4x4 or Not?

This might sound silly, but I’m stuck making a decision.

Time to buy a new car.

Estate or 4x4.

Had 4x4’s for long time and they can be great. The cold winters a couple of years ago helped my not only take wifey to work, but I could also get out and about to do a few summits, when other were house bound.

But, and this is a bit but, the cost of running one throughout the year is so much more than a simple diesel estate.

What do others drive to the summits?

Made in Cheshire. Designed with SOTA in mind.

Although I can only afford a bicycle myself :frowning:

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The problem is not the number of wheels driven but the tyres. Most cars (including AWD or part-time 4WD) come with low profile wide summer tyres. They’re better than 2wd but proper winter tyres on a 2wd vehicle would be a major improvement and may be enough. (Audi quattro, BMW xDrive, Ford Kuga, Honda CRV etc.)

The only vehicles that come with anything sensible that will work are things like Toyota HiLux/Landcruiser, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200, Isuzu, Nissan Pathfinder, LR Discovery, Freelander, Defender, Range Rover (watch the tyres), Skoda Yeti.

I have used one of these for 3 activations - not all the way up but at least close into the serious climb. But I suspect that they wouldn’t work out on the open road for some reason - what a shame…


I asked about the same question to a friend of mine when I was thinking about purchasing the car I have now (SsanYong Rodius AWD).
I needed such big car due to the size of my family and the fact that we were traveling a lot with lot of luggage and stuff at that time.
My friend was one of the many people going every weekend to the sky resorts in the Pyrenees and his advise was very much in line with Andy’s comment.
He told me that from his personnal experience winter tyres on a 2WD are more effective than 4WD without winter tyres, as he had driven up many times to the sky ressorts with his winter tyres while leaving other 4x4 vehicles stuck at the side of the road totally unable to continue with their low profile tyres, despite the 4WD.
Anyhow I bought my Rodius AWD and the option of the shorter gears (I hope you know what I mean. We call it “reductora” and I guess there will be a different way to call it in English).
I don’t have winter tyres so far, as we don’t get so much snow down in the valley where we live and I don’t usually try to drive on covered by snow or ice mountain roads with important gradients.
However, let me tell you that I have taken very much advantage of the 4WD and the shorter gears when driving on mountain dirt roads with important gradients and lots of loosen gravel and stones.
I would get it AWD or 4WD again in case I had to buy a car now.
I hope you’ll make the right decision.
Best 73 de Guru - EA2IF

This is the business. There used to be one at the Tan Hill Inn.

Clip 6 here shows a comms version.

What a coincidence: that’s the trip I use to drive from home to work everyday with my RODIUS :wink:
Just kidding…

Regardless the number of fuel litres consumed per 100 Km or the number of miles made with a Gallon for our friends at the other side of the pond, that vehicle is definitely not environmentally friendly. Ask the trees…

Best 73 de Guru - EA2IF

Let me relay a story that might help you decide.

I have a 2007 Jeep Wrangler. When I bought it, it came with street tires. I still went off roading with it.

One time I was slowly climbing a hill in 2wd and the back wheels started losing grip. So I grabbed the lever and put it in 4wd on the fly. I was going very slow at the time. When the 4wd kicked in the back wheels stopped slipping and off I went up the hill.

The moral to the story is that it isn’t necessarily the tires…it’s having the ability to have the 4wd. I would take a 4wd with street tires over a 2wd with the best off road tires money could buy.

The great thing about 4wd is simply this…use 2 wd as much as possible…you will see you can in fact get to many places in 2wd…when the going gets tough, put it in 4wd and get over the rough stuff and go back to 2wd. If you get stuck in 2wd, 4 wd can get you unstuck most of the time.

With all that said when my Wife is with me on some dirt roads I will always put it in 4wd to smooth out the ride for her.

