Small off-roaders are cheap to run, easy to drive and can tackle slippery farm tracks with ease. As an added bonus, their small size and high driving position mean they’re equally happy pottering around town and squeezing into tight car parking spaces, but many are still practical enough to use on the school run. If this sounds like the sort of car you’re looking for, we’ve put together a list of the 10 best small 4x4s and off-roaders currently on sale.
If, however, you’ve already picked the perfect car, click ‘login’ in the top-right-hand corner to sign up and configure a brand new model, or browse our extensive selection of pre-reg, ex-demo, new, nearly new and used cars. For more options, read our list of the 10 best SUVs and 10 best 4x4s for other great new models.
[2018 update: Our list of the best small 4x4s and off-roaders doesn’t see any dramatic changes for 2018. The compact Fiat Panda 4×4 still leads the field, followed by the equally dinky Suzuki Ignis while larger models, such as the Range Rover Evoque and SsangYong Tivoli occupy fifth and sixth positions respectively.]
- Fiat Panda 4×4
- Suzuki Ignis
- Jeep Renegade
- Fiat 500X
- Range Rover Evoque
- Subaru XV
- SsangYong Tivoli
- Dacia Duster
- Jeep Wrangler
- Suzuki Jimny
1. Fiat Panda 4×4
The Fiat Panda 4×4 packs a grippy four-wheel-drive system under the skin of the compact, cheap-to-run Panda. You get special all-weather tyres and even a system that’ll send the engine’s power to whichever wheel has the most grip at any given time. As a result, the Panda is just as happy bouncing its way across a rutted, mud-covered field as it is popping to the shops.
Its funky-looking cabin feels pretty sturdy but some cheap, scratchy plastics do let the side down slightly. At least there’s enough space for two adults and as many as three kids to get comfortable – on short journeys at least – and you get an easy-to-load boot that’s big enough for the weekly shop.
2. Suzuki Ignis
The eye-catching Suzuki Ignis might not look like a traditional off-roader, but you can get it with a grippy four-wheel-drive system to help it deal with snow and mud-covered roads. Its high-driving position makes it easy to manoeuvre around town or down a tight, twisty farm track, too.
The Suzuki only comes with one engine – a 1.2-litre petrol unit – but you can pay extra to get it with a compact hybrid system that helps boost performance and cut fuel consumption. Whichever model you go for, you get an impressive amount of standard equipment for such a small car, and a roomy cabin with neat sliding rear seats that mean there’s enough space inside for four adults.
3. Jeep Renegade
The Jeep Renegade might be the smallest car in the American brand’s range, but it’s still more than capable of tackling tricky off-road trails without breaking a sweat. You can get all but 1.6-litre diesel models with four-wheel drive and top-spec Trailhawk versions even come with clever electronics that stop individual wheels sliding on slippery surfaces.
Its cabin doesn’t feel particularly plush, but it does come with plenty of characterful touches – such as the mud-splatter graphics on the rev-counter – and it’s spacious enough for three adults to sit side-by-side in the back. The Jeep’s boot is roomy enough for a few bulky suitcases, too, but the high boot lip can make it a bit tricky to load particularly heavy items.
4. Fiat 500X
It might not look like a hardcore off-roader, but the cutesy Fiat 500X shares plenty of its mechanical bits and bobs with the rough-and-ready Jeep Renegade. As a result, it’s surprisingly capable of ferrying you and four friends across a muddy, rutted field without getting stuck.
Inside, however, it looks dramatically different to the off-road-focussed Renegade, with plenty of painted plastics that match the car’s exterior and lots of soft, squidgy plastics. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news – passengers over six-foot tall will struggle for headroom in the back and legroom isn’t particularly generous, either.
5. Range Rover Evoque
The Range Rover Evoque is the most compact model in the Land Rover range, but it’s still larger than any other car in our top-10 list. All but entry-level cars come with four-wheel drive to provide as much grip as possible in slippery conditions and its suspension does a better job ironing out bumps than most SUVs.
Unfortunately, the Evoque’s stylish sloping roofline and small windows mean it feels a bit cramped in the back – especially if you go for a sporty-looking three-door ‘Coupe’ model – but there’s still just enough space for three adults to sit side-by-side on short journeys.
6. Subaru XV
It should be no surprise to see an SUV from off-road and rally-racing experts Subaru appear in a list of the best 4x4s on sale. The XV is a high-riding small family car with funky looks, a reasonably roomy cabin and enough grip from its standard four-wheel-drive system to dispatch a slippery country lane or farm track with ease.
Less deserving of praise is the CVT automatic gearbox you get on all XV models. Sure, it’ll help give your left leg a rest in heavy traffic, but it causes the engine to drone loudly when you accelerate hard. And, if you’re looking for a small diesel SUV, you’ll have to look elsewhere – the XV only comes with 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol engines.
7. SsangYong Tivoli
The SsangYong Tivoli is a back-to-basics SUV that combines a grippy four-wheel-drive system with a practical interior that’s spacious enough for five adults to sit reasonably comfortably. It might not feel particularly plush inside, but everything’s easy to use and the SsangYong comes with a pretty generous boot, too – perfect for family trips to the beach.
Despite its affordable price tag, the Tivoli gets a clever electronic system that sends the power from its 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines to whichever wheel has the most grip – just like a much bigger, and much more expensive, Land Rover.
8. Dacia Duster
The Dacia Duster is one of the most affordable SUVs on sale but high-spec versions come with four-wheel drive to help make it one of the best small off-roaders you can buy. The Duster’s raised ride helps it traipse through muddy ditches without getting stuck and gives you a good view out over other cars, while its square body means it’s spacious enough inside for five adults to sit in reasonable comfort – for short trips at least.
Unfortunately, while the Duster can deal with massive potholes that’d make other SUVs weak at the knees, it’s quite noisy at motorway speeds and its rather basic engines mean many alternatives are cheaper to run.
9. Jeep Wrangler
With its broad seven-slot grille, giant wheels and imposing boxy body, few cars look quite as recognisable as the iconic Jeep Wrangler. The latest range comes with a few mechanical tweaks under the skin to make it one of the best off-roaders around, including more comfortable suspension than the old car, upgraded engines and a hardcore Rubicon model with masses of ground clearance.
Unfortunately, despite these tweaks, the Wrangler still feels dated and its cheap-and-cheerful cabin can’t hold a candle to what you’ll find in more upmarket alternatives. There is, however, enough space in the back for you to carry three adults side-by-side – especially if you go for a more practical five-door model.
10. Suzuki Jimny
The Suzuki Jimny might be one of the cheapest small SUVs on sale, but its impressive ground clearance, bulletproof four-wheel-drive system and narrow body mean it can nip through tight off-road trails without getting stuck or scratching its paintwork.
The Jimny’s rugged suspension might be perfect for tackling giant boulders at 10mph, but it doesn’t do a particularly good job of softening bumps around town. Combine this with the Suzuki’s rather weedy 1.3-litre petrol engine and it’s not a car you’ll want to take on long road trips. Still, when it comes to affordable off-road fun, it certainly deserves a place on our list.
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