SUVs will account for more than one-third of all new car sales in Europe by 2020 – these 4x4s and crossovers are leading the way says Nat Barnes.


BMW is embracing the crossover and 4×4 boom and launching seven models by the end of 2018. It’s hard to argue with the first-generation X4’s 200,000-odd global sales since 2014, and the larger X6 has been nearly as popular too. This second-generation X4 is the latest progeny resulting from a 4×4 and sports coupe spending too long in a cupboard at a drunken party. This X4 is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, and will offer two M performance models as well as, eventually, two- and four-wheel drive and smaller petrol engines – the latter likely to prosper with the downturn of diesel sales across Europe. With more niches being carved out in the crossover class, the market may well be ready to adopt this new X4.

Citroen C4 Cactus

Citroen CEO Linda Jackson is on record as saying that she likes “Marmite” cars, those that cause a love-it-or-hate-it reaction. The firm’s C4 Cactus certainly did that when it arrived in 2014 with its quirky looks and rubberised “airbumps” built into the doors. The problem was that for all its clever touches, buyers stayed away. As a result, this facelifted version now looks more conventional and has arguably lost some of its character, but should find more sales as a result. Some of its former idiosyncrasies have been retained (some good, some not so good) and new suspension is promising much improved on-road comfort levels too. The new C3 and forthcoming C5 Aircross models should also help to raise its profile.

Ford Ecosport

It’s fair to say that the Ecosport hasn’t had the easiest of starts. A child of Ford’s “world car” policy that sees the same car sold in London or Los Angeles, Birmingham or Buenos Aires, the Ecosport was originally a product for South America and didn’t meet European tastes. A few major tweaks later and things have improved, with this Ecosport offering four-wheel drive for the first time, a new, more economical 1.5- litre diesel engine and a sporty ST-Line model. An improved interior also sees better equipment levels with a heated steering wheel, reversing camera and B&O stereo all available. Whether it’ll be enough for the Ecosport to seriously compete with the explosion of rivals in the small crossover market is another matter.

Lexus RX 450HL

With diesels firmly in the doghouse at present, and hybrids and 4x4s being hot property, the petrol-engined hybrid Lexus RX450h should have been flying out of showrooms faster than a selection of piping hot cakes. Yet despite all of the original RX450h’s talents, it was lacking the seven-seater family practicality offered by some of its rivals. Until now that is. As the L in its name suggests, this is a 11cm (4 inch) longer version of the Lexus off-roader that boasts a third row of seats. Sitting slightly higher than the middle row, they’re not really practical for anyone beyond teenage years, but the extra practicality they offer should boost the RX’s appeal considerably.

Mercedes-benz G-Class

Like the Land Rover Defender, few cars attract such adoration among 4×4 enthusiasts as the Mercedes G-Wagen. This all-new G-Class brings it into the 21st century with subtly revised looks and a host of new features. Longer and wider than its predecessor, the new G-Class is, crucially, also 170kg lighter and boasts far more interior space than before thanks to improved packaging. For UK buyers, the first G-Class into showrooms will be a sporty Mercedes-AMG G63 version arriving this summer, followed by a diesel in autumn 2019. Expect high equipment levels to go with its high price, and excellent off-roading abilities too. Not that many of them venture beyond the wilds of Kensington and Chelsea though.

Range Rover P400e PHEV

Electricity is coming to Jaguar Land Rover. The two famous British brands are about to take the automotive world by storm with the Jaguar I-Pace (see below) and, first, this new Range Rover P400e Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. This is JLR’s first plug-in, as the previous Range Rover hybrid was just a standard petrol and battery hybrid. The P400e combines a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine with an 85kW electric motor to produce 404bhp and a 0-60mph time of 6.4 seconds making it the second-fastest Range Rover on sale. While there’s a 50km all-electric range, company car drivers are sure to like the tax advantages of the 64g/km emissions. A host of updates to the entire Range Rover line-up means that it’s even more luxurious inside with airline-style seating options, a new massage system, wider seats and 17 connectivity points.

Jaguar I-Pace

Whether traditional car enthusiasts like it or not, Jaguar is changing. The Coventry firm’s “Pace” family is already starting to dominate. In retail terms, the F-Pace is selling almost as many vehicles as the rest of the range combined, while there’s the new E-Pace (see Business Traveller February 2018), and now this latest all-electric I-Pace. With 400bhp from its 90kWh battery and four-wheel drive, the I-Pace can race from 0-60mph in just 4.5 seconds, while boasting a 480km range. Realistically speaking that will be enough for many drivers, although a 15-minute rapid charge gives around 100km of range. Jaguar is currently only talking about the I-Pace as a single five-door hatchback, although it’s not hard to imagine a family of different body styles and power units in the future.

Infiniti QX50

Not so long ago the idea of launching a petrol 4×4 to the UK would have been commercial suicide. But with the ever-decreasing popularity of diesel, the market could be heading towards the likes of this new Infiniti QX50. Boasting a new technology 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that uses variable compression ratio to be more economical than a standard petrol motor, this QX50 also boasts good looks, excellent build quality and plenty of space inside as well as refined on-road manners. This is the best car we’ve seen yet from Infiniti, and this QX50 deserves far greater recognition than it’s ever likely to achieve against the premium establishment rivals. A great alternative choice.

Toyota C-HR

Given that Toyota virtually invented the concept of a 4×4 being fun to drive with the original RAV4, this C-HR was always going to be a natural next step. Eye-catching coupe-like looks that hide the rear doors, diminutive dimensions and sharp lines make it stand out in what’s become a busy and competitive sector. But what makes the C-HR really stand out is the way that it drives. A choice of 1.2-litre petrol or the same 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid used in the Prius are available, but on the road the C-HR proves to be engaging, fun and surprisingly enjoyable to drive. It feels like it’s been built and engineered by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, making the C-HR easy to recommend.

Volvo XC40

Can Volvo do no wrong when it comes to family cars at the moment? It certainly seems that way. Its history in estates is well known and continues with the V90 and the latest V60, while its XC60 and XC90 4x4s are arguably some of, if not the best, in their classes. The Swedish firm will be hoping that its reputation continues with this baby XC40. With obviously similar styling to its larger stablemates, the XC40 certainly has the looks to stand out in the premium sector. Better yet, its on-road manners are equally impressive with the potential for plug-in and hybrid models in the future. A new Care by Volvo scheme will also be available that can combine all of car’s costs (including servicing and insurance) into one monthly payment.