GREAT off-roaders have to big rough-tough vehicles… right? Well not always.

Step forward the latest Suzuki Jimny, a mountain goat of a car which can go almost anywhere despite it only being about the size of a city car.

And this small 4×4 has a big selling point… it is one of the cheapest ways to true off road performance with prices starting from just £15,210.

Suzuki have radically upgraded the ‘light jeep’ they first created in the 1970s – the first major overhaul of the model for almost 20 years – for this fourth generation version which has the look of a mini Mercedes G-Wagon or even shades of the upcoming and much awaited Defender.

It is a bit of a retro look but works really well for the SUV that has sold millions around the world in the past four decades

But it is not all about looks – this is a working vehicle and, like the Jimny’s that went before it, this one really delivers down in the dirt. A bit wider and taller but shorter than before, the new car is just a little longer that a VW Up but has that all important elevated driving position.

A week with the Jimny proved that to be true as it drew lots of attention both on and off road.

Our car had the 100bhp 1.5-litre petrol unit (up from 1.3 litres) with a five-speed manual gearbox (a four-speed automatic is available). While the 0-62mph time is around 12sec and top speed 90mph, as you would expect the fuel bills are also small by SUV standards – up to a shade over 41mpg.

Off road the Jimny still surprises, it retains a separate ladder chassis beneath a steel body – the former half as stiff again as before – with three-link, rigid-axle suspension at both ends with extra cross-members to improve durability and further increase stiffness.

There is selectable low-range transfer gearing – its driveline mechanically switchable between ‘2WD-high’, ‘4WD-high’ and ‘4WD-low’ modes – what you don’t get is a set of mechanically locking differentials but an electronic traction control system that automatically brakes a slipping wheel to redistribute torque.

With 210mm of ground clearance, an approach angle of 37deg and breakover and departure angles that better the Jeep Wrangler the Jimney can hold its own off road against the best.

Inside the latest version is a great improvement over the 20-year-old interior of its predecessor but is still not what you could call luxurious although the controls have all been clearly designed for ease of use when traversing the rough stuff with chunky switches for things like traction and hill descent control easy to reach from the driver’s seat.

In the back the rear seats may be a bit of a squeeze for larger adutls and when up leave very little luggage space but than this is not really a car designed for doing the weekly shop.

With the rear seats down there is a useful amount of space (up to 830 litres).

Out test Jimny SZ5 has the same 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system as in the Swift supermini, which includes features such as Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation, DAB radio and voice control. .

The Jimny’s engine has to rev quite hard at motorway cruising speeds but it is a low speeds off road where the car really comes into its own. The lack of weight, tight turning circle and small footprint inspire confidence over tricky terrain that would catch heavier 4x4s out but the 320mm wading depth could be a drawback.

The electronic stability control seems to need to grab quite harshly at the brakes at times to keep the body in line and shiny side up – but, since it’s effective, you’ll be glad of it if you

So it is a hugely competent proper dual-purpose 4×4 with live axles, low-range gearing and rough-stuff readiness capable of going where some more expensive SUVs would fear to tread and all for a little more than £15,000 – which puts the Jimny in a league of its own.

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By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth