santa Fe is the Driver Selectable Steering Mode which can be adjusted to suit different driving conditions either on or off the road. The standard engine is a 2.2-litre CRDi diesel which delivers 194bhp and CO2 emissions from just 159g/km.
The latest Hyundai Santa Fe prices start at £23,755.
Read our Hyundai Santa Fe review
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The mid-sized Grand Cherokee is a solid choice for motorists seeking to tackle treacherous off-road conditions, particularly when choosing the Overland specification model.
The current model shares the same platform with the 2012 Mercedes M-Class and uses a 237bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine as standard. With this unit the Jeep can officially manage 34mpg and emits 218g/km in CO2.
Alternatively for speed freaks, there is also a high-performance SRT8 specification with a flamboyant 470bhp 6.4-litre V8 petrol engine.
Jeep Grand Cherokee prices currently start at £37,995.
Read our Jeep Grand Cherokee review
Available as a two or four-door model, the Jeep Wrangler is the most compact entry on this list and a veteran of the off-road 4x4 market.
Today the Wrangler does lack in terms of equipment offerings and on road driving comfort, particularly compared to modern SUV rivals.
For tackling surfaces off the road however, few can still match the Wrangler in this category.
Current engine options for the Jeep Wrangler include a 197bhp 2.8-litre diesel and a 280bhp 3.6-litre V6 petrol. Fuel economy and CO2 figures are not a strong point and the equipment list is certainly limited.
However on the plus side the Wrangler has a high ground clearance and is generally well set-up to tackle just about any surface.
Jeep Wrangler prices currently start at £26,725
Read our Jeep Wrangler review
Land Rover Defender
No list of best 4x4s is complete without the industry leader included.
The Land Rover Defender hasn't changed much since the first such model appeared over 60 years ago.
There's good reason for this, for challenging off-road drives the Defender still remains one of the best SUVs for these tasks. This is mainly thanks to the car's low-range mechanicals, chunky tyres and high ground clearance. Under the bonnet the standard engine is a 120bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel, offering a top speed of 90mph.
Admittedly the Defender offers little in the way of equipment or sophistication but that's not its point. If you're looking for an off-road 4x4 because you spend a lot of time in the wilderness, then the Defender will impress, and little of it will likely change until a successor arrives in a few years time.
Land Rover Defender prices currently start at £21,410.
Land Rover Discovery 4
The mid-sized Land Rover Discovery 4 is a luxurious SUV particularly when compared alongside the maker's Defender 4x4, that doesn't mean it can't hold its own off-road as well.
Under the bonnet the Discovery 4 utilises a 252bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, giving the SUV a 0-60mph time of 8.8 seconds.
For tackling the rough stuff the dial-controlled Terrain Response system can adjust and optimise the driver-set up for nine different kinds of terrain conditions.
The generous standard equipment list includes Bluetooth, four electric windows and keyless entry.
Land Rover Discovery prices currently start at £38,825.
The RX SUV from Toyota's luxury brand Lexus is a petrol-electric hybrid model which offers low CO2 emissions and cheap road tax.
The powertrain for the RX combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with two electric motors to deliver a combined output of 295bhp. The electric motors use batteries which are charged when the RX is coasting or under braking.
This whole set-up gives the RX a combined fuel economy of 44mpg and CO2 emissions are at just 145g/km.
Lexus RX prices currently start at £44,495.
Read our Lexus RX 450h review
The GL-Class is one of the larger SUVs currently found on the market and also one of the more premium options available.
Engine options include a 224bhp V6 turbodiesel or a 338bhp 5.5-litre V8 petrol unit. The latter engine option is a lot more expensive in comparison to the diesel, but on the plus side performance figures is certainly impressive, 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 149mph.
With its very tall ride height and permanent four-wheel drive system, the GL-Class is built to be a proper off-roader and it can certainly manage when the going gets tough. The SUV offers an optional Off-road pro package, which adds features like a downhill speed regulator and adjustable suspension.
Mercedes GL-Class prices currently start at £58,395
The Japanese-made Mitsubishi Shogun is a sturdy mid-size SUV offered in three or five-door variants.
It's a workhorse-type model offered with just one engine, a 3.2-litre four-cylinder diesel with 197bhp, connected to a five-speed manual or automatic gearbox.
The focus on off-road driveability does mean the Shogun's drive on the road is compromised, but more recent generation models have made improvements to reduce the body roll and improve feel behind the steering.
The Shogun's four-wheel drive powertrain is more than suited for taking on various off-road conditions. The 4x4 also features a lockable centre differential as standard plus an optional locking rear differential which is suited for anyone who wants to regularly drive on trick terrain.
