The smallest SUVs

High-riding 'Sport Utility Vehicles' - or SUVs - are all the rage, but not everyone wants a large car. These are the smallest SUVs around

Joe Holding
Dec 13, 2020

The rise of the SUV - which stands for ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’ - has dominated the car industry over the last few years. These high-riding hatchbacks, that typically feature boxy styling that mimics that of capable four-wheel drive off-roaders has proven incredibly popular with drivers across the globe, after SUV sales really took off over the last two decades.

There are a number of reasons why they’ve gone down so well with the public. They’re typically larger than traditional family hatchbacks, which - in theory - means more space for passengers and luggage. Their ride height is usually higher, too, which can mean a better view of the road ahead and potentially a more relaxing drive as a result.

The styling seems to appeal too, with boxier lines (and the reference to sport in the name) suggesting some amount of off-road ability. For some SUVs this is absolutely the case, although in reality most aren’t really built for venturing away from the asphalt, doing without four-wheel drive and off-road hardware in a large number of cases.

But while it’s easy to see the appeal of more space and performance, not everyone wants to drive an enormous tank of a vehicle. This is why car manufacturers have tried to recreate the SUV effect with their smallest cars, often referred to as 'crossovers'.

Crossovers are still classed as SUVs and they follow the same sort of recipe, but they’re usually based on existing hatchbacks and typically offer lower prices and running costs than larger SUVs. If the SUV format sounds like your kind of thing but you don’t want to go overboard, these are the smallest relatively new SUVs available today.

The smallest SUVs

1. Suzuki Jimny

Size 3,480mm long
Used deals from £13,999
Monthly finance from £257*

The Suzuki Jimny is one of the few SUVs that fills all of the brief as a capable off-roader. The latest model has a substantial 210mm of ground clearance between its underside and the road, which means you can use it to cross rocky paths without scraping the bottom of the car. A low-range gearbox - meaning the ability to have super-short gears to help you cross tough terrain - and four-wheel drive help pull the Jimny up steep inclines, while hill descent control in the top-spec SZ5 versions will help you descend steep slopes with ease.

That said, the Jimny is far less suited to life on the road. The ride is generally quite uncomfortable compared with the most comfortable hatchbacks and at higher speeds the 1.5-litre engine is quite noisy. It doesn’t make up for this with a decent turn of speed either: 0-62mph takes 13 seconds.

And fuel economy? Roughly 37mpg, and even less in cars with an automatic gearbox. That's relatively low and results from the fact that four-wheel drive mechanicals add weight and friction, meaning that the engine is less economical than it would be in a two-wheel drive equivalent.

Foibles aside, the Jimny is charming in its own way, and given that it’s no longer available brand new, it’ll be a rare sight on the road. Used examples from 2019 can be found from around £23,500 on BuyaCar. You’ll have a hard time finding a genuine off-roader for that money.

SUZUKI JIMNY BUYERS’ GUIDE

2. Suzuki Ignis

Size 3,700mm long
Used deals from £6,962
Monthly finance from £119*

There’s a debate to be had about whether the Suzuki Ignis - a tall and boxy hatchback - counts as an SUV or not, but as there’s a four-wheel drive variant, we’re counting it.

Four-wheel drive versions of the Ignis are referred to as Allgrip models, with the feature included as part of the top-spec SZ5 trim. The additional traction is enough to help you get by on a muddy field (you can forget about proper off-roading here), though two-wheel drive versions are more fuel efficient and generally cheaper, too, so you’ll need to think hard about whether or not the 4x4 is worth it.

The tall body means there’s plenty of headroom in the Ignis, and the ability to slide the rear seats back in all but the entry-level SZ3 spec means you can create a fair amount of legroom too. You can get an Allgrip model on BuyaCar for less than £10,000, but if you can make do without you’ll save at least a couple of grand.

SUZUKI IGNIS BUYERS’ GUIDE

3. Fiat Panda Cross

Size 3,705mm long
Used deals Limited stock

The Fiat Panda Cross is another high-riding hatchback that makes the most of a tall profile in order to give its drivers a spacious and roomy interior. There are 14 different storage compartments dotted around the inside of the car, and adult passengers will find there’s more than enough space to sit comfortably. The 225-litre boot isn’t huge, but it’ll be plenty for your weekly visit to the supermarket.

Cross models give the Panda a tougher look than the regular car, and the four-wheel drive system that comes with this is more sophisticated than what comes with the ‘4x4’ version of the standard car. This is so it can cope with sketchier terrain, and to that end there’s additional protection for the underside of the car and tow hooks at the front.

The ‘4x4’ trim is the cheaper route into a four-wheel drive Panda, with prices on BuyaCar starting from less than £13,000 for a nearly new model that’s done only a handful of miles. Unless you live at the end of a steep country road, the Cross is probably overkill, though if you want a very capable small off-roader, the premium may be worth it to you.

FIAT PANDA BUYERS’ GUIDE

4. Suzuki Swift 4x4

Size 3,840mm long
Used deals from £5,995
Monthly finance from £139*

Another Suzuki? You bet. The Japanese company is prolific when it comes to offering four-wheel drive on its smallest cars, something that most other manufacturers don’t tend to do.

As with the Ignis, the 4x4 variant of the Swift is available on the SZ5 trim, which also adds ‘mild hybrid’ technology to boost fuel economy slightly, climate control, sat-nav, LED headlights, electric rear windows and adaptive cruise control into the mix. The interior of the Swift isn’t much to look at, but at least you’ll have all of the gadgets you could possibly want to make life easy on the move.

In our experience the mild hybrid tech isn’t worth paying the extra for, as it only delivers a marginal improvement on the 45mpg that you’re likely to see in real-world driving conditions with a non mild hybrid equivalent. However, the extra grip afforded by the four-wheel drive system can give you peace of mind when it’s wet or snowy out. £10,000 is what you can expect to pay on BuyaCar for 2017 versions.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS’ GUIDE

5. Kia Stonic

Size 4,140mm long
Used deals from £10,499
Monthly finance from £177*

The Kia Stonic is a crossover based on the same platform as the Korean firm’s Rio supermini. However, the driver and passengers sit higher in the Stonic, giving a much better view of the road and more headroom throughout.

Beyond that and the car’s enlarged format, there’s not much to identify it as an SUV. There’s not a four-wheel drive option, which means it’s no more suited to going off-road than any other car, and the 353-litre boot doesn’t come close to those of key rivals, such as the Citroen C3 Aircross.

That said, the amount of standard equipment - 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, roof rails and parking sensors are all included - is excellent, and Kia underpins its package with a seven-year warranty that protects against any mechanical mishaps in that time.

Prices for the 1.0-litre petrol version - which returns as much as 56.6mpg - have just started to dip under £10,000 on BuyaCar. If you drive more than 12,000 miles or so per year, you may want to consider the 1.6-litre diesel, as that can do as much as 67.3mpg, which should save you money on fuel.

KIA STONIC BUYERS’ GUIDE

6. Seat Arona

Size 4,140mm long
Used deals from £10,750
Monthly finance from £176*

The Seat Arona is a longer, taller version of the Ibiza supermini, with ground clearance increased to 190mm. This means there’s more space inside and that the boot (400 litres) is bigger, making it more suitable for families.

As Seat is owned by VW Group, it’s no surprise that the Arona feels very German in the way it drives; assured, balanced and predictable. There are three petrol engines and two diesels to choose from, with the smallest 1.0-litre petrol capable of hitting 57.6mpg on paper. The Arona is by no measure a fast car, but the 115hp version of the 1.0-litre petrol can do 0-62mph in under 10 seconds, and for a family car that’s enough. It feels perfectly nippy on the move.

The Arona also benefits from VW’s influence over the on-board technology. The eight-inch touchscreen media system found in SE Technology specification cars and above is very easy to operate, and it can be linked to your smartphone thanks to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. A three-year-old model will likely cost around £11,000, but if you’d rather have a car with fewer miles on the clock then the latest examples will be priced around £18,000.

SEAT ARONA BUYERS’ GUIDE

7. Citroen C3 Aircross

Size 4,155mm long
Used deals from £9,385
Monthly finance from £157*

Most SUVs have a USP that helps them stand out from the crowd, and in the case of the Citroen C3 Aircross it’s ride comfort. The suspension is set up to absorb the worst bumps and ruts that British roads have to throw at it, so it should be relaxing to drive wherever you live.

Personalisation is also high on the agenda for this Citroen, with dozens of exterior design choices and five different interior design options. So if you’re looking for a used model you may have to filter out some of the zanier choices specced by previous owners, depending what you're after. You will at least benefit from decent equipment whichever C3 Aircross you choose, as Bluetooth connectivity, a digital radio and safety features like cruise control and lane departure warning are all standard.

The C3 Aircross has only been around for a couple of years, but you can already pick up a good one for less than £9,000. The PureTech 110 petrol engine is the best of the five available, striking the best balance between speed and economy.

CITROEN C3 AIRCROSS BUYERS’ GUIDE

8. Hyundai Kona

Size 4,165mm long
Used deals from £10,495
Monthly finance from £165*

The Hyundai Kona epitomises much of what has made the SUV such a trend setter over the last few years. The design is bold (if not to everyone’s taste), the proportions translate into decent space and usability, and the amount of kit included on all versions means you won’t be left feeling short changed.

Up to 52.3mpg from the most basic 1.0-litre petrol engine looks good on paper, although a fair few of the Kona’s rivals deliver better numbers in this respect. So running costs could be better, but at least Hyundai’s standard five-year warranty provides a financial safety net should anything go wrong with it. This includes five years of roadside assistance, which is a nice extra that will still have time to run on the oldest used cars.

Two-year-old examples of the Kona will cost around £11,000, rising to £14,000 for mid-specification cars and beyond. And keep an eye out for the fabled Iron Man Edition, which takes design inspiration from the Marvel hero portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. Seriously!

HYUNDAI KONA BUYERS’ GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta Titanium:

Monthly payments over 48 months: £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage allowance: 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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