These are happy times for 4x4 fans, as Suzuki’s latest sales figures prove.

Jeeps, SUVs or call them what you will, used to be crude and cumbersome. Not any more. They used to be expensive to run. Not any more. And they used to be only in demand by farmer types. Not any more.

Even suburban motorists, fed up with slithering on January roads, are happy to trade in a saloon for something which will keep them going on snow and ice.

In fact, the only criticism left to level at 4x4s is that they can be expensive to buy. But that’s where Suzuki comes on with some very well-priced offerings. The likes of Daihatsu and Lada have quit the scene, so the SX4 remains one of a very few affordable 4x4s.

SX4 is a rather smart and sensible motor, with the standard model from £12,595 and the S-Cross starting at £14,999. The Allgrip, the latest evolution of four-wheel-drive technology, is available on better-equipped versions.

It’s one of the models which has helped Suzuki to soar with sales up 33 per cent, three times the industry average. Harsh winters and a faltering economy have combined to make value-for-money 4x4s a good buy.

SX4 is more car-like than some of its rivals, yet it is still a crossover (a combination between a hatchback and a sport utility vehicle).

Most useful are the Allgrip versions. These are usually driven by the front wheels but becomes a 4x4 when conditions demand.

Where some crossover models only look like they can traverse a canyon, the SX4 S-Cross Allgrip actually could, yet it’s also at home on proper roads. Its road manners are impeccable and the cabin has much more space than you could imagine. Class-leading, it is claimed.

Only the stereo – fiddly to get to grips with – is a slight let down, but I must say the sat-nav system impressed. And the rear seats fold easily creating a flat loadspace of up to 875 litres.

Standard on all models are air conditioning, cruise control, powered windows, four-speaker audio-MP3 player with USB port, seven airbags, 16in alloy wheels and tyre pressure monitoring.

The engine choice is 1.6 litre in either petrol or diesel. Tested here is petrol which manages 60mph in 12 seconds and happily cruises at motorway speeds.

The petrol is a five-gear model (only the diesel offers six gears) but it feels flexible enough and is quite quiet even when pushed. A sixth cog would have been good, though.

Suzuki say that although this model is built in Hungary it has been tempered for UK roads, and you can tell. The Allgrip operates simply via a circular switch to move between Automatic and Sport modes, a Snow-Mud system and Lock, for demanding terrain.

SX4 is taking on the likes of Nissan’s popular Qashqai with the SX4 S-Cross. It is also looking to increase its presence in the business user and Motability markets.

Making the switch from high-rise hatch to full-blown compact SUV was, in light of the rapid growth in the compact SUV market, an easy decision for Suzuki to take.

This new SX4 has grown in size to become a family holdall and, according to its maker, boasts enough boot space to trump the efforts of many of its rivals.

While the built-in sat-nav impresses, there’s also a full- length dual aperture glass roof, a clever lifestyle touch that’s also unique to the SX4.

And if urban use will form the majority of your driving routine, Suzuki’s also got that covered with a CVT auto gearbox for the petrol variant. Unlike those continuously variable gearboxes of old, this one is smoother, better able to keep up with throttle inputs and rarely allows the engine’s revs to race too high. If you need an auto SX4, it’s good to know this is no second rate compromise. For low mileage motorists the petrol alternative offers a quieter driving experience at urban speeds, and while it lacks the outright performance of the diesel, there’s no doubting its ability to dispatch the school or supermarket run with ease.

With four generous trim levels to choose from, including a company car-friendly variant complete with Bluetooth and sat-nav, Suzuki isn’t holding back in its bid to steal sales from its rivals.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.6 Allgrip SZ5 PRICE: £21,549. SX4 starts at £12,595 and SX4 S-Cross starts at £14,999 ENGINE: A 1,586cc, four cylinder petrol unit generating 120ps via four wheels PERFORMANCE: Top speed 108mph, 0 to 60mph in 12 seconds COSTS: town 39.7mpg; country 55.3mpg; combined 47.8mpg INSURANCE: Group 14E EMISSIONS: 135g/km WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles