Smallest four-wheel drive cars

You don’t need a huge SUV to get a capable and fun four-wheel drive car. Here are some of the best ones available on BuyaCar

Sam Naylor
Jan 28, 2021

All kinds of cars are available with four-wheel drive, from huge SUVs like the Range Rover all the way down to small superminis and other everyday cars. If you’re looking for a model at the smaller end of the spectrum, you’ve come to the right place.

Four-wheel drive has a few benefits and a few drawbacks. It’s appealing to drivers who often experience harsh conditions, for example those who live in very rural areas or places that get a lot of snow in the winter. Four-wheel drive increases the amount of drive that goes down onto the road - with power sent to all four wheels, to reduce the amount of wheelspin on slippery surfaces - so you can potentially keep moving where a two-wheel drive car might start to spin its wheels.

Four-wheel drive also helps with off-roading, though this is a more niche use. Driving on green lanes (unpaved tracks you can legally drive down) is one use for a four-wheel drive car and a small one is perfect for fitting down lanes that are too tight for traditional, large off-road machines.

What are the drawbacks of four-wheel drive, then? The main one is that adding the extra gear needed to drive all four wheels increases weight, which in turn will mean reduced fuel economy and performance compared with an equivalent two-wheel drive car.

The added parts also increase complexity and there’s more to go wrong, more to be serviced and more to be repaired over time. You’ll also need to factor in that a front-wheel drive car on winter tyres will be more capable in snow than a four-wheel drive car on summer tyres - so you have to really think about if you need four-wheel drive to buy a car with it.

While a two-wheel drive car on winter tyres should be able to safely pull away and brake on snowy, icy or simply cold and wet surfaces - helping you to keep moving and reduce the chance of crashing on slippery roads - four-wheel drive only helps you to get moving. It does nothing to help you stop safely. Of course, if you want the very grippiest car, you can always get a four-wheel drive car and fit it with winter tyres when the temperatures drop, for the very safest setup.

Our picks here are the smallest and very best inexpensive four-wheel drive cars available now, though we've steered clear of a handful of other small 4x4s that just aren’t good value for money. Check out our picks are below.

Small four-wheel drive cars

1. Fiat Panda Cross

Best small four-wheel drive car for off-roading

Our pick Fiat Panda Cross 0.9 TwinAir
Used deals Limited stock

Not only is the Fiat Panda Cross a cute-looking small car with bags of charm and character, it’s also a fantastic off-roader. It’s one of only very few small 4x4s that are genuinely great off-road, and for decades rural Italians have sworn by four-wheel drive versions of the Panda to take them around the mountains - whatever the weather.

The Panda Cross is at its most fun in 'TwinAir' form, which features a charismatic two-cylinder engine that thrums along when you work it hard and delivers more grins than you could ever expect. It’s not the most economical car, but road tax is affordable and it’s great fun to use and plenty powerful enough even for off-road fun.

The Panda Cross is a decent car on the road too, as it’s fairly comfortable and easy to drive, practical enough for a small car and simple to park. It’s our first choice when we’re asked to pick a small four-wheel drive car with real off-road ability.

FIAT PANDA BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Jeep Renegade

Best small four-wheel drive for rugged looks

Our pick Jeep Renegade 2.0 Multijet Longitude
Used deals from £15,440
Monthly finance from £284*

The Jeep Renegade is perfect for those who love everything about the Fiat Panda Cross above but don’t like the way it looks. That’s because it shares lots with the Fiat including many of the mechanical parts underneath the skin - so it’s just as good off-road.

The Jeep brand is all about rugged appeal and the Renegade manages this in a small package. It’s a bit more grown-up than the Fiat, and the 2.0-litre engine is more powerful, so it’s slightly more usable on the road. It’s still a small car but it’s reasonably spacious inside, too, as it’s one of the larger cars on this list in terms of length.

The Renegade isn’t quite as good value as the Fiat, as it was more expensive when it was new. There are still some good deals to be had, though, so keep your eye out and you could find one that's perfect for you.

JEEP RENEGADE BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Suzuki Jimny

Best small four-wheel drive for retro appeal

Our pick Suzuki Jimny 1.5 SZ5
Used deals from £17,275
Monthly finance from £297*

The latest Suzuki Jimny was only on sale for a brief time in the UK, but buyers flocked to it due to its tiny size and cute styling. This means it’s still quite sought-after and doesn’t represent brilliant value for money yet, but if you want a serious small off-roader, it’s up there with the best.

Thanks to its old-school mechanicals, it’s quite a pain to drive on the road, but once you get to a tough patch while off-roading that’s all forgiven, because the Jimny is incredibly capable. It’ll keep up with the best off-roaders on the market with ease, and its tiny size and light weight mean it’ll get places that many others can’t.

