And fleet customers, given a budget and choice, are finding that the sports utility vehicle fits them well: practical at the weekend while being a comfortable cruise for those business miles.
We've chosen three of the best here, in petrol form: the BMW X3, Land Rover Freelander and Lexus RX300. We have gone for cars under the £30,000 mark.
The new BMW X3 seems to have success written all over it. The X5 has been king of the larger SUVs for a while with desirability and great running costs, so is there any reason to suggest that a smaller version will not be any different?
The Lexus RX300 is the new version of an SUV that previously sold an impressive half-a-million examples worldwide. Lexus also claims to be the inventor of the sector.
It is slightly bigger than the other SUVs here but, because of its extremely wallet-friendly price, would bear comparison with them. It is also very well-specced and although it looks as if it might go off-road, it is best to stay on the Tarmac.
The Land Rover Freelander was recently facelifted to give it a look that sits more happily in the corporate car park than the caravan park.
Around three-quarters of all Freelanders are bought with company money, mostly for user-choosers.
The interior has also been spruced up, but the V6 petrol version is a slow, thirsty old beast.
But what about four wheel drive estates? Surely there's no need to have high, potentially unstable bodies?
Will jacking the suspension up a bit, installing four-wheel drive and some scuff-resistant plastic bumpers fulfil the driver's needs? There are three cars here that still give four-wheel drive and ground clearance.
The Volvo XC70 has had to play second fiddle to the phenomenally good XC90. But because it is adapted from the V70, it has all the comfort and space of the classic estate car, with an added dose of ruggedness.
The Subaru Legacy Outback estate will probably end up being tarred with the 'posh farmer's car' brush, but it is worth a look at this price.
High levels of specification, a very plush new interior and a characterful flat six boxer engine make it worthy of consideration.
Last is the Audi Allroad, which has been created from the same train of thought processes as the Volvo XC70.
It can be seen as a quattro A6 with extra ground clearance.
To tempt buyers, it now comes with decent specification as the model nears the end of its life, but on the downside, it still has a high front-end price.
Operations director, Inchcape Fleet Solutions
'The selection here offers a good compromise for mild off-roading. However, the success or otherwise of these cars in the UK market lies in the rugged image and lofty driving position rather than any practical considerations. Particularly successful sport utility vehicles combine image and off-road credibility with the road manners and refinement of an executive saloon.'
Managing director, Zenith Vehicle Contracts
'This sector is aimed at those drivers who want the prestige and practicality of a 4x4 at a relatively acceptable price level. This selection offers a wide range of choice, from the out-and-out 4x4 to the more style-oriented car. The sector seems to be increasing its popularity with most manufacturers offering a wide range. In this particular basket, the BMW X3 ticks most of the boxes for drivers.'
Pricing manager, Lloyds TSB autolease
'This month's survey considers 4x4s. These vehicles are all very different. The new X3 will no doubt be another BMW success. The Freelander and Legacy are at the cheaper end of the market, while the RX300 is a posh 4x4 and the XC70 and Audi Allroad will only appeal to people who actually want to use them off-road – otherwise, you would buy the estate version.'
Commercial director, Alphabet
'Fleet sales of sport utility vehicles have been booming with sales rising 23% in the last three years. The sector is now taking a small but fast-growing share of the executive and luxury segments. The allure of sport utility or sport activity (a tag which depends on the manufacturer) vehicles remains as strong as ever – and is likely to be enhanced with the arrival of BMW's potent new X3.'
