Cold cannot put skids on your driving
Fancy moving to the countryside? Geraldine Herbert picks five of the best 4x4s to keep you on the road
For many caught up in a busy urban lifestyle, the words "escape to the country" conjure up images of open spaces, fresh clean air, and peaceful tranquillity. Studies show that people in rural areas are healthier, happier and live longer.
But there is a price to pay for living in the countryside; the winters seem longer, the nights are darker and picturesque country lanes are often strewn with potholes.
Having opted to move out to a rural idyll, six winters have convinced me that country living is as much about survival as it is about serenity, and there is nothing like an icy blast of wintry weather to make you really appreciate the timeless ability of a 4x4.
Not only because it instills confidence, but where flash flood and icy conditions are a common winter occurrence, having one is often your best chance of staying mobile.
Four-wheel-drive options range from the small-car-sized vehicles such as the Suzuki SX4, Fiat Panda 4x4 and Daihatsu Terrios to the bigger hatchback-sized urban warriors such as Audi's Q3, BMW X1, Kia Sportage, Land Rover Freelander, Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, VW Tiguan and Volvo XC60.
These are our top five 4x4s, in no particular order, to suit a range of tastes, and budgets -- they are more complex than regular cars and can be more costly to keep on the road.
Hyundai Santa Fe
We've started our list with one of our favourites in this category -- the Hyundai Santa Fe.
A genuine seven-seater, the Santa Fe is a great family 4x4 and has proved a practical, economical and well-equipped solution for family transport needs. Engine options include a 2.0 or 2.2-litre diesel and a choice of either six-speed manual or auto gearbox.
On the road it is smooth and civilised. When buying a used model, the newer the better, because of the transferable five-year warranty.
The third generation Santa Fe has just been launched. Prices start at €40,995 for the four-wheel-drive version and the automatic gear box adds a further €4,000.
Still as capable as the older model it is now a far more sophisticated and stylish workhorse. One engine, a 2.2-litre CRDi, is available, that produces 197bhp and 422 Nms torque. Fuel economy is up by 11.6 per cent and CO2 emissions are down 11.9 per cent.
Price range: €36,995- €48,995 Engine range: diesel -- 2.2 litre Ave. Fuel economy: 50mpg (5.6) -- 42mpg (6.7). CO2 emissions range: 147-149g/km
The Swedes know a thing or two about driving in freezing conditions so Volvos are always a safe winter option.
We have omitted the XC90, a car which took the SUV market by storm a decade ago, in favour of the smaller XC60.
While it may be more of a premium cross-over than a true off-roader the XC60 is more than capable in the low-grip situations that most owners are ever likely to confront.
The interior design is cool and clean. The XC60 also has an impressive armoury of safety features that any family would appreciate. New or used you'll pay for what you get -- so don't expect any bargains.
Price range: €42,795- €58,595 Engine range: diesel -- 2.0 and 2.2 litre Ave. Fuel economy: 57.7mpg (4.9)- 41.5mpg (6.8) CO2 emissions range: 139-179g/km
Fiat Panda 4x4
Small cars can be surprisingly useful in snow and one of the best around is the 4x4 version of the Fiat Panda.
Cheap to run, this nifty performer is the ideal choice for anyone who needs some off-road capability, but not the size or complexity of a large 4x4. A new model is on the way early next year, with a more advanced all-wheel drive chassis and a 75hp 1.3 JTDm engine. Until then the old model is worth considering.
Essentially this is a regular Panda equipped with more traction and for serious off-roading.
Price: €14,295. Engine range: petrol - 1.2 litre Ave. Fuel economy: 47mpg (6.0). CO2 emissions range: 114g/km
Skoda's Yeti is more than capable of hauling a small army of kids around but this aptly-named Yeti can also handle snow and ice.
Built on the Golf platform the Yeti is fun to drive. Our pick of the bunch is the perky 2.0-litre diesel engine, equipped with a four-wheel drive system. This operates at the touch of a button to swap power to different wheels depending on conditions.
Inside cars don't get much more family-friendly and the Yeti is all about comfort and practicality. Skoda hasn't scrimped on safety and with plenty of airbags it will keep you and yours safely cocooned.
Price range: €23,275- €34,525. Engine range: petrol -- 1.2, diesel -- 1.6-2.0 litre Ave. Fuel economy: 63 mpg (4.5) -46 mpg (6.1) CO2 emissions range: 149-169g/km
Land Rover Discovery
No guide to 4x4s would be complete without the inclusion of the Land Rover Discovery. It's so traditionally English that hoisting yourself into the seat you almost expect a headscarf on the passenger seat to complete the look.
The Discovery harnesses all of Land Rover's legendary off-road performance and it can cope with any weather.
Simply push a button to change its all-wheel drive systems, select snow, mud, gravel on the terrain response control and sit back and relax.
Off road the Discovery may be a revelation but it is just as good on smooth tarmac. Inside it has plenty of space and feels first class throughout. The one to choose if you need four-wheel drive and the space to carry seven people.
Price range: €65,280- €76,810. Engine range: diesel -- 3.0 litre Ave. Fuel economy: 33.2 mpg (8.5) - 32.1 mpg (8.8). CO2 emissions range: 244g/km