Mitsubishi Shogun prices currently start at £30,754.
Read our Mitsubishi Shogun review
The large and tough Nissan Pathfinder SUV is a four-door model which currently offers just one engine, an 187bhp 2.5-litre diesel unit. This is connected to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although higher trim levels offer a five-speed automatic gearbox.
Featuring a switchable four wheel-drive system and a low-ratio transfer box, the Pathfinder is both strong and effective when used on rough off-road terrain.
An all-new Pathfinder is on course to arrive during 2013, a concept of the model was shown at the 2012 North American International Auto Show, which revealed the next Pathfinder will be more of a full-size crossover SUV type vehicle.
Nissan Pathfinder prices currently start at £32,445.
The second-generation Nissan X-Trail is a rugged compact SUV which sits below the manufacturer's Pathfinder 4x4 in the current range.
Like the Pathfinder, the Nissan X-Trail is certainly capable when driven on rough terrain. The 4x4 uses a 2.0-litre diesel engine with an output of either 148bhp or 170bhp.
Unlike other off-roaders, the X-Trail does not use a low-ratio gearbox but operates a system called 'All Mode 4x4', which calculates how much power the front and rear wheels need on the current terrain.
Nissan X-Trail prices currently start at £25,790.
The luxurious Porsche Cayenne has an impressive engine range, including an entry-level 295bhp 3.6-litre V8 and a 4.8-litre V8 with 395bhp. The latter engine option on the Turbo specification gives the 4x4 a 0-60mph time of just 4.5 seconds on the road, plus a top speed of 172mph.
However the Cayenne is not just suited exclusively for the road, the SUV features an advanced traction control system, air suspension plus centre and rear locking differentials.
Motorists can even sample the Cayenne's abilities on an extreme terrain off-road course by paying for an official driving experience in the car.
Porsche Cayenne prices currently start at £42,990.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
The Grand Vitara is one of the cheapest 4x4 SUVs currently found on the market, but is not found lacking in genuine off-road capabilities. Currently the car is sold as both a three and larger five-door model.
Engine options for the Suzuki include 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit, a 166bhp 2.4-litre petrol and a 127bhp 1.9-litre diesel.
Each specification of the Grand Vitara has permanent four-wheel drive, while diesel and 2.4-litre models feature selectable low ratio gearboxes for easier handling on tricky terrain.
Suzuki Grand Vitara prices currently start at £15,995.
Read our Suzuki Grand Vitara review
Toyota Land Cruiser
The tough Toyota Land Cruiser is one of the most popular choices for 4x4s across global markets including the UK.
Under the bonnet the current Land Cruiser has a 3.0-litre diesel engine available with 187bhp or 268bhp. For as much as £63,910 though, customers can get a Land Cruiser with a 281bhp V8 diesel engine.
The Land Cruiser strengths lay of course in its off-road capabilities, which few 4x4s today can match. To help it along, the Toyota features a high and low ratio gearbox, as well as limited slip differential and onboard Multi-terrain settings for various conditions.
Toyota Land Cruiser prices currently start at £32,085.
Read our Toyota Land Cruiser review
The Touareg shares the same platform as the premium Porsche Cayenne 4x4, but unlike that it uses a 3.0-litre diesel engine as standard. The 3.0-litre engine outputs 201bhp as standard but this can be upgraded to 241bhp on higher-end models. The top-specification Touraeg uses a 4.2-litre V8 diesel engine with 335bhp.
After the standard SE trim, Escape specification models are ideal for motorists prioritising off-road driving for it has raised suspension, whereas Altitude models use lower sports suspension.
The Tourage Escape model also has the most sophisticated 4x4 powertrain, with features including a low-range gearbox and rear differentials. It also adds front and rear underbody protection.
Volkswagen Touareg prices currently start at £40,495.
Read our Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid review
The first generation Volvo XC90 is a luxurious SUV that has been on sale on the UK market since 2002.
While older models offered petrol engines, the XC90 currently has just one engine available, a 197bhp 2.4-litre turbodiesel unit.
The XC90 has a premium quality cabin and a suspension setting which prioritises comfort during long distance travels on roads. While this may sound like the XC90 isn't suited off-road, the SUV does have a sophisticated four-wheel drive system which automatically varies the power ratio if it senses a wheel slipping.
The XC90 was even voted Best Off-Road 4x4 in the Auto Express Britain's Best Used Cars Awards back in 2007.
A new second generation XC90 has been confirmed by Volvo, which will eventually enter production in late 2014.
Current Volvo XC90 prices begin at £35,695.