Head of UK & international sales development, Arval PHH
'The 4X4 sector has blossomed, with the choices becoming ever more complex and prices to suit most budgets. It's tricky when it comes to the place for these vehicles in a fleet policy – they are not the most readily reallocated vehicle, so if it's allowed, care needs to be taken. Go for the Land Rover if you want a 4x4 to drive and not just be seen in, and the rental makes a persuasive case. '
Vital statistics: how our models compare
Average monthly rental rates
Land Rover Freelander £520
BMW X3 £559
Lexus RX300 £571
Volvo XC70 £590
Subaru Legacy £608
Audi Allroad £715
Average maintenance costs (3years/60,000 miles)
Volvo XC70 £2,521
Land Rover Freelander £2,665
Lexus RX300 £2,675
BMW X3 £2,716
Subaru Legacy £2,772
Audi Allroad £2,816
RV forecasts 3years/60,000 miles
BMW X3 £13,749/47%
Lexus RX300 £11,514/40%
Volvo XC70 £9,701/32%
Land Rover Freelander £7,931/30%
Subaru Legacy £7,379/27%
Audi Allroad £9,218/27%
CO2 Emissions (g/km/tax band)
Subaru Legacy 234/32%
Volvo XC70 270/35%
BMW X3 approx 285/35%
Lexus RX300 288/35%
Land Rover Freelander 298/35%
Audi Allroad 319/35%
Subaru Legacy 28.8
Volvo XC70 25.0
BMW X3 approx 24.0
Lexus RX300 23.2
Land Rover Freelander 22.7
Audi Allroad 21.2
BMW X3 2.5 Sport auto
Brown: The X3 is larger and more expensive than expected, and the large unpainted bumpers do cheapen the appearance. However the X3 is sold out in 2004 so there is no sign yet of the appeal of the BMW badge abating.
Cope: If the the X5 is anything to go by drivers will have to be patient, as waiting lists are likely to increase. Hopefully they will not be disappointed by the drive and interior quality.
Schooling: Bullet-proof residuals make the X3 easily the most cost-effective choice here. It offers remarkable roadholding from the new xDrive system, with no compromises off-road.
Pout: I've been looking forward to this one. It's difficult to make a choice between the two so price will be the deciding factor. Riding on the back of the success of the X5, it is certain to be a winner. BMW have entered this market with precision – and scored a bullseye.
McMahon: No doubt the X3 will do well because of the ever-popular BMW badge. The car looks good but many could choose to extend the budget a little and go for the larger, more prestigious X5. Only petrol engines are offered at launch with diesel derivatives to follow.
Average monthly rental: £559
P11D price: £29,567
Average net price: £25,676
Average maintenance: £2,716
Average RV: £13,749/47%
Arval PHH £561.10
Lloyds TSB autolease £554.66
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £2,277/£4,139
2004 VED bill £160
Lexus RX300 3.0 5dr auto
Cope: Although the RX300 is missing the sex appeal of the BMW, it is well constructed, with sharp looks (not to everybody's taste). What this car loses in the trendy image department it more than makes up for in specification.
McMahon: The RX300 is unlikely to be used off-road. It is quite practical though with the rear seats folding almost flat. The engine is smooth and quiet and strong residual values result in competitive rentals.
Schooling: It offers all the usual Lexus selling-points with SUV looks and adequate off-road potential at a competitive rental.
Pout: Lexus gives us the luxury off-roader with all the now-expected refinements. Only trouble is, it doesn't like being off the road – but then again who really buys a 4x4 to get their feet muddy these days? It's great on the road though, quiet with light and responsive steering and lots of kit.
Brown: The RX300 is incredibly refined and comes with the Lexus feeling of total quality backed up by the attitude of their dealers and the overall ownership experience. Watch out for the soon-to-be-launched hybrid version.
Average monthly rental £571
P11D price £28,772
Average net price £25,085
Average maintenance £2,675
Average RV £11,514/40%
Arval PHH £537.73
Lloyds TSB autolease £559.05
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £2,215/£4,028
2004 VED bill: £160
L-R Freelander 2.5 V6 Sport Premium SW auto
Pout: The genuine article for off-road driving with chunky looks that you really wouldn't want to argue with. Power from the engine is underwhelming – but the high seating position gives that lofty sense of authority when vying for parking at the supermarket.
Brown: The Sports trim may compromise off-road ability but that isn't a concern for the typical SUV buyer. It needs a bigger fuel tank and may be overwhelmed in this comparison.
McMahon: The new model is looking a lot sportier and is certainly more upmarket. The rear cabin is on the small side, though. A lower price tag keeps rentals on a competitive level.
Cope: The Freelander is not always the first choice to spring to a mind for the driver looking to buy a car in this sector. The new look brings it more into line with the Range Rover, which will do its image no harm. The V6 is not the most tax efficient of the vehicles in this basket.
