Best new small cars for off-roading

Need a car that can tackle tough off-road terrain, but don’t want a supersized SUV? Here are the best miniature mud masters

James Wilson
Mar 24, 2020
Suzuki Jimny side

Fancy a fun small car that can tackle tough terrain? Luckily for you, there are more compact off-roaders than ever to choose from, offering a very interesting mix of small dimensions and four-wheel drive capability. So you get the day-to-day usability around town and the ability to go off-road whenever you need to.

This means you no longer have to look for a car that ignores the principles of comfort in order to get a 4x4. Nowadays, it's possible to sit perfectly comfortably inside your small car while traversing the countryside.

But, while the latest and greatest media systems are good, these don’t offer much for off-roading. In order to manage properly harsh terrain, a car needs good ground clearance - that's the distance from the ground to the lowest point of a car - and a capable four-wheel drive system.

So if you're looking for a new car that's going to deliver the perfect balance between home comfort and utilitarian capability, check out our list of seven great small cars for off-roading.

The best small cars for off-roading

What is four-wheel drive?

Four-wheel-drive systems are able to send power from the engine to all four wheels on the car. This differs from a more standard two-wheel-drive set up where only the front of back wheels will be powered.

Differentials are responsible for splitting the engine’s power between the wheels. Clever ones effectively send power to the wheels which have the most grip, so you can claw yourself out of trouble, rather than just spinning your tyres and going nowhere. You can check our in-depth four-wheel drive guide for more details.

Fortunately, the best small four-wheel drive cars on sale today aren’t the same uncomfortable tin sheds they used to be. Your options extend from the realms of upmarket car manufacturers such as Land Rover, all the way down to more thrifty brands like Dacia, meaning there are plenty of options, whatever your tastes or budget.

There are some drawbacks to a 4x4 that are worth considering before buying, however. For example, four-wheel drive models use more fuel than two-wheel drive alternatives, increasing your fuel costs and potentially car tax costs too, as CO2 emissions are increased as well. Knowing this is an issue, some manufacturers design their 4x4s so they only send power to two wheels until the wheels start to slip, so economy and emissions don’t take as big a hit during normal driving. These aren't always the most capable systems off-road, however.

Without further ado, here are the best new small cars for off-roading in the UK, from super-capable city car-sized machines to luxurious, upmarket cars that offer supreme comfort even off-road.

Best small off-roaders

1. Suzuki Jimny

Ground clearance 210mm
Used deals Limited stock

The Suzuki Jimny is the quintessential tiny off-road SUV. Go to any agricultural show, look through all the tweed and in the car park you will see a herd of Jimnys parked alongside much bigger and more expensive Land Rover Defenders and Toyota Land Cruisers - both famed for their all-terrain skills.

Suzuki recently updated the Jimny, creating one of the most charming small off-road vehicles on sale but still ensuring it packs some serious off-roading talent. With new prices starting under £16,000 - and strong value PCP finance offers - the Jimny is affordable and even entry-level models come with air-conditioning and cruise control.

SUZUKI JIMNY BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Fiat Panda 4x4

Ground clearance 150mm
Used deals from £7,000
Monthly finance from £137

The original 1980s Fiat Panda 4x4 is an off-road legend - visit the Alps and you will see that many locals still use them to navigate snow-covered mountain roads. The latest generation continues where its predecessor left off: offering buyers a competent yet compact off-road vehicle that doesn’t cost the Earth - thanks to its light weight and small engines.

The Panda uses a type of four-wheel drive system which runs in two-wheel drive mode until the car registers that a wheel is spinning (helping save fuel). Furthering the frugal credentials of the Panda is the small two-cylinder petrol engine powering it - boasting a claimed fuel consumption of 37.7mpg. Yes, many cars use less fuel, but very few can go this far off road.

