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Top 10 best small 4x4s to buy 2024

Need off-road capability but in a smaller package? Take a look our top 10 small 4x4s

The best small 4x4s offer rugged style, practicality and off-road ability all in one compact package. There are a variety of compact four-wheel-drive SUVs to be found on sale, and each delivers all of the above qualities to varying degrees. Here we've listed 10 of the best that cover a range of styles, prices and fuel types.  

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When choosing your small 4x4, there really is a broad choice. We’ve focused on mid-size models and smaller, so all the cars below will have room for a family of four. All our choices obviously come with four-wheel drive but it’s worth remembering that many small SUVs and mid-size SUVs these days are two-wheel drive and you’ll probably pay a premium for the 4x4 version, if one is offered at all.

If it's off-road ability you need, certain 4x4 models are better prepared for actually driving off-road than others, with extra ride height, body protection and technology features to help guide you off the beaten track. If you don’t want to sacrifice luxury in your off-road 4x4, then the Range Rover Evoque remains a star turn. It’s a capable mud-plugger, but it also offers decent levels of comfort, modern driving manners and plenty of tech.

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At the other end of the pricing scale, the humble Dacia Duster sits in a class of its own. It offers rugged durability,  space and outstanding value for money all rolled into one.

Best small 4x4s to buy 2023:

The cars in our list are a mixed bag of powertrains and capabilities but they represent our pick of the best small 4x4 cars currently available. In descending order, we’ve chosen our top 10.

10. Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4

Although the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 is at the upper-end of what you might call a small 4x4, it's not much bigger than the BMW X1.

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The 3008’s plug-in hybrid system uses two electric motors – each driving an axle. The front produces 108bhp, while the rear delivers 111bhp. They combine with a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes 197bhp, with the overall output being 296bhp.

Drivers are able to utilise a proper four-wheel-drive setting and can also access a hill descent control system, which means that the 3008 Hybrid4 is able to take on off-road terrain with some confidence – often without the need to call on assistance from the petrol engine.

9. Jeep Renegade

The Renegade’s squared retro-looks are a nod to the brand’s long four-wheel drive bloodline. But if you want a 4x4 Renegade capable of taking you off-road, you’ll have to choose one of the more expensive 4xe versions

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Four-wheel drive models are limited to the 4xe plug-in hybrid powertrain, which uses a 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine up front, and an electric motor to power the rear wheels. This means there’s instant torque to apply a helping shove that can keep the Renegade moving in slippery conditions.  

There are some interesting features to be found on the Renegade, too. The range-topping Trialhawk has skid-plates to protect the engine, suspension and fuel tank along with ‘Selec-Terrain’ which lets you choose between ‘Rock Mode’ and ‘Active Drive Low’ with ‘Hill Descent Control’.

8. Volvo XC40

In such a hotly-contested segment, Volvo’s small premium SUV boasts a combination of a comfortable ride and stylish cabin. These make the XC40 a wonderful car to spend time in, even if it’s not the most entertaining to drive.

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As the chunky looks suggest, the XC40 doesn’t fall to bits when it sees a field. You can have the petrol B4 and B5 variants with four-wheel drive, along with the pure-electric XC40 Recharge Twin.

You’re not shackled to the top-end models if you want the largest engines, either, as the stronger powertrains are available across most of the XC40 range.

7. Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV

A few years after introducing its very first SUV, the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s Tonale is its first entry into the smaller end of the SUV market. It’s certainly not a bad first attempt, either. There’s plenty of typical design flair and the relative exclusivity of the Alfa badge helps the Tonale to stand out from the crowd.

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Inside, the interior is more minimalist than some might expect but it’s not without charm. The dashboard looks modern, too, being primarily made up of a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

At present, the only four-wheel-drive version of the Tonale is the plug-in hybrid model. This is powered by a 177bhp 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a 121bhp electric motor – the motor is designed to both assist the engine and work as a generator. This combined power gives the Tonale PHEV plenty of performance punch along with efficiency.

6. Mercedes EQA

The EQA is Mercedes’ entry-level electric SUV, but that’s not to say it isn’t upmarket. Based on the Mercedes GLA, the EQA looks distinctive thanks to its flush grille and full-width rear lights, but it’s underneath the car where the magic happens.  

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All variants of the EQA use a 66.5kWh battery pack which Mercedes claims can achieve over 320 miles of range. Charging speeds of up to 100kW are possible, too, meaning the battery can be charged from 10 to 80 per cent in as little as 37 minutes.

All trim levels are reasonably equipped – as you’d hope for a small SUV costing from around £50,000 – with 18-inch alloy wheels, dual 10.25-inch digital screens and heated seats. Premium and Premium Plus packs add more luxuries, such as wireless smartphone charging and a better stereo. 

5. Dacia Duster

The Dacia Duster isn’t just one of the cheapest cars on this list, it’s also one of the cheapest cars you can buy.  

