The other Suzukis stake a claim

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Suzuki S-Cross. David Thomson

Think Suzuki, and right now the chances are you'll think Swift: the chic compact hatchback that has dominated the small-car segment of the New Zealand market in recent years, and looks likely to carry on doing so following the launch of the all-new model just a couple of months ago.

If not Swift, maybe Vitara, the small(ish) SUV that was Suzuki's Kiwi mainstay in the pre- Swift era, and still commands a solid following today. Elements of both small car and sport utility DNA are evident with two other recent additions to the Suzuki stable: the Ignis and S-Cross. Neither is likely to knock Swift and Vitara from the top two steps on Suzuki's sales podium, but both are already making their mark in a supporting role for Suzuki in this country.

The new Ignis pitches into the sub-compact segment, which is hugely important in Japan, and very significant elsewhere in Asia, too. Vehicles that do well in this segment are often quirky in their styling, so the new Ignis is off to a flying start. Its boxy look is quite contemporary, but draws some obvious design inspiration from the early-1970s Fiat 126, as well as several Suzuki models from years gone by.

The clearest manifestation of sports utility DNA in the new Ignis is its ride height. This contributes greatly to its faux SUV appearance, and delivers practical benefits of easy access and improved visibility that are most relevant to a city car. A four-wheel-drive Ignis is in the pipeline, but for now all local Ignis variants are front-wheel drive.

A 66kW/120Nm 1.2 litre engine sits under the bonnet, allied to a five-speed manual gearbox at entry-level, but a CVT automatic transmission elsewhere in > the range. Drivesouth secured the $22,500 LTD Auto for appraisal.

This variant is well equipped, with cruise control, keyless entry and push-button start, climate control air conditioning, self- levelling LED lights, rear privacy glass and smart black 16-inch alloy wheels. Its large dash-mounted centre touchscreen holds the six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone and multimedia connectivity (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto,) satellite navigation, and a reversing camera. Hopping aboard the test car, I was impressed with the amount of space in the cabin.The LTD's rear seats are deserving of special mention in this regard: split 50:50 and configured to accommodate two people rather than the GLX's three, they are mounted on rails to provide fore-aft adjustment.

Headroom is excellent and, with the seats set full aft, there is also ample leg room for taller adults.

Combine this with a 270 litre boot (boosted to 1100 litres when the rears seats are folded), and Suzuki has done a fine job within a car that is just 3.7m long and less than 1.7m wide.

Practicality comes with some design flair up front. The default option is a two-tone dashboard, with black above and white below.

Beyond this, it is possible to personalise your Ignis with clip-on colour garnishing at the base of the centre console, door grabs and air vents.

Extra-cost personalisation along with a two-tone paint option are available on the outside, too.

Trim surfaces are hard-touch throughout, which is the rule rather than exception in this segment of the market, and everything looks and feels well put together.

That seating position and visibility combine with tiny overhangs, a tight turning circle (4.7m) and responsive controls to make the Ignis an effortless and highly manoeuvrable around-town car.

As well as being nimble and responsive, it soaks up everyday road surface imperfections very well. Larger potholes and speed humps can send vibrations through the steering, and induce a little rear suspension bounce.

Being tall and narrow, and equipped with economy rather than grip-optimised tyres, the Ignis is a less rewarding back road proposition; it leans and understeers though corners, and doesn't offer too many rewards to the keen driver.

It is, however, quite at home ambling along main highways at the 100kmh limit in a refined
and comfortable fashion. Its 1.2 litre engine is ar more responsive than its relatively modest power and torque outputs would suggest, so typical open-road overtaking is accomplished easily enough. Economy is very good, with a 4.9l/100km rating for the standard cycle test.

So, although not a completely accomplished all-rounder, as a practical super-compact city-focused car, the new Ignis is first-rate.

While the latest Ignis is new from the ground-up, the S-Cross is an update of a vehicle launched here in 2013. The update introduces interior and exterior styling, specification changes, and a 1.4-litre turbo variant, available only in two-wheel drive.

A prominent chrome-festooned nose is the main exterior change introduced with this S-Cross facelift. It's certainly more distinctive than the nose of the pre-facelift model, although not everyone will regard that as a good thing. Badged ‘‘Prestige'', the 1.4 turbo also picks up fancy wheels (polished 17-inch alloys), LED head and parking lights and silver (rather than black) roof rails.

The S-Cross cabin was always one of Suzuki's best interior efforts, and the facelift adds extra appeal with a new infotainment system centred on a seven-inch centre touchscreen and with Apple Car Play, satellite navigation, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity as standard.

Other key feature items on the Prestige include leather trim, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-button start, auto lights and wipers, and parking sensors as well as a reversing camera. Cruise control and a safety set-up that includes seven airbags are standard across the range.

The boot boasts an excellent 430 litre capacity, and the rear seat-backs (split 60:40) adjust for back angle as well as folding forward, if required.

Up front, I found the driving position comfortable, visibility was good and the instrumentation and key controls clear and well positioned. While most of the surfaces are hard-touch, there's a soft-touch trim panel running across the dashboard. This, along with leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, lift cabin ambience beyond run-of-the mill.

But the best news without a doubt is that new 1.4 litre turbo motor. Mustering 103kW and 220Nm, it delivers 17% more power and 41% more torque that the standard 1.6 litre version, and is more economical, too. Better yet, accepting the 1.4-litre's requirement for premium petrol, peak torque is available from just 1500rpm. Power delivery is via a six-step CVT transmission, also equipped with paddleshift controls enabling a semi-manual model.

Put all of this together, and you have a vehicle that can deliver strong and unruffled performance when driven gently, yet reveals a sporty side when pushed.

The full extent of its mechanical pep (and limitations of 2WD in winter) becomes even more apparent by the tendency of the front wheels to scrabble a little for grip if one is over eager accelerating on wet/gritted roads.

Exercise a smidgen more restraint, and the S-Cross 1.4 Prestige can entertain in a fun but entirely civilised fashion through tarmac twists and turns.

While light, its key controls are precise: body control through bends is pretty good (with body roll well contained) and that extra turbo punch enables speedy exits.

Ride quality was good across a typical mix of Otago surfaces and road noise well-enough contained.

On the minus side, being competent all-round may not be enough to guarantee success in an increasingly crowded market for small-medium crossover SUVs. Suzuki only adds to the confusion as the price tag for the 1.4 Prestige 2WD - set at $33,990 - is the exact same list price as the company asks for the 1.4 2WD version of the Vitara, and the 1.6 (non-turbo) 4WD version of the S-Cross.





The other Suzukis stake a claim
At a Glance

Overall: ★★★★
Design and styling: ★★★★
Interior: ★★★★
