Small four-wheel drive cars

After a compact car with added all-weather grip? A small four-wheel drive car could fit the bill and undercut larger off-roaders

BuyaCar team
Oct 15, 2020

The fact that small cars with four-wheel drive exist might seem a little strange, but they can make a lot of sense for certain drivers. When you think of a four-wheel-drive car you might imagine something that can scale steep mountains and ford raging rivers - something like a Land Rover Discovery - but all sorts of cars, including the tiny Fiat Panda, with its cute little face and teeny-weeny wheels, are available with four-wheel drive.

Think about the kind of obstacles you're most likely to face on a daily basis and the little four-wheel drive Fiat could potentially handle everything you could ask of it - all for a fraction of the cost of the Land Rover. Even the most adventurous driver is unlikely to tackle more than a muddy field or a mildly flooded road - both of which the Fiat should be able to deal with in a vast majority of cases - and then, once you're done adventuring, you'll want to head home. Or nip to the shops to pick up some frozen peas.

While the Land Rover and others like it will laugh in the face of daily life - provided you can afford to purchase it and run it - the Discovery is huge and isn't always perfectly suited to the humdrum of the weekly shop. Cars of this size can be hard to manoeuvre in tight spaces and difficult to park, not mention expensive when it comes to fuel bills.

In many cases, the four-wheel-drive Panda will prove itself perfectly capable as an off-road vehicle on the rare occasion you need the option of four-wheel drive, but it's also far better suited to the requirements of daily life. It, along with all the other small four-wheel-drive cars we've picked out on this list, is the definition of the best of both worlds.

OK, the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class aren't suited to wading through water or travelling over rough terrain, but provided you have decent tyres fitted, they should deal better with muddy fields, wet roads or even a little snow than an ordinary two-wheel drive model.

Just remember that if you experience a lot of snow where you live, or absolutely need to rely on the car whatever the weather, it's worth getting a set of winter tyres. While having four-wheel drive may get you moving on snow, it does nothing to help you stop safely, potentially even making you more likely to crash than those who can't get moving in the first place. Winter tyres, however, can help you get moving and stop safely whether your car is two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Find out more about winter tyres here.

Best small 4x4s

1. Suzuki Swift 4x4

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, therefore, 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.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

2. BMW X1 xDrive

Used deals from £8,965
Monthly finance from £170

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. 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.

BMW X1 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Fiat Panda 4x4

Used deals Limited stock

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 the Panda Cross is our choice because it's the most 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?

FIAT PANDA BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Nissan Juke

Used deals from £9,000
Monthly finance from £171

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 look out for 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.

NISSAN JUKE BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Audi A3 Quattro

Used deals from £11,700
Monthly finance from £201

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 the 190hp 2.0-litre petrol engine 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 drinks can lying in the road. You'll get more grip on mud, gravel and other loose surfaces, but that's about it.

AUDI A3 BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Mercedes A-Class A45 AMG

Used deals from £15,350
Monthly finance from £282

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 acceerating, 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.

MERCEDES A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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