FIAT PANDA BUYES' GUIDE

3. Jeep Renegade

Ground clearance 150mm
Used deals from £8,500
Monthly finance from £147

Jeep is synonymous with producing cars capable of taking on the toughest terrain Mother Nature can throw at them. The Renegade is no exception, despite being Jeep’s most affordable model. That said, when it comes to the four-wheel drive variants (there are a few two-wheel drive options) the Renegade is quite expensive - prices start at nearly £29,000. Big discounts should be available, however, and used versions are available from little more than £10,000 - so you should be able to find one to suit your budget.

If you can afford the price tag, you’ll be getting some serious off-road technology. The 4x4 system works in two-wheel drive mode until the car senses slippage, at which point it will engage the rear wheels. Cars specced with Jeep’s Active Drive Low, will also be treated to a very short ‘crawler’ gear, which is shorter than first gear - perfect for scrambling up and down steep hills.

JEEP RENEGADE BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Range Rover Evoque

Ground clearance 212mm
Used deals from £30,844
Monthly finance from £391

The Range Rover Evoque is the baby of the Range Rover range. The first generation Evoque was something of a smash hit, and the recently launched second-generation promises to continue this trend, thanks to improved off-road ability, a posh interior and relaxed driving experience.

All but the entry-level D150 front-wheel drive model come with impressive off-road credentials and an automatic gearbox. There is a mix of petrol and diesel engines on offer, with a plug-in hybrid set to join the range in the near future.

Prices for new four-wheel drive models start around £35,000, with the Evoque justifying its price tag due to its high-quality interior, ample performance and comfy ride. Consider used models, however, and you should be able to find a decent model for less than half this amount.

RANGE ROVER EVOQUE BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Suzuki Ignis

Ground clearance 180mm
Used deals from £7,750
Monthly finance from £123

Let’s get one thing straight, the Ignis is small. So small in fact there are only two rear seats. But that hasn’t stopped Suzuki giving it four-wheel drive. It will struggle if you want to wade through rivers or creep along a ravine, but for doing battle with UK snowfall or negotiating light off-roading when out on adventures, the Ignis is perfect.

Four-wheel drive (known as AllGrip in Suzuki-speak) is only available on top of the range SZ5 models - as is Suzuki’s fuel economy-boosting mild-hybrid system. Even then, all-singing-all-dancing SZ5 models cost less than £15,000 from new with similarly affordable finance costs.

SUZUKI IGNIS BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Dacia Duster

Ground clearance 210mm
Used deals from £10,999
Monthly finance from £166

Dacia pitched its tent in the UK as selling no-frills, low cost, practical cars. Its Duster is arguably at the forefront of this, with this SUV grabbing headlines thanks to its £9,995 starting price. The cheapest models are only two-wheel drive, but four-wheel drive is available on those from £13,710 upwards.

As with others on this list, you can motor about in two-wheel drive mode to improve your fuel economy, with the option to lock your Duster into four-wheel drive as and when you need it. In keeping with the times, 4x4 Dusters are available with petrol and diesel power, the latter being slightly more expensive but better suited to those who do higher annual mileage.

DACIA DUSTER BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Subaru XV

Ground clearance 220mm
Used deals from £9,250
Monthly finance from £175

In a world filled with ‘crossovers’  the Subaru XV stands roof and rails above the competition. The XV boasts permanent four-wheel drive, so it is ready for the rough-stuff 24/7. While the styling of the XV can seem a little Plain Jane, it offers serious ground clearance and a decent four-wheel drive system, making it surprisingly capable off road.

Making it a left-field option, however, is the standard-fit CVT automatic gearbox (which isn't very good) and the use of its ‘boxer’ engine (which is pretty good) that makes a distinctive sound. All this left-fieldness will set you back at least £25,325, though used models are available from well under half this amount.

SUBARU BUYERS' GUIDES

 

Latest best cars & vans

  1. Cheapest car insurance for young drivers

  2. Best second-hand cars

  3. Best fast cars for young drivers

What our customers say