Best small SUVs 2023
You may not want or need a huge car to get in on the craze for SUVs, so we've picked out some of the best small four-wheel drive SUVs
Four-wheel drive is most often associated with large SUVs and off-roaders that also come with huge price tags and hefty running costs. Yet as the technology becomes more affordable, it’s trickled down to the more affordable end of the market and is now available on some of the cheapest SUVs you can get.
Small SUVs are all the rage at the moment, with their high driving positions, chunky looks and affordability. If you want a car with the practicality and traction of a bigger 4x4, therefore, but without the high running costs and purchase price, there are plenty of small SUVs to choose from - and we’ve picked out some of our favourites here.
Four-wheel drive means that all four wheels are driven by the engine instead of just two - usually the front wheels in modern cars. This doubles the car's ability to transfer the power from the engine to the road, which is excellent for traction on slippery surfaces including in the snow or when off-roading. It's worth bearing in mind, though - if you want four-wheel drive for driving in snow - that while it may help you get moving, it does nothing to help you stop safely. Winter tyres, meanwhile, help you to do both.
The smallest four-wheel drive cars tend to be lighter and more easily able to fit down small UK tracks and roads, so they’re often quite capable as off-roaders. However, we’ve mainly focused on cars that are good to drive on the road in this list.
There are some small SUVs that are fantastic off-roaders, including the Fiat Panda 4x4, the Suzuki Jimny and the Dacia Duster - so you can consider those models if you do a lot of off-roading and want a capable small 4x4 SUV for all sorts of surfaces.
We’ve kept this list focused on cars that are comfortable, well equipped and great for everyday life, so read on for our top picks that make great everyday cars, with the backup of four-wheel drive.
Best small SUVs
Best small 4x4 SUV for quality
The Mini Countryman isn’t the smallest SUV around but it’s far smaller than most, as you might expect given the Mini badge. There are front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models available, and with petrol, diesel, and more recently, plug-in hybrid power. So there should be a version to suit your needs.
The Countryman is great to drive - all versions have plenty of performance and are great on twisty roads. Plus, it’s really comfortable even on bumpy roads and there’s enough room inside for family life, with a decent amount of space in the rear seats for passengers, unlike in the smaller Mini models.
One of the best things about the Countryman is its interior. It has a funky design that matches the cool exterior styling, and it’s made using high-quality materials that are tactile and look good too. It has a fantastic driving position, which makes it feel sporty, despite its raised ride height, a good amount of storage and plenty of modern tech including sat-nav on all models.
Best small 4x4 SUV for technology
If you want a small SUV that is packed with technology on the media system screen, plus lots of safety gear included, the Hyundai Kona is a good choice. It’s available with four-wheel drive, unlike many SUVs of this size, and is reasonably comfortable.
It has one of the best media screens around, with easy-to-navigate menus, lots of features and crucially, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These systems let you connect your smartphone and use your own apps, such as Spotify or Google Maps, while driving. It works really well on the Hyundai’s screen.
The Kona has a big boot and is easy to drive, but we’d stop short of calling it fun. It’s fairly average when it comes to the driving experience - so choose the Mini above or the Mazda below, if a sporty feel is what you're after - but for many, that’s secondary to things like practicality and tech, which is why we’ve included it here.
Best small 4x4 SUV for driving
If you want a small SUV that’s also really good to drive, look no further than the Mazda CX-3. This is one of the most enjoyable small cars around, especially if you confine that to SUVs. It’s available with four-wheel drive, too, giving it extra all-weather capability.
The CX-3 is at its best for drivers in petrol manual form, where you can enjoy the precise gear shift action and engine that pulls well when worked hard, although the punchy diesel version is great as well, offering more punch from low engine speeds. The CX-3 is comfortable and great on a twisty road, plus it’s quiet and smooth on the motorway, too.
The Mazda isn’t as spacious inside as some of the other small SUVs at a similar price, nor is it as good when it comes to technology, as the sat-nav is a bit fiddly to use. Yet when it comes to driving, everything from the seating position to the weight of the pedals and steering wheel is spot-on.
