Off-road 4x4 mega test

Ten of the most capable four-wheel-drive SUVs go toe-to-toe to establish what you should be driving when the going gets rough...

Dacia Duster vs Suzuki Jimny

Less than £20,000 – Dacia Duster vs Suzuki Jimny

If you have even the slightest interest in off-roaders, there’s a good chance that the Suzuki Jimny will already be on your radar. Not only does it look like a shrunken Land Rover Defender, but it also has a surprising number of mechanical similarities under the skin. 

For a start, you get a separate chassis with a body bolted on top, and live axles front and rear. That means it sacrifices a supple ride for the greater wheel travel that you need for really rough terrain. It also comes with a low-ratio gearbox to give it the oomph to keep it crawling up the steepest of slopes, with just a relatively lowly 100bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine under the bonnet.

You’d be wrong to think of the Jimny as your only sub-£20,000 option, though. Although you might think of the Dacia Duster as nothing more than a bargain family runabout that would struggle on a soggy lawn, four-wheel drive is available on mid-range Comfort trim upwards. You can pair it with either a 148bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine or the 113bhp 1.5-litre diesel we’ve got here. 

Dacia Duster off-road

A rotary dial between the front seats allows you to switch from front-wheel drive to on-demand four-wheel drive, with power being sent to the rear wheels only when slip is detected at the front. Should you expect the going to get particularly sticky, just turn the dial one more click and power is distributed evenly front to rear. 

The Duster may not seem quite so suited to the rough stuff, because it can’t approach or depart from such a steep angle without scuffing its bumpers and is more likely to get beached on a sharp peak. However, it’s still surprisingly capable. Yes, you do find yourself wincing more often than in the Jimny as it rubs its chin or belly on the ground, but it has no trouble hauling itself up steep, rutted and sandy inclines, as long as you’re prepared to use plenty of power. A super-low first gear certainly helps with this.

In fact, it was only a particularly churned-up section of hill with a turn at its peak, called the Horseshoe, that caught out the Duster. With a rear wheel dangling in mid-air, no amount of traction control could prevent the Duster from stopping dead in its tracks, unable to continue its climb.

Suzuki Jimny off-road

If you’re expecting us to say the Jimny absolutely monstered this ascent, you might be surprised. It keeps all four wheels grounded far more of the time, but it still requires a heavy right foot to get the electronics and brakes to quell slippage and send power to the wheels with traction. Indeed, it took two attempts to inch its way over the most rutted section and back down the other side.

However, this is only part of the story. Even on less extreme obstacles, you feel far more relaxed in the Jimny, because it’s far less likely to dig its bodywork into the ground. It’s easier to judge where its extremities are, too, due to its small size and boxy shape.

Just don’t get confused between ‘relaxed’ and ‘comfortable’. The Jimny’s suspension may be soft, but this doesn’t translate into a cushioned ride. Not only does it feel like you’re riding a small, luminous bucking bronco, but it also leans heavily in corners if you drive it with any enthusiasm.

The Duster’s more sophisticated suspension soaks up rough tracks far more adroitly and it controls its body movements far better. As a result, you aren’t thrown around in your seat as much. It also has a more refined engine, is significantly more accomplished on the road and has an extra pair of doors – not to mention a useful boot that’ll manage more than a couple of school satchels; the Jimny’s boot really is very small.

However, the Jimny’s off-road performance, combined with the fact that its prices start even lower than for the Duster, means it’s the one that takes the spoils here.

Dacia Duster off-road

Dacia Duster Blue dCi 115 4x4 Comfort

  • Engine 4cyl, 1461cc, diesel
  • List price £17,995
  • Target price £17,824
  • Power 113bhp @ 3750rpm
  • Torque 192lb ft @ 2000rpm 
  • Gearbox 6-spd manual
  • 0-62mph 12.1sec
  • Top speed 108mph
  • Kerb weight 1405kg
  • Towing limit 1400kg
  • Turning circle 10.7m
  • Economy (WLTP combined) 49.6mpg
  • CO2 emissions, tax band 123g/km, 32%

Read our full Dacia Duster review
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Suzuki Jimny off-road

Suzuki Jimny 1.5 Allgrip SZ5

  • Engine 4cyl, 1462cc, petrol
  • List price £18,499
  • Target price £18,499
  • Power 100bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque 95lb ft @ 4000rpm 
  • Gearbox 5-spd manual
  • 0-62mph 12sec (est)
  • Top speed 90mph
  • Kerb weight 1135kg
  • Towing limit 1300kg
  • Turning circle 9.8m
  • Economy (WLTP combined) 35.8mpg
  • CO2 emissions, tax band 154g/km, 34%