This compact little car provoked one common reaction from everyone who took a look at it – surprise.

Surprise at the price, surprise at the space inside and surprise that, despite its diminutive dimensions and cheeky expression, this is a true 4x4.

We will whizz through the technical side of its all-wheel-drive system Allgrip later, but this crossover has appeared at precisely the right moment to take advantage of the surge in popularity for this design of vehicle.

It is easy to see the attractions of a car that is a doddle to manoeuvre around town and park, yet has the interior versatility, thanks to individually folding and sliding rear seats, to turn it into a thoroughly practical day-to-day people and luggage shifter.

Powered by a 90 horsepower, 1.2-litre, four-cylinder engine, the Ignis Allgrip is a zippy little performer that delivers settled and confident handling on country roads, while happily cruises at motorway speeds even when fully loaded.

While Government fuel consumption figures say the Ignis has the potential to deliver 60mpg in day-to-day use, the car’s onboard computer said that over 500-plus miles of motoring I managed 55mpg.

With prices starting at about £11,500, air conditioning, DAB radio and a Bluetooth telephone link are fitted as standard on all Ignis models. The Allgrip model driven here comes with a thoroughly upmarket package that packs in automatic air conditioning, satellite navigation, LED headlights and daytime running lights, rear view camera and cruise control.

The Allgrip’s exterior is given a beefier stance thanks to wheelarch extensions, side mouldings, roof rails and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Safety systems are also state of the art with stereo cameras mounted on each side of the interior rear view mirror, detecting lane markings as well as objects ahead, including pedestrians and also their distance away.

When travelling above about 3mph, if the system detects a risk of collision with the vehicle in front, it warns you to apply the brakes. At higher speeds if it senses the possibility of a collision, it sounds a buzzer and the information display flashes orange. The system warning can also be set for either far or near distance with a button on the dashboard.

If the probability of a collision has increased, the system activates brake assist which increases braking force during emergency braking and if it decides that a collision is unavoidable, it applies the brakes automatically.

In addition the car is fitted with both lane departure warning and weaving alert.

The Allgrip model uses a so-called mild hybrid system with a belt-driven unit that acts as both a generator and starter motor to help the engine when accelerating and generate electricity through regenerative braking that is stored in a lithium-ion battery under the front passenger seat.

All this goes on without needing any input from the driver, as does the automatic and permanent four-wheel-drive system that uses a viscous coupling to connect the front and rear axles. Made up of two sets of metal plates, which rotate in a casing containing a high-viscosity silicon fluid, they turn at the same rate in normal running, but when wheel slippage occurs the fluid quickly becomes highly viscous when heated by increased friction caused by differences between the movements of the plates.

With one part of the viscous coupling connected to the driving axle and one part to the driven axle, when the front wheels spin the centre viscous coupling locks and transfers more torque to the rear axle.

Add in a couple of buttons for grip control for use on slippery surfaces and hill descent control for creeping down steep inclines and you have a compact car that is ideal for drivers who sometimes have to venture off the beaten track, or need to keep on the move in poor weather.

The minor downsides of the Allgrip model is that it weighs 50kg more than the equivalent two-wheel-drive version with slightly higher emissions and has a smaller luggage capacity, due to the location of the rear differential for the 4x4 system.

With a choice of 11 colours and a host of personalisation options for both exterior and interior trim, the Ignis combines go-anywhere capability with plenty of personality.

Auto facts

Model: Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SZ5 Allgrip

Price: £15,499

Insurance group: 9E (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 60.1mpg

Top speed: 103mph

Length: 370cm/145.7in

Width: 169cm/66.5in

Luggage capacity: 7.2 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 6.6 gallons/30 litres

CO2 emissions: 106g/km

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles