The term 4x4 is often used interchangeably with SUV to refer to a vehicle that’s tough looking, sits high off the ground, and performs well in difficult driving conditions. But what’s the actual difference, and should you buy a 4x4 on finance?
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What is a 4x4?
A 4x4 simply means a vehicle that is a four-wheel drive. This is a system by which a vehicle’s engine powers all four wheels simultaneously.
4x4s have a far superior grip on wet, icy or dirt track roads than regular cars and are designed specifically for off-roading. 4x4 systems are usually the preserve of larger vehicles with all-terrain capabilities such as pickup trucks and big SUVs. If you live in a remote area or expect to be doing a lot of driving in challenging conditions, then a 4x4 could be a smart choice.
Many vehicles branded as SUVs are not built with true off-roading in mind but are instead designed for urban roads and family lifestyles. As a result, these don’t come with 4WD at all, as the heavy-duty four-wheel drivetrain is unnecessary in town and city driving, even in bad weather.
Not all 4x4s are built the same. In fact, there are several different types of 4x4 (confusingly, manufacturers tend to refer to them interchangeably). As technology evolves, the lines continue to blur between these drive systems, but broadly they can be categorised in the following ways:
All-wheel drive (AWD) – In an AWD, the engine can power all four wheels interchangeably and automatically senses where to send its power, making this the most sophisticated drive system of the lot. Essentially, it’s a 4x4 system optimised for on-road use. (Notable examples include Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover, and many others.)
Part time AWD – These vehicles work just like front-wheel drives until traction is lost, at which point power is automatically directed towards the rear wheels (eg Jeep Renegade, MINI Countryman).
Full-time 4x4 – The traditional off-roader, engine power is continually sent to all four wheels, making it ideal for navigating the harshest, most exposed environments. (Classic examples include Land Rover Defender, Ford Ranger, Subaru Outback and Suzuki Jimny.)
Part time 4x4 – Automatically operating as a rear-wheel drive, this type of vehicle can switch to a 4WD system if road conditions deteriorate (eg Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser).
Is 4x4 the same as 4wd?
Yes – 4x4 is just another way of referring to a four-wheel drive. Things can get confusing when manufacturers market 4x4s, SUVs and crossovers interchangeably. To be certain that your vehicle is a 4x4, check the user manual or ask the car dealership that you're buying the car from.
What’s the difference between 4x4 and SUV?
Some large SUVs are 4x4s, but many aren’t. A true four-by-four is an actual four-wheel drive vehicle – think pickup trucks and off-roaders – built for heavy duty work, towing and off-roading (for example Land Rover Defender or the Ford Ranger). An SUV can also be 2WD, a part-time 4WD or an AWD.
SUVs can be seen as the next generation of 4x4s: modern SUVs are sleeker, lighter and generally more luxurious than their 4x4 predecessors, but far better at handling bad weather and moderate off-road driving than regular cars. SUVs usually come with lower running costs than 4x4s, too.
As with all car-buying decisions, this will depend on your individual circumstances and preferences. If you need to do a lot of off-road driving, then a 4x4 is probably essential. But if you never venture too far off the beaten track then an all-wheel drive SUV will be more practical.
Due to their size, weight and technology, 4x4s can be forbiddingly expensive. If you’ve got your heart set on one, then buying a second-hand 4x4 is a great way of keeping costs down – there are lots available on the Oodle Marketplace. Buying a 4x4 on finance is just as straightforward as buying any other type of car on finance. You can save tens of thousands of pounds simply by opting for a used model over new, and car finance enables you to spread the cost of the vehicle over an agreed length of time.
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Advantages of 4x4s
Traditional 4x4s are way tougher than other vehicles; they can handle much greater towing loads than other SUVs and regular 2x4s, and they are adept in challenging terrain and very bad weather.
You are much less likely to get stuck in snow in a 4x4 because the engine’s power is evenly distributed across all four wheels. Improved traction means it is far easier to get moving safely – and stay moving – on slippery, dangerous surfaces.
One of their lasting appeals is the unrivalled sense of safety that 4x4s provide for both passengers and drivers. Thanks to their imposing size and weight, 4x4s can withstand more impact than passenger vehicles, making them a far safer bet in an accident than a small city run around.
Resale value is another big plus – four-wheel drives retain their value for much longer than regular cars precisely because they are built for durability.
With any big purchase, there’s lots to think about. It’s important to be aware that the trade-offs for greater size, power and longevity are not insignificant.
Higher service and running costs: 4WD and AWD vehicles are more expensive to service than two-wheel drives thanks to their more complex drivetrains and extra capabilities.
Fuel efficiency – heavy and thirsty, you can expect to pay more to fuel a 4x4 – around £200 a year extra on fuel – in comparison with a smaller, AWD car travelling the same distances.
Higher emissions – the bigger and thirstier the vehicle, the more pollution it will emit. (Unless you go for an electric model of course.)
Styling – arguably performance can outweigh comfort and style with pure 4x4s; their rugged, boxy looks aren’t to everyone’s taste.
Affordability – 4x4s are usually a great deal more expensive than two-wheel drives because of their size, weight and complexity.
Whether you’re looking for a 4x4, an SUV, or something in-between, Oodle can help you find and finance it.