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Do I need a 4x4 car in Iceland?

Do you need a 4x4 car in Iceland? That’s not as straightforward a question as it first appears. Whether you’ll benefit from renting an all wheel drive vehicle depends on many factors. Let’s go over some of them and help you make the decision that’s right for you.

The time of year

If you plan to rent your car for a summer road trip, the chances are the weather won’t be too much for a 2WD to handle. Snow and ice make the roads slippery, and of course that’s when the extra traction that an all wheel drive vehicle comes into play.

But in a typical July or August day, the temperature is likely to be in the region of 14-18°C. Snow and ice are extremely unlikely at this time of year in the lowlands and coastal regions of Iceland. If you’re happy to swap your own vehicle for a super jeep excursion, there’s no reason why you can’t still head up onto one of the glaciers for a day.

Precipitation varies between locations, but Reykjavik receives only about 50mm of rain on average in July and Akureyri even less at around 35mm. Wind is also going to be a factor, not just in whether you choose a 4x4, but whether you opt for something lower to the ground.

Where you plan to drive

The road surface is going to play a big part in which type of car you need. If you are travelling in summer but plan to tackle the F roads that cross Iceland’s mountainous interior, then you are going to need a 4x4 to drive them yourself. Not only that, it’ll pay you to hire a high clearance model as well. These roads are uneven and challenging, and most definitely not suitable for a 2WD. Many people won’t be confident enough to drive them anyway – but there are plenty of tours to get you up there if you’re OK with someone else at the helm.

Conversely, if you intend to stick to the ring road – there are plenty of reasons to do so – then even in winter you won’t necessarily need a 4x4. The road is well surfaced and well maintained, making a 2WD car perfectly adequate. Extra grip won’t really make a lot of difference to the driving experience. Off roading requires a 4x4 car, but in Iceland, it’s illegal to drive off road under any circumstances, so this factor doesn’t apply at all.

Size of the group

Sometimes, 4x4 rental is a preferred option for the extra space such vehicles provide. SUVs in particular tend to have large boots perfect for luggage as well as roomy interiors which make travelling comfortable for back seat passengers as well as the couple up front. If you are likely to have multiple suitcases and bags, and don’t want to clutter the passenger compartment, a 4x4 might just give you the extra room you desire.


If your plans amount to looping the ring road, touring the Golden Circle and exploring Reykjavik, then a 4x4 car won’t be needed. That’s good news, as you can tighten the budget and opt for a cheaper rental. Economy and compact class rentals often feature models with better fuel consumption.

If you want to save on car hire but retain the convenience of having your own wheels, then often a 4x4 won’t be necessary. If you do still want to hire a 4x4, look for one of the more basic, smaller SUV or saloon models as they tend to be much cheaper to rent.

When it comes to choosing a vehicle for your Iceland road trip, think about your needs and be honest about what you are likely to require. If you wish to be spontaneous, opt for a 4x4, as that way nothing is off limits. But above all, have fun and enjoy your holiday in beautiful Iceland.