It’s also bursting with retro appeal in terms of the way it looks. The Jimny tended to look a bit dated in the past but the newest model blends modern and retro touches perfectly. It’s no wonder the public was desperate to buy one at launch - and prices are still strong used. If you do lots of long journeys, however, the Renegade, 500X and Countryman are all better choices.

SUZUKI JIMNY BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Fiat 500X

Best small four-wheel drive for style

Our pick Fiat 500X Cross 1.4 MultiAir
Used deals Limited stock

The Fiat 500X is a small SUV version of the ever-popular Fiat 500, and for a short time it was available with four-wheel drive. It’s closely related to the Fiat Panda Cross and Jeep Renegade above, and those cars are better off-road, but the 500X is a road-biased choice.

It has all the charm of the 500 in terms of looks, which is at the heart of its appeal. You’ll have to really love its looks though, as it’s not as good off-road as the Panda, nor as good value as other non-4x4 SUV options such as the Peugeot 2008.

Still, the Fiat 500X is reasonably well equipped, has a funky-looking interior, is easy to drive and there are appealing petrol and diesel engine options. It’s not too expensive to run either, especially in diesel form.

FIAT 500X BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Suzuki Ignis

Best small four-wheel drive for tiny spaces

Our pick Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SZ5 AllGrip
Used deals Limited stock

The Suzuki Ignis isn’t a proper off-roader like some of the others on this list but it certainly fits the brief of this list because it’s one of the smallest cars around, let alone in terms of models with four-wheel drive.

This means that it can fit through gaps that other cars just can’t, giving access to farm tracks with narrow lanes carved out when cars were a whole lot smaller than they are now. It’s not a total stranger to off-roading either, as it has reasonable ground clearance for getting over rocks and logs if you really need to.

The Ignis is at its best in the city where it can nip through traffic easily and slip into tiny parking spaces with no issue at all. It’s cheap to run, fun to drive and even looks cute with its retro-inspired looks.

SUZUKI IGNIS BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Mini Countryman

Best small four-wheel drive for families

Our pick Mini Countryman 1.6 Cooper D ALL4
Used deals from £11,600
Monthly finance from £263*

The Mini Countryman may look large next to a Mini Hatch, but it still lives up to its name - it’s a small car in a modern context. The Countryman also happens to be a great car overall, though the four-wheel drive version isn’t really necessary for most drivers.

All versions of the Countryman are great to drive and comfortable over bumps and potholes in the road, and there’s enough room inside for a family. The boot’s large enough for a big shopping trip or a family holiday, and it’s quiet inside on the motorway.

The Countryman is available in sporty John Cooper Works form, but even the cheaper diesel models are fun to drive. We’d stick to front-wheel drive models if it were us, for the best value and fuel economy, but if you are dead-set on 4x4 then the 'ALL4' models are still great.

2010-2017 MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE
2017-PRESENT MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Suzuki Swift 4x4

Best small four-wheel drive for low running costs

Our pick Suzuki Swift 1.2 SHVS SZ5 AllGrip
Used deals Limited stock

The Suzuki Swift is a small, light car that’s cheap to run, so even in four-wheel drive form it’s a good way of keeping costs low. The Swift is known for being great fun to drive and the 4x4 model is no exception - especially in SHVS form, as the car uses a small electric motor to increase efficiency.

If you want a supermini but are keen on four-wheel drive grip, the Swift is a good choice. It’s small, so will easily fit in tiny parking bays and down tight streets, and remains comfortable on the motorway if you have longer trips planned.

It’s not designed as a serious off-roader, but Suzuki makes plenty of other cars if you do want that: the Jimny and Vitara are other small car options that not only have four-wheel drive, but also a focus on off-road ability, if you want something a bit bigger and boxier.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Audi S1

Best small four-wheel drive for speed

Our pick Audi S1 TFSI Quattro
Used deals from £17,000
Monthly finance from £266*

Many high-performance sports cars these days use four-wheel drive, which allows them to make the most of their power without spinning their wheels as often as they would if they only powered two wheels. The Audi S1 is a rare example of a tiny hot hatch that uses four-wheel drive for the same reasons. It’s a powerful car and because it powers all four wheels, it’s rockets away from a standstill.

Alternatives to the S1 such as the Ford Fiesta ST are all front-wheel drive only, so the Audi is an interesting choice. It has lots of grip and if you want to go quickly in wet or snowy conditions then it could be a great choice, provided you have the right tyres for the job.

It has plenty of other comforts, too, including a high-quality interior with a good amount of standard equipment. It’s very expensive for a tiny car, though, and we reckon a Fiesta ST will be more fun even in harsh conditions, provided you can do without four-wheel drive. The S1 is still an interesting left-field choice, though.

2010-2018 AUDI A1 BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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