Out here in Southern California when it snows in the mountains, the Highway Patrol will close the road to all traffic except 4wd. IT’s a blast to head up to the mountains to Big Bear and be the only ones on the road save for a few other 4wd vehicles. It’s a very peaceful drive.

So get the 4wd vehicle. It’s better to have and not need it than need it and not have it.


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My compromise is a Subaru Outback. AWD, great ground clearance, reasonable approach and departure angles, sensible tyres, diesel, leather, heated seats, cruise, just looks like a ‘high’ estate car. Very capable.

Edit: Should have said, just to make sure I get the most out of that AWD I swap to winter tyres as well. As others are saying, these make more difference. So I would venture a front wheel drive estate with good winter tyres would go better in challenging conditions (mud/grass/snow) than something like a BWM X5 on wide profile performance tyres.

I should have mentioned I get about 48MPG out of the Outback. Drops to about 44 with the winter tyres on.

Richard, G3CWI has the answer, get a Hagglund, they are awesome, maintenance is horrendous though, I think each track costs about £4k and with 4 tracks per vehicle and almost all the widgets being bespoke you need deep pockets to run one, that said I was getting paid to play…I mean work…in one last week :smile:

I drive a Skoda Octavia 4x4 estate, I do stick winter tyres on it for half the year, I have had it on some of the most “interesting roads”. 4WD does help you get moving if the ground is rough/loose/slippery/icy, but the ONLY thing that helps you stop on said ground is the TYRES, 4WD with tyres that don’t grip when braking as the car in front has “deployed parachutes” has the same effect as 2WD with tyres that don’t grip when braking - you hit the car in front.

The Octavia only has toy 4WD in that drive is transferred to the rear wheels when the car detects the fronts are loosing traction. With the tyres I’ve had it up the Ben Lawers mountain road in heavy snow (I actually had to stop part way along the Lochan na Larige as the volume of snow was so much that the car was bottoming out) No one else got anywhere near me apart from the RAF Mountain Rescue (on a training exercise before you ask), the civilian vehicle that got closest to me up the road was a BMW 3 series estate (on winter tyres - I checked). I’ve had the car up the same road when the road was sheet ice - the car was stuck to the road, I got out and promptly grabbed the roof rails to stop me falling flat on my behind.

Incidentally the Ben Lawers road is also known locally as the “Lix Toll Pension Fund”, the Lix Toll being the local recovery service who invariably get the job of recovering any vehicles that have found themselves in the scenery.

I’ve also been down a fair few other unploughed/ungritted road, the single track road down the east side of Loch Lomond being a good example, the gritter/plough stops 7 miles from the “Ben Lomond” car park at Rowardennan, admittedly on one ocassion I had to wait whilst we pushed a car out off the road after the driver had wedged himself sideways across the road on some ice.

For winter I rate the tyres so highly that I would rather drive a Mercedes/BMW with winter tyres than a Landrover/Hilux on summer tyres.

Yeah, I was going to jump in with the ground clearance point and “soft roaders”. A soft-roader is a compromise and wont use as much fuel as a full sized 4X4 but generally you don’t control when it is in 2 or 4WD drive, it decides. On fuel consumption, while still in Australia, I went from a petrol Subaru Forester to a diesel Peugeot 308 estate car and halved my fuel costs and this in a country where Diesel is more expensive than Petrol (Benzine for our US/EU freinds).
I still went up some pretty hairy tracks with the Peugeot. Grip was never the problem, ground clearance was. Also it had normal summer road tyres on it.

When looking at a possible new vehicle, check what the spare wheel is. A soft-roader off road with a flat type and a spare that’s a temporary thin wheel is not good news. Some cars come now without a spare wheel at all having “run-flat” capability - again not a great help when up a stoney track!

If it were available outside of Australia, the Ford Territory might fit your needs. It’s an estate car with high clearance that comes as either a 2WD or 4WD model, with either a Petrol or Diesel engine.

