What’s the best car to drive through a flood?
Land Rover Discovery is the current wading champ, but electric cars will get your further than most
With yellow and orange rain warnings in place across the country right now, you might be wondering which cars are the best ones to drive through deep, standing, water? Of course, it’s usually a thing best avoided, and the safest advice is to either avoid flooded roads, or just not go out in the first place, but for those times when you simply have to, there are a few cars that are better than others when it comes to wading.
Now, this advice comes with the ENORMOUS CAVEAT that you need to know the right technique, too. Always be careful when driving into deep water, and if possible get out and scout the road ahead to make sure that you’re not going to exceed the limits of your car. Once you’re in the water, keep up a steady (but not fast) pace in a low gear and make sure that your ‘bow wave’ stays in front of the car. Beware of sloshing too much water around, as that can cause floods for houses and pavements adjacent to where you’re driving.
Not surprisingly, it’s Land Rover that tops the wading charts. The current Discovery (the full-size one, not the more compact Discovery Sport) has a wading depth of 900mm - almost a full metre - and actually, that’s not its deepest wading depth. Apparently that depth is not limited by the height of the engine’s air intake, but by the fact that at that depth, the rear wheels usually start to float. Land Rover’s advice in this instance is to open the back door - the incoming water will weigh the rear of the car down and you can keep going (but the resulting damp smell is entirely up to you to sort out…).
Other Land Rover products have wading sonar, which uses the car’s ultra-sonic parking sensors to tell if you the water you’re driving into is getting too deep.
Jeep’s 4x4s usually do well too. The current Wrangler, for example, can wade through water as deep as 700mm in extremis, although Jeep usually advises that 500mm is a safer depth. That matches the mighty Toyota Land Cruiser (700mm) and the Toyota HiLux pickup. The Ford Ranger can manage slightly better - 800mm - and that’s for the standard model, not the even-taller Ranger Raptor which can handle 850mm.
Actually, Ford has a surprising wading weapon in its armoury; the small EcoSport crossover, which can tackle as much as 550mm of standing water, better than the old-shape Land Rover DefendeR. Staggeringly, the dinky Fiat Panda 4x4 Cross can tackle a massive 779mm of water, which seems like it should come up to the car’s mirrors…
Sales of cars such as this do seem to spike when the weather becomes inclement (OK, even more inclement than usual). Christofer Lloyd, editor of classifieds site BuyaCar.co.uk, told The Irish Times: “As soon as the recent catastrophic floods hit the headlines we saw website traffic to our articles about driving in flood water surge, along with searches for cars with off-road capabilities.
“The lesson is that a rugged image isn’t always the best indicator of a car’s capabilities and that some tough-looking models can barely cope with water any deeper than an ordinary hatchback. So, if you want an SUV that offers true ability in flooding and off-road, make sure you do your homework to ensure you pick a suitable model.”
That suitability isn’t determined by the sheer height of the vehicle. Mercedes’ slick new GLC SUV, for instance, looks the 4x4 part, but has a wading depth of just 300mm. Equally anyone buying a Nissan Qashqai for its go-anywhere styling is in for a shock - just 350mm of water will overwhelm its wading abilities.
Actually (and this will come as a shock to members of the Healy-Rae family) your best bet of all might be an electric car. Electricity and water are usually a bad mix, but electric car batteries are so well sealed as to be waterproof in all but the most extreme conditions, and because an electric car doesn’t need an air intake, you’re back to dealing with floating, rather than flooding, problems. Jaguar’s I-Pace electric crossover, for example, has a very generous 500mm wading depth. A Nissan Leaf has a colossal 700mm maximum wading depth, a fact that might allow you to keep going when all around are giving up.
As ever, please drive carefully in these sopping wet conditions, and - electric or otherwise - take great care when dealing with flooded roads.