Four-wheel drives don't have to be big and ugly. Why not try a smaller model that combines on-road refinement with off-road ability?

Adam Samuels is looking to replace his Citroë*C2 GT, which is an 04 plate, because there is now a four-month-old baby in the family. Adam and his wife have a budget of £8,000-£9,000. He needs a diesel because he does lots of long journeys for work, but he also thinks that a four-wheel drive would be a good idea. That's because the family lives on the side of a steep hill in County Durham and in deep winter the snow is particularly treacherous.

Four-wheel drives; are we allowed to drive, let alone recommend them in the current climate? Of course we are. Adam is not an urban warrior, he lives in the real world and believes that a four-wheel drive will benefit him, but maybe he doesn't need a heavy hardcore off-road vehicle. A so-called soft roader might do, and anyway, I don't want Adam to go into deep shock after life with such a small and inoffensive vehicle as a Citroë*C2. He has mentioned the BMW 5 series and Volvo S80 as possibilities. Within his budget though getting a BMW X5, which is a four-wheel drive based on a 5 series, would be difficult. Also the Volvo XC90, which is an excellent seven-seater, may be a 4x4 too far and is rarely less than £10,000. There is, though, the XC70 which has been around for a while and is essentially a traditional Volvo estate but with four-wheel drive and a higher ride height. I found a highish mileage 2003 model with a 2.4 diesel engine and automatic gearbox for £7,999. So it is perfectly possible to get a four-wheel drive Volvo that will do the job without being a great big ugly 4x4. With more than enough room for three. And the ugly 4x4 alternatives don't stop there.

A car for the head

I know that it doesn't have the prestige badge that separates a Volvo or BMW from the rest, but I reckon that Adam should take a close look at the Nissan X-Trail. Here is one of the very best

compact and, actually, not-so-soft roaders. In particular the 2.2 litre diesel version is the pick of the power units too with decent overtaking ability as well as the oomph to tackle a muddy incline or two. Also, unlike so many 4x4s that is a massive compromise between on-road refinement and off-road ability, this manages to make the best of both worlds. So around town it is fairly comfortable and over the rough stuff it isn't remotely bouncy and backbreaking. On the motorway the diesel has an extra gear which makes it more refined that even the petrol options. Now on those long journeys the seats couldn't be more comfortable with a high and relatively unobstructed view out. Even better, the equipment levels are pretty good and the Sport is worth finding because it includes climate control and a CD player. Without trying too hard we found a 2003 66,000-mile Sport model at a dealer with a full warranty.

A car for the heart

I'll give in and let Adam have a prestige badge and four-wheel drive. No, that doesn't mean a Land Rover but an Audi with a Quattro badge. Here Adam will get the upmarket Audi badge and the fit and finish that beats so many other so-called posh cars. Audi's four-wheel drive system has a posh name though – Quattro. It won't take you across a boggy field particularly well, but on a road which is slippery, icy or covered in water, it will cope brilliantly, and you won't slip and slide or feel unnerved even for a second. This is the sort of low-level 4x4 that Adam needs. I don't know whether he would be happy enough with a saloon or the Avant estate version especially as he had mentioned the 5 series and Volvo S80, which would make the Audi A6 the equivalent size. I don't honestly know whether he needs anything that large. Plus there is also the Allroad model which is similar to the Volvo XC70. However I would say that a 2002 1.9TDi Quattro Sport Avant that has clocked up 88,000 miles at £8,700 would be ideal.

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