73 Ed.

So there you have it John, most people are saying the same thing, Winter tyres are most important if you want to get to (and stop at) place where there may be snow or no road treatments.

I would add:

  • front wheel drive or four wheel drive
  • winter tires
  • snow chains
  • snow shovel

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL

I have a Landrover Defender 90 with BFGoodrich All-Terrain tyres. Excellent for negotiating mountain roads and it copes well with snow and ice.

The only snag … it only does 27 miles to a gallon of diesel.

Walt (G3NYY)

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A workmate has bought a 2014 Defender with the Ford Transit (Duratorq) engine, it has a 6 speed manual gearbox and permanent AWD. He gets about 31-32mpg including town and long runs. My HiLux 2.5D gets about 25mpg about town and 33mpg on a long run. The claimed figures are better.

I have been driving a Mercedes G for many years, even before starting SOTA. Great fun, also for non-SOTA activities (see pictures my qrz.com page).
When the Mercedes G started to fall apart from rust I got a Land Rover Defender 90. Again, great fun. I use Conti Cross Contact AT tyres on the Land Rover. Acceptable on road, even at high speed and fine off road in the summer. Could be better in snow.

Getting down to the 10l/100km diesel (Germans are used to calculate in metric units) of the Defender 90 was a delight. The Mercedes G was 15l/100km of the more expensive petrol.

In fact in Germany you do not really need a 4x4 for doing SOTA. But in some cases it makes life easier. E.g. finding a parking place just beside the road.
To my mind most times ground clearance is even more important than tyre grip.

Finding a car one can install a 2m/70cm transceiver was much more difficult:

  • modern cars have cluttered dashboards with no space to mount a transceiver
  • installing cables is realy hard as nothing can be stripped down
  • all the car electronics can cause QRM
  • transmitting can interfere with the car electronics (at least manufacturers claim this and regulate transmitting very strictly)

The combination of a real 4x4 and the ability to install a transceiver finally resulted in the Defender.
Of course you have to be a bit crazy to drive a Defender. But you also have to be a bit crazy to do SOTA. So that’s a perfect match.

73 de Michael, DB7MM

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I think they’re both pretty important!
I’ve never had anything approaching a new car, so just look for cheap and cheerful!
I love my current 1998 Toyota Rav 4, which has loads of ground clearance, AWD and most importantly, diff lock.
It’s not the cheapest vehicle to run, but when it dies, I’ll be looking for another (maybe only about 10-12 yrs old with less than 150k miles).
I use it as a tow vehicle too and the diff lock on slimy slipways is a godsend.
It puts up with an awful lot of abuse, but it’s great not having to give a **** about paintwork, upholstery, headliners etc.!
My type of vehicle.

Very interesting.

And thank you for all your comments.

Never thought too much about winter tyres as I just assumed they were a marketing ploy to help empty my wallet.

What makes them special? Are they just cut deeper tread?

Oh - and I have had 5 Landy’s including a 300TDi. Great car :slight_smile: but maintenece just too much for me.

My last one was a 1974 Series III 109" petrol giving me 14mpg with overdrive!

The compound is softer so it works at low temperature. The tread pattern is entirely different.

Watch the videos on YouTube that will show you the difference between winter and summer tyres.

Not bad on the diesel HiLux, here in the US, Toyota will not import them. I have a Tacoma V6 with 6 speed manual that gets around 18mpg, If you get a bit aggressive it will drop to 14mpg. We have another Tacoma with a 4 cylinder, 5 speed manual and its not much better, about 20mpg. The problem with 4 wheel drive is, once you have one, you begin to think you can’t live with out it. My last 2 cars were VW Golfs with Vredestein ice/snow tires in the winter, I never had any problems getting where I needed to go. I had the 91 Golf in High School and you can only imagine what fun we had as kids driving around in snow filled ski area parking lots. I was the Hans Stuck of snow for a time. :smile: Good winter tires make a huge difference, not all-season, but dedicated winter tires.