Who Makes the Smallest SUVs and 4x4s
Because most of them have been killed off, you probably don’t remember just how small soft-roaders can be. You think the VW Tiguan and MINI Countryman are small? Just you wait and see what we’re going to show you.
SUVs were born from the American desire to have something that can tow a fishing boat, go wheelin’, fit a TV set in the dash and maybe pull a tree root out of the ground here and there.
But people from all corners of the world say this ideal as something completely different. America has wide roads, cheap gas and lots of iron. As you’d imagine, the smallest SUVs ever created come from places that have none of those things.
Our first stop on the tiny SUV train has to be Italy. No other European country has tried so hard to make small 4x4s… and failed. While the British were inventing Range Rovers, Fiat needed a small car with all-wheel drive that could run up hills with zest.
While any normal SUV owner across the ocean was worried about the towing power of his V8, the Panda 4x4 came with a 50 hp sub-1-liter engine. When the model was eventually replaced in 2003, the new one came with a bigger engine… a 1.2-liter petrol. Believe it or not, the 2012 Panda 4x4 was actually awarded “SUV of the Year by Top Gear for its cheeky charm recently. So yes, we’re entitled to call it an SUV, and it’s not all bad. But, at 3.65 meters long, even the current model is tiny. The one built in 1983, 30 years ago… you don’t even want to know.
The only like-minded European car that comes to mind is the recently revealed Volkswagen Cross Up!, though that doesn’t come with all-wheel drive.
Just take this little monster for example. Built between October 1995 and May 1997, the Suzuki X-90 is classed a “small-SUV”. Unlike the ladder chassis monsters America makes, this had only two doors, two seats and was equipped with a T-section removable roof. It’s actually kind of cool, cool enough for uses as a Red Bull promotional vehicle. As size is concerned, the X-90 is 3.7 meters long and 1.7 meters wide. Powering its tiny 1.1 ton bod is a 1.6-liter engine mated to a five-speed manual.
The first generation of the car we know today as the Jimny came in 1970 and was called the LJ10 (short for Light Jeep. It was powered by a 25 horsepower 360cc engine, had a top speed of 75 km/h (47 mph) and weighed 0.6 tons. The Jimny grew and grew with every generation, but the model sold in Japan still measure only 3.3 meters and uses a 660cc engine. But, this 4x4 is rich with tradition, has conquered the most remote corners of the world and is the most worthy off-roader on our list.
Suzuki has built many other 4x4, including ones that are better than the Jimny, but also ones that were much worse. Based on the Wagon R platform, they also developed something called the Kei SUV. Once again, towing boats, packing V8 and carrying lots of stuff were not important. It just needed to be cheap and efficient. Not even off-road ability was important to its target buyers, all they wanted was ground clearance. To make room for the prop shafts and drivetrain going to the back, they’ve severely compromised rear legroom. The Kei SUV is available with either a 54 hp naturally aspirated 12V with VVT and a 60 hp turbo. It weighs 800 kg and measures 3.4 meters.
Our final two stops on the small SUV train are China and India. Both nations are rich in ridiculously small, ugly 4x4s. We’re going to turn our attention to the Great Wall Mini SUV or Hover M1, which as far as we know is the smallest SUV in China, featuring a 1.3-liter engine. It was also the car they built with independent suspension, not that anybody would be impressed. It seems to be either based or inspired by the Fiat Panda 4x4, which seems to be true for a lot of cars in India as well, like the Mahindra Quanto.