Best small 4x4 SUV for running costs
Our pick Suzuki Vitara 1.4 BoosterJet S AllGrip
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The Suzuki Vitara is a bit more rugged than some of the other cars on this list and thanks to its four-wheel-drive system it’s a good compromise for those planning to do some light off-roading - but it’s still good to drive on the road, reliable and comfortable.
It makes a great used buy because it’s really affordable, and should prove to be dependable, too. The interior isn’t as high quality as some other models around the same price, including the Hyundai Kona above, but the Vitara makes up for that with its comfortable and enjoyable driving experience.
Its 1.4-litre petrol engine is smooth and quiet, and should prove cheap to run as well because the Vitara is lighter than the average small SUV, meaning it uses less fuel. It’s practical too, with a big boot and a good amount of space in the rear seats for a car of its size.
Best small 4x4 SUV for all-round ability
The Skoda Karoq is a bit larger than some of the other cars on this list, but as there are very few truly small SUVs that are available with four-wheel drive, your choices are limited. Plus, the Karoq is still much smaller than something like a Land Rover Discovery.
Yet the Karoq is one of the best all-round family cars out there because it does everything you could want in a daily car really well. It’s comfortable, practical, good to drive, economical and affordable to buy, especially second-hand.
The front-wheel-drive versions are better value and will be cheaper to run, but if you want four-wheel drive then the 2.0-litre 'TDI' diesel engine is a good choice still as it’s really punchy and returns good fuel economy. The Karoq’s great no matter what kind of road you’re on, as it’s comfortable on rough roads, quiet on the motorway and smooth around town.
Best small 4x4 SUV for family life
If you like the idea of the Skoda Karoq but don’t like how it looks, or want a more upmarket badge on your next car, then the T-Roc is a good alternative. It has a lot in common with the Skoda, as the cars share many parts including the engine and four-wheel-drive system.
The T-Roc has a smart interior with lots of technology including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus most models have sat-nav included as well. It’s good to drive, comfortable, has lots of equipment and the boot and back seats have nearly as much room as in the Karoq.
Like the Skoda, the Volkswagen T-Roc is a great choice for those who don’t have a specific task in mind but still want an SUV, because it’s a good all-rounder designed to make family life easier. It’s decent value, should be affordable to run and has all the modern tech you want, while also bringing good practicality and an upmarket badge.
Best small 4x4 SUV for an upmarket interior
The Mercedes GLA is a small, upmarket SUV that’s great for buyers who want a car with a luxurious interior that they can relax into after a long day at the office - but don’t want to shell out for a large SUV with high running costs.
The GLA 220d uses a punchy but efficient diesel engine and in ‘4Matic’ form it has four-wheel drive, which is useful for snow or harsh weather. The GLA won’t be a great choice to go off-roading but it should manage fine on grassy car parks when needed.
The interior of the GLA is smart, with modern technology but a traditional, classy design. It’s not the most comfortable SUV around, as it tends to shudder into potholes, but the seats are comfy and supportive. The GLA isn’t the best value but it offers a good amount of luxury and SUV styling for the price of a family hatchback.
Best small 4x4 SUV for style
The Audi Q2 is an alternative to the GLA for those wanting a plush car at a lower price, and thanks to Audi’s 'quattro' four-wheel-drive system it earns a spot on this list. It’s not perfect - the interior isn't as plush as more expensive Audi models and it’s not great value for money - but the Q2 has plenty going for it.
Its smart looks are matched on the inside, as the design of the cabin is modern and packed with tech. The media system is really easy to use and has lots of features, too. The Q2 is easy to drive, with light steering and good forward visibility, and it’s more fun than you’d think on a twisty road as well.
The 2.0-litre petrol option brings lots of performance for the money, although the 2.0-litre 'TDI' diesel is likely to be the better choice for fuel economy. Lesser models without four-wheel drive are available with even more economical engine options too, and there’s a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes.
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