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Five reasons you don't need a four-wheel-drive car

Carlton Boyce / 22 June 2016 ( 19 October 2018 )

Before you pay out for an expensive 4x4, read our reasons why you might not really need a four-wheel-drive car.

While farmers, builders, and rural dwellers might well need the security and reassurance that all-wheel-drive gives, most of us don’t
While farmers, builders, and rural dwellers might well need the security and reassurance that all-wheel-drive gives, most of us don’t

I like four-wheel-drive cars. I like their indefatigable nature, their stance, their image, and their indomitable spirit. I like the thought of battling the elements in one, preferably with my family alongside me, as I race away from an unfolding environmental disaster. (Preferably with lots of noisy, but otherwise inconsequential, explosions in the background.)

I’m not alone in thinking like this, something the automotive marketeers know only too well. With their carefully staged photographs and apocalyptic prose, they conjure up a need that few of us actually have, enabling them to ease more money from our pockets than would otherwise be necessary.  

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Here are five reasons why you really don’t need a four-wheel-drive car.

1. Driving experience

Four-wheel-drive cars enable their drivers to gain traction in conditions that would otherwise leave them floundering. So, while farmers, builders, and rural dwellers might well need the security and reassurance that all-wheel-drive gives, most of us don’t.

The extra complexity of driving all four wheels often means that they are less pleasant to drive than their two-wheel-drive siblings – and they always more costly to buy and run. Always.

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2. Fashion

I love the way a four-wheel-drive car looks, especially the elevated ride height. I like being able to slide onto the driver’s seat rather than down into it. I also like the commanding driving position that it gives, enabling me to see past traffic-jammed cars and over the top of hedgerows.

However, now that most Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers come with a two-wheel-drive option that retains the raised suspension you can enjoy all the benefits with none of the drawbacks.

If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his book How to Become a Motoring Journalist - available on the Saga Bookshop.

3. Bad weather

The number one reason that most owners give for buying a 4x4 is to keep them mobile during the harsh winter months, imagining that all-wheel-drive will pull them through the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them.

So it’s a shame that a lot of four-wheel-drive vehicles aren’t terribly good on the snow and ice on their standard tyres; most ‘normal’ cars will keep going on winter tyres long after a four-wheel-drive on normal tyres has slipped into a ditch.

Not convinced? Have a look at this video testing winter tyres versus a 4x4

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4. Muddy car parks and fields

OK, I can hear you saying that winter tyres are all very well for snow, but what about muddy fields and car parks? Surely you need four-wheel-drive to cope with them?

Nope, not a bit of it. A lot of manufacturers now offer Grip Control, or something similar. This works by using the car’s anti-lock braking system to gently brake the wheel that is spinning, helping the other gain traction.

It might sound a bit Heath Robinson, but I’ve tested it on a few models and it works well. Of course, if you’re towing a heavy horsebox out of the quagmire then you’ll need a 4x4, but for the rest of us something with a system like this will probably be enough.

But you don’t need to buy a new car to improve its off-road ability because you can fit a set of all-terrain tyres to your car, which will make a huge difference. I’ve just bought a set of Avon Ranger ATT tyres (with my own money, I hasten to add…) and have been impressed with the extra grip they give on muddy surfaces, albeit at the expense of some extra road noise on tarmac.

Read our tips for driving on countryside roads and lanes

5. Living in the countryside

A lot of people default to a 4x4 when they move from the city to the countryside, imaging that without it they are doomed to being housebound at the first whiff of inclement weather.

Despite living in predominately rural areas for most of my adult life, four-wheel-drive has only saved me from mild inconvenience on half-a-dozen occasions – and most of those trips could have been achieved in a two-wheel-drive car with some decent winter tyres. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.