has there ever been a better time to buy a 4x4?

does 4x4 equal bargain?

After a pummelling at the hands of legislators and the press, the big 4x4's stars might just be coming back into alignment on the used market.

4x4 vehicles have had a difficult time of it just recently and for the larger models at the upper end of the market, it's been an absolute nightmare. Pilloried as Chelsea tractors, castigated as gas-guzzlers, frowned upon on the school run and in our urban centres, the big 4x4 has become public enemy number one in the media and a good proportion of the public have latched onto the scare stories. Is it all fair? In many cases, it probably isn't but it does present the canny car buyer with an interesting opportunity. Could this be a good time to buy a large 4x4?

You may have noticed that there's been a bit of a hiccup with the economy. Across the country, credit is harder to come by than a Leprechaun with three nipples and that has a knock-on effect on the car market. Dealers are cutting prices, special offers abound and bargains are everywhere. Couple this situation with the depreciation fuelled by bad press that our friends the big 4x4s have had to contend with and you start to wonder whether these high-end SUVs might be the biggest bargains of the lot.

A quick skim through the small ads will reveal Toyota Land Cruisers, Nissan Pathfinders, Land Rover Discoveries and other family off-roaders available at extremely attractive prices. Even luxury models, the likes of Porsche's Cayenne, Audi's Q7, the BMW X5 and the all-conquering Range Rover are all on offer locally at astonishingly low prices.

The fact that a hulking Porsche Cayenne can be had for the price of a pokey compact executive saloon of similar age will spark the interest of many motorists but as we all know, there's a lot more to consider when buying a car than the purchase price. Fuel is the big one when we're dealing with luxury SUVs, particularly the petrol engined variety that has plummeted in price most significantly. It's important to remember that the gas-guzzler nametag applied to these vehicles is not entirely fair. Yes, they are thirstier and a tiny citycar would be but they are usually no more so than the numerous performance cars and luxury saloons that have managed to duck the media's wrath.

The price of fuel goes up and down but generally has a propensity to edge upwards but while it's still essential for every prospective buyer to do their sums based on their own mileage and budget, currently the numbers could well be tipping in the big 4x4's favour.

Low mileage drivers in particular could find the total costs of buying and running one of these large SUVs quite manageable. The key is whether you feel that the additional running costs over a more mundane family car are worth the considerable benefits that a full-size 4x4 has to offer.

Take the cost question out of the equation and these vehicles are highly desirable. Many handle as accurately as a car on the road and ride with just as high a level of comfort. Then there's the advantage of their 4x4 mechanicals and robust suspension. In town, speed humps and high kerbs are not a problem and should you ever need to venture off the beaten track, these cars can take treacherous terrain in their stride. Visibility from the high driving position is superior to that in a conventional car while getting in and out is made easier because you're that much higher up. At the top end of the market, buyers can also expect levels of build quality and luxury to match the top prestige saloons while the striking styling, with associated big wheels, flared wheel arches and imposing grilles, is another draw.

Things will change, that's how the market works, but at the moment, large 4x4 vehicles are looking a more desirable and sensible option for car buyers than they have done for some time. Ignore what other people think and make a decision based on your own requirements. The running costs will still be considerable but pay the right price in the first instance and you'll certainly be getting a huge amount of car for your money.