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The Duster itself is a capable off-roader which can shame 4x4s many times its price, thanks to 201mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 350mm. On the road, the latest Duster is easier to drive and more refined than the old car but still some way off its German and Japanese rivals due to excessive road and wind noise and an inert driving experience. 

The interior is smart and functional, which will be music to the ears of 4x4 enthusiasts, but it’s laden with equipment you wouldn’t expect at the Duster’s price-point. A touchscreen, cruise control and a parking camera are available on the Expression spec.

4. Range Rover Evoque

While it looks fairly similar to the original, the second generation Range Rover Evoque benefitted from some pretty big changes under the skin. Not only does it have the firm’s latest infotainment technology, but it can also be specced with a mild- or plug-in hybrid powertrain.

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Of course, it’s the Evoque’s styling inside and out that’s still a major draw – it’s able to serve up Range Rover’s trademark look and feel, but in a small and relatively affordable package. Walk up the range from Evoque to S, SE or even HSE and Autobiography and the kit levels become truly luxurious, but the price also climbs steeply from affordable to eye-watering.

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The engine line-up includes diesels, a petrol and the intriguing P300e plug-in hybrid, with an impressive range of up to 38 miles on a single charge. This sees its economy soar to a claimed 196.6mpg, but you’ll only get close to this if you charge the battery religiously.

Versions with four-wheel drive are also immensely capable off-road, with the ability to wade through up to 600mm of standing water. Terrain Response 2 automatically adjusts the car’s settings to help it tackle rough and slippery surfaces with ease, while hill descent control helps the car tiptoe down the steepest slopes. 

3. SEAT Ateca

The Ateca was SEAT’s first SUV and quickly proved to be a smash hit when it launched in 2016. It may be now one of the older members of the Spanish brand’s lineup, but it continues to be one of the best.

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The clean, minimalist interior might seem a bit drab but it’s all ergonomically laid out with typically decent VW Group build quality. The 9.2-inch Full Link infotainment system – fitted to all but the base SE trim – gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard and it’s simple enough to use, although the graphics aren’t as sharp as a Peugeot 3008’s.

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SEAT has worked wonders with the Ateca’s chassis however, giving its crossover hatchback-levels of poise and handling. 

If you regularly travel off-road, the Ateca can be had with SEAT’s four-wheel drive ‘4Drive’ system. The four-wheel drive versions come with a 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel as standard in SE and SE Technology trim, while a 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol is available as an option on the higher trim levels. All four-wheel drive Atecas come with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.

2. BMW X1

The X1 has been a big-seller for BMW since it first launched in 2009, and the latest model continues to boast plenty of appeal. 

The latest X1 is larger than its predecessor, but the brand claims it's now one of the most efficient cars in its class. In typical BMW fashion, the X1 is also entertaining to drive - particularly when you select the ‘Sport’ drive mode.

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One of the biggest updates is with the on-board technology. Step inside and you will find one of the best touchscreen infotainment systems on the market – it’s quick, looks great and is easy to use. If you don’t wish to use the touchscreen, though, you can always tell the voice-recognition system what you need. For example, say “hey BMW, I’m cold” and it will adjust the car’s temperature for you.  

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As with most small SUVs, the X1 can be chosen with either two- or four-wheel-drive, but the vast majority come with BMW’s XDrive system as standard. Multiple engines are available, too, with the option of petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid power. Alternatively, there’s also the all-electric BMW iX1. We liked the BMW X1 so much that it claimed the crown for Small Premium SUV of the year at our 2023 New Car Awards.

1. Skoda Karoq

The Skoda Karoq is a top performer in several areas. Not only was it our Used Car of the Year for 2022, but it’s also our top small 4x4. All versions of the Karoq offer plenty of practicality and space for family use, along with good levels of comfort and on-board tech. Opt for a four-wheel drive version and you can add some off-road ability to this already impressive mix.

The Karoq received a mid-life facelift in 2022 to keep it competitive in the fiercely-fought mid-size SUV market, along with further updates for the 2023 model year. Changes included a refreshed exterior design, a new fully-digital dashboard and a simplification of trim options.

Four-wheel drive versions of the Karoq are offered with a 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol or a 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel. Neither of these engines feel sluggish, and they offer plenty of punch for overtaking. Both come with a 7-speed DSG automatic transmission as standard.

The two-wheel-drive Karoqs offer greater fuel economy, but the four-wheel-drive 2.0-litre diesel can still achieve up to 47.3mpg on the combined WLTP cycle. 

Best small 4x4s to buy:

  1. Skoda Karoq
  2. BMW X1
  3. SEAT Ateca
  4. Range Rover Evoque
  5. Dacia Duster
  6. Mercedes EQA
  7. Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV
  8. Volvo XC40
  9. Jeep Renegade
  10. Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4

Spending more time off the road than on it? These are our favourite off-road cars...

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Content editor

Ryan is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2023, he worked at a global OEM automotive manufacturer, as well as a specialist automotive PR and marketing agency.

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