• Swift 4×4 costs £1200 more than equivalent 2WD model
• Available in SZ3 and SZ4 trim, with 1.2 petrol engine
• Limited off-road ability

Small, rugged hatchbacks equipped with four-wheel drive represent a tiny proportion of the UK market – the only model on sale at the moment is the Fiat Panda 4×4. Now, however, Suzuki is muscling in on the act and applying its experience of building tough, utilitarian off-road vehicles to the diminutive Swift.

The Swift is already one of our favourite superminis, combining good looks, value for money and a practical interior with an excellent ride/handling balance. Thankfully, the addition of the four-wheel drive system (which only weighs 67kg) hasn’t dented any of the standard car’s appeal. It looks pretty much the same, for a start, with sharp lines and a ‘floating’ roof, albeit with a slightly higher ride-height to enhance its off-road credentials.

The new 4×4 also incorporates the styling upgrades from the Swift’s mid-life facelift, which means a slightly re-designed grille and LED daytime running lights on top-of-the-range SZ4 models. These versions also come with chunky SUV-esque styling additions such as front and rear skid-plates, black plastic wheel-arch mouldings and black side-skirts.

Inside, it’s all fairly standard Swift fare, with an attractive and modern-looking dashboard and good levels of standard equipment. Admittedly, some of the plastics are far from premium quality, but in a car that costs this much, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern.

The 4×4 is only available in mid-range SZ3 and top SZ4 trim levels, and all come with ABS, 16-inch alloys, several airbags, cruise control as well as USB connectivity. SZ4 models, meanwhile, add a fully adjustable steering wheel, tinted rear glass and keyless entry and start.

On the road, the 4×4 feels exactly the same as the regular two-wheel drive hatchback, which is no bad thing. The ride is very good for such a small car and it manages that difficult balancing act of providing a cosseting drive and good body control. The steering is fast and accurate – if a little over-light – and the car grips keenly through the corners. The five-speed gearbox is a delight to use as well, flicking sweetly through the ratios, with an accurate and positive action.

While the 4×4 is not meant to be an out-and-out off roader, it coped well enough with the light off-piste excursion that we subjected it to. The recent dry weather meant that there wasn’t much opportunity to test the extra traction from the four-wheel drive, but the extra ground clearance was a boon on the rutted surface, while the small dimensions and accurate steering meant that it was easy to navigate through the worst of the obstacles.

One less convincing element was the engine. The 93bhp four-cylinder petrol unit needed to be worked hard to make any real progress on road and we couldn’t help but feel that the more torque-laden delivery of the firm’s 1.3-litre diesel would suit the car better, especially off-road. That said, the petrol motor was always keen to rev and, while not particularly powerful and a little raucous at high-speed, was smooth and economical.

The Swift 4×4 did everything that you’d expect a Swift to do but more and, for only £1,200 more than the two-wheel drive variant, it makes for a convincing prospect for rural customers in need of a small car. For the rest of us, however, the standard Swift will be just as able and significantly cheaper.

By James Richardson

@JARichardson1

Find a Suzuki Swift in our classifieds