Best small 4x4 cars

After a small four-wheel-drive car to tackle those sticky situations while out on the road? Here are some affordable and capable options

BuyaCar team
Apr 8, 2022

The thought of a small four-wheel drive car might seem slightly odd. Generally, you think of a 4x4 and you think of a Land Rover Discovery or a Toyota Land Cruiser, but while these are the ultimate when it comes to off-road capability, they're also very expensive and cumbersome to drive on-road.

If you are in need of something with a rugged edge and the capacity to go off-road, but you don't want to spend upwards of £50,000, these smaller four-wheel-drive alternatives with their unassuming looks and manageable size might well be just what you're looking for.

If you live a particularly rural lifestyle, your need for four-wheel drive is likely to be more pressing than an office worker in central London. Even if you rarely venture beyond the boundaries of the tarmac, a period of bad weather could well cause a problem if you often travel through the countryside.

None of these smaller models listed here are likely to cope very well if you ask them to scale a mountainside, but if you require a car that will manage the odd muddy field or country track then these are the best small four-wheel drive options for the job.

Best small 4x4s

1. Suzuki Swift

Our pick Suzuki Swift 1.2 Dualjet SHVS SZ5 Allgrip
Used deals Limited stock

Suzuki has carved itself out a nice niche over the last few decades by selling tough small cars that often offer a little extra off-road ability and, in a number of cases, the option of four-wheel drive. Despite being an ordinary small hatchback, the little Swift is also available in four-wheel-drive form.

The styling is modern, with an almost cartoon character style 'face', plus it’s a fair bit cheaper than rivals (that don’t offer four-wheel drive) like the Toyota Yaris and Hyundai i20.

Suzuki’s four-wheel-drive system is only available with the 1.2-litre engine. While the engine's not bad, it’s important to remember that adding a heavy 4x4 system typically makes a car a little slower and less economical. In the case of the Swift, choosing four-wheel drive adds 0.7 seconds to the 0-62mph time. Mild hybrid technology in the latest-generation Swift (you'll recognise this by its 'SHVS' name) does reduce the pressure on the engine somewhat, though.


2. BMW X1

Our pick BMW X1 xDrive20d xLine automatic
Used deals Limited stock

The BMW X1 is the smallest car within BMW’s 'X' range of SUVs. It’s well equipped, and surprisingly good to drive, while the ride is comfortable and smooth. In other words, a solid car, and a good all-rounder.

Not all models have four-wheel drive, so keep an eye out for X1s with xDrive in the name if you value the security of having extra grip (as opposed to front-wheel drive sDrive models). The X1 is no hardcore off-roader, however its raised ride height should enable you to drive down the odd rough track without scraping the bottom of the car as you might do with a lower car.


3. Fiat Panda

Our pick Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4x4
Used deals from £6,500

Amazingly, there are actually two versions of Fiat’s little city car that send power to all four wheels. The Panda 4x4 is the basic version with four-wheel drive, but there's also the Panda Cross which is more rugged.

It has a special off-road mode for greater performance, as well as plates to protect parts underneath the car from scrapes plus tow hooks. Although it is significantly pricier than the 4x4, the Cross is the one you want if you value having maximum off-road ability in the smallest car.

The Trekking edition is worthy of a mention here too - it lacks four-wheel drive but it does have raised suspension as well as electronic traction control to make the most of the front tyres' grip. So, if you only want a four-wheel drive car to benefit from the increased ground clearance or a higher driving position, why not ditch the four-wheel drive and go for the more economical Trekking?


4. Nissan Juke

Our pick Nissan Juke 1.6 DiG-T Tekna Xtronic
Used deals Limited stock

The Juke’s looks are a bit Marmite-esque in the sense that you either love it or hate it, but if you can stomach the exterior you’ll also enjoy a car that’s quiet and comfortable, with efficient diesel engines and a lofty driving position.

While it may look a bit like a Jeep that’s been shrunk in the wash, the majority of Jukes will be front-wheel drive only. So, keep a lookout for 'Xtronic' models with the '4WD' badge tacked onto the rear end if you need to have four-wheel drive.

Incidentally, the Juke is only available with a 4x4 system when specified with the potent 1.6-litre DiG-T engine. This means that you get decent acceleration, but will have to pay more to purchase a four-wheel-drive Juke than with some other alternatives and will have to fill up the petrol tank more often than you might expect, especially if the one you go for is a performance-orientated Nismo RS model.


5. Audi A3

Our pick Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI S line S tronic quattro
Used deals from £12,895

A high-quality interior, a smooth-changing automatic gearbox, and a badge with serious street credit. You’ll find all of these attributes with the Audi A3, plus Audi’s famous Quattro four-wheel-drive system, which should aid things when the weather gets bad.

You won’t find it on entry-level cars though; you'll have to extend your horizons to thirsty petrol engines or higher powered diesels if you want an A3 with 4x4 capability. But this is only four-wheel drive in the sense that all four wheels are powered. It's no off-roader beneath the skin.

So, as a result, don't expect to go roaming over any harsh terrain in your A3, because it remains far too close to the ground to be clearing anything other than a fizzy drink can lying in the road. You'll get more grip on mud, gravel and other loose surfaces, but that's about it.


6. Mercedes-AMG A45

Our pick Mercedes-AMG A45 DCT 4Matic
Used deals from £17,495

The Mercedes A-Class has made a name for itself by being a posh hatchback, though it shares engines and other kit with far cheaper cars. If you like the look of it, though, you can't beat the four-wheel-drive range-topping version of the previous-generation model.

If you want power going to all four of your A-Class’ wheels, you’ll need to opt for the mega-fast A45 AMG version. A whopping 376hp power output sees the A45 blast from 0-62mph in a supercar-like 4.2 seconds. Roadholding is good, aided by that four-wheel-drive system too, which maximises grip when accelerating, and its sporty body kit and spoiler are guaranteed to turn heads.

In terms of actual off-roading ability, the Mercedes A-Class won't get far off-road. This sporty version is lower to the ground than the standard car, so while it may send power to all four wheels for better grip, you won't want to take it any further off-road than parking on the occasional grass verge.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

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Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
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Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

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