Best small 4x4 2024
You don't have to go large if you want a 4x4. On the contrary, when the going gets really tough, some of the best small 4x4s can mix it with the big boys, especially with the right tyres and a good driver at the wheel.
Indeed, thanks to their small dimensions, these diminutive off-roaders can squeeze through the tightest gaps and into the smallest parking spaces when the byway turns in the direction of a country pub. They're also more affordable to buy, cheaper to run and unlikely to catch the attention of eco protestors.
Sure, you need decent ground clearance, short overhangs and a proper four-wheel-drive system for serious off-roading, but the small 4x4s on our list should be just the ticket for gravel tracks, green lanes and mounting the odd kerb.
Best small 4x4s
Suzuki Ignis Allgrip
The tiny Suzuki Ignis doesn’t just look like a 4x4, it also performs like one off-road. That’s thanks to an all-wheel-drive system, which Suzuki calls Allgrip. Offered on the top-spec SZ5 grade, it sends drive to the rear wheels when it detects the fronts are slipping, keeping you moving where other superminis would be left stranded. The raised-up ride height and tough body side protection mean the Ignis is surprisingly handy when green-laning, yet it’s still yours for less than £20,000 with the Allgrip box ticked. It has all the inner-city nippiness, fuel efficiency and surprising ability to swallow four adults as the regular Suzuki Ignis, too.
Dacia Duster 4x4
The Dacia Duster is a family-sized five-door SUV that lives up to its rugged styling features with a top-spec 4x4 model that comes with all-wheel-drive. Owners can control the various settings through a rotary dial on the dashboard, a bit like on a Land Rover, and decent pulling power from the 1.5-litre Blue dCi turbodiesel engine means it will conquer steep hillsides with ease. When the going gets really tough, you can lock the 4x4 system into all-wheel-drive for maximum grip. Otherwise, it’s the same appealing package as the regular Duster: roomy, well-equipped and very competitively priced.
Range Rover Evoque
You can’t have a list of great 4x4s without a Land Rover car, and while the Evoque isn’t the smallest car on this list, it’s the smallest (and most affordable) Range Rover you can buy. That means a top-quality, premium cabin and svelte looks, but also off-road capability that would shame bigger, more expensive SUVs. It’s available with diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid power and has myriad terrain settings and hill descent control for slippery slopes. It can also tackle deep standing water of up to 600mm. It’s at home in the mud, but give it a clean afterwards and it’ll be equally as comfortable parked up outside a posh restaurant.
Mazda CX-30 4WD
The Mazda CX-30 offers a surprise at the top of the range: a 2.0-litre SkyActiv-X engine that produces a healthy 186PS, and allows drivers to make the most of this power with standard 4WD. Sending drive to all four wheels means the front tyres will never get overwhelmed, ensuring more of the performance can be used, more of the time. In slippery conditions, Mazda’s sporty-looking small SUV will prove able long after others have given up. We also like the CX-30’s driver-focused controls, neat handling and high-quality interior.
BMW X1 xDrive
BMW’s SUV range starts with the X1. Most are sold in sDrive front-wheel-drive form, but several are also offered with xDrive all-wheel-drive. This uses BMW’s extremely clever 4x4 setup, which constantly juggles drive between the wheels. As such, you never actually sense which tyres are doing the driving; you simply feel the unstoppable traction, no matter how slippery it is underfoot. The interior has a sophisticated infotainment system, along with excellent build quality. There’s also a surprising amount of passenger space, both in the front and rear.
Jeep Renegade 4xe PHEV
Jeep is a famous 4x4 brand, so even its smallest, most car-like SUV is still available with all-wheel-drive. However, the company has brought things right up to date by introducing a plug-in hybrid system. The ingenious Renegade 4xe PHEV can both drive for up to 26 miles in zero emissions mode, and also scrabble its way across a monstrously muddy path without ever feeling like it’s going to wave the white flag. The four-wheel traction means you can make full use of the 1.3-litre turbo engine’s entertaining 190PS output when back on the highway, too
The XV might not boast the standout styling of some other 4x4s, but it's far from conservative when it comes to its engineering. Its permanent four-wheel-drive system is up there with the best available and it can clamber over rocks or trudge through deep mud with ease thanks to its high ground clearance. Its CVT transmission isn’t for everyone and there aren’t many engine options, but it does come with plenty of equipment as standard. Overall, the Subaru is a choice for those that really prioritise off-road capability.
The Suzuki Jimny is one of the best small 4x4s you can buy if you're after serious off-road capabilities. It feels like a proper 4x4, more in the spirit of a Land Rover or Land Cruiser than the small SUVs that dominate our high streets and car parks. Power is sourced from a 1.5-litre engine, which is mated to a part time four-wheel-drive system with low-range transfer system and hill descent control. Sure, it's not great on the road, but the Jimny will take you to places other small cars dare not tread. There's just one catch: it's now only available as a light commercial vehicle with just two seats. Shame.
Yes, we know that the Countryman is arguably too big to wear the MINI badge, but certain models are available with an ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. In common with many small SUVs, it's designed for aiding performance and providing reassurance on slippery roads, rather than for venturing off-piste, but the system works well and doesn't put a massive dent in the fuel economy. Besides, if you've got one eye on running costs, you could always opt for the plug-in hybrid Cooper S E, which offers up to 29 miles of electric range.
The Jeep Avenger is one of the newest small SUVs to hit the market and the current European Car of the Year. It's also Jeep's first electric vehicle, with up to 248 miles of range available from a fully charged battery. With trim levels called Longitude, Altitude and Summit, you'd expect the Avenger to offer the same level of off-road ability as some of Jeep's legendary 4x4s, but you'd be wrong, because it's strictly front-wheel-drive. That said, it does have short front and rear overhangs, plus selectable off-road drive modes, so it will venture further off the beaten track than its rivals.
What is an all-wheel-drive small 4x4?
A 4x4 vehicle is a more rugged type of SUV. It comes with an all-wheel-drive system that sends drive to both the front and rear wheels. This contrasts with a two-wheel-drive SUV, which will only send drive to the front (or, less frequently, only to the rear) wheels. If you want the best grip in slippery weather, look for ‘4WD’ or ‘AWD’ in the brochure or spec sheet, as opposed to ‘2WD’ or ‘FWD’. When it comes to SUVs, you can’t guarantee that a vehicle described as a 4x4 will actually have all-wheel-drive…
Are small 4x4s less efficient than regular SUVs?
Adding an all-wheel-drive system will impact fuel efficiency. There’s more friction in the drivetrain, so more fuel is needed to accelerate it and keep it moving. Fortunately, the latest setups get round this by being automatic systems – i.e. all-wheel drive is only used when necessary. Otherwise, drive is sent to just two wheels, which should minimise the fuel consumption penalty for choosing a 4x4.
What is the most reliable small 4x4?
If you’re specifically looking for a 4x4, chances are you need it for its dependability and the promise of not getting stuck – no matter how inclement the weather or inhospitable the terrain. The last thing you want is for it to then break down. All the models listed here have a decent reputation for reliability, particularly vehicles such as the Suzuki Ignis Allgrip and Mazda CX-30.