Schooling: The new Freelander range has a classier interior and better road handling than before. The list price is competitive, but mediocre RVs and a thirsty V6 engine amount to a significant penalty on wholelife costs.
Average monthly rental £520
P11D price £26,397
Average net price £20,995
Average maintenance £2,645
Average RV £7,931/30%
Arval PHH £522.27
Lloyds TSB autolease £518.14
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £2,032/£3,695
2004 VED bill £160
Audi Allroad 2.7T Quattro auto
McMahon: The Allroad has the most expensive rentals caused by a higher purchase price and one of the most expensive maintenance budgets in this survey. It has a classy and well-built interior but is beaten by the XC70 on luggage space.
Cope: When Audi launched this car it was thought of generally as a good idea, but it never really caught on. It fell into the trap of being neither fish nor fowl, and with a high price tag hit a dead end.
Brown: The Allroad looks less aggressive and more sensible than the average off-roader. With a more overt Pikes Peak-style model a possibility, it is unclear whether it will be replaced in the change over to the next generation A6.
Schooling: The Allroad is a smart solution to mixing on and off-road ability but its significant front-end price premium and steep depreciation add up to a fearsome rental disadvantage.
Pout: Would anyone really buy this to take it off-road? I doubt it, but having 4x4 capability without looking as if you spend your life mucking out the horses obviously appeals to some. It's a great car though.
Average monthly rental £715
P11D price £27,672
Average net price £27,672
Average maintenance £2,816
Average RV £9,218/27%
Arval PHH £717.80
Lloyds TSB autolease £721.03
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £2,590/£4,708
2004 VED bill £160
Volvo XC70 2.5T SE Geartronic
Pout: Like the Audi, this is a cross between a 4x4 and a glorified estate. The reputation for solid safety and comfort is upheld and the rental is right but I find it uninspiring: it's noisy on the road, with a functional interior.
McMahon: The XC70 has the Volvo characteristics of safety, practicality and solidity. This XC70 should appeal to those considering an estate-like 4x4. However, it could lose out to the XC90 for Volvo buyers.
Cope: As with the Audi the XC70 is thought of as a good idea, but it has failed to impress. Now that the diesel version is available, why would a driver opt for the CO2-unfriendly petrol? More to the point, why would a driver opt for an XC70 and not an XC90?
Brown: One of Volvo's best kept secrets, the XC70 is now enjoying increased sales partly due to the publicity and showroom traffic generated by the incredibly successful XC90. The XC70 is a good car that lacks image.
Schooling: The XC's chunky styling gives it a purposeful appearance without looking over-the-top on the school run. Its appeal comes with a high-ish front end price tag but strong residuals keep down the lifetime cost.
Average monthly rental £591
P11D price £29,980
Average net price £24,253
Average maintenance £2,521
Average RV £9,701/32%
Arval PHH £578.46
Lloyds TSB autolease £618.47
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £2,308/£4,197
2004 VED bill £160
Subaru Legacy 3.0R Outback seq auto
McMahon: The Legacy still looks old-fashioned and won't appeal to people searching for the latest styling. Though the purchase price is low, high maintenance and low residuals push rentals higher than the Lexus.
Brown: Over-shadowed by the Impreza, the Legacy has enjoyed a loyal following based largely on tough build quality and dealer service. The new model has a tidier interior, improved emissions and fuel economy.
Schooling: The high rental counts against the Outback here. It offers Subaru's trademark dependability with a more attractive and upmarket interior. Will that be enough to attract more urban professionals, though?
Pout: This is a strong performer. With input from their rallying successes this really should be the well-developed product of sustained R&D and is more of a driver's car than some of the other estates in disguise here. The challenge for this model is poor residual values.
Cope: This is the most anonymous of the vehicles here. Many drivers will not be aware of its existence. Despite this it is a good car. A bit like the Freelander, the Subaru is a little out of its depth at this price level, though.
Average monthly rental £608
P11D price £27,815
Average net price £22,716
Average maintenance £2,772
Average RV £7,379/27%
Arval PHH £620.55
Lloyds TSB autolease £599.35
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £1,914/£3,480
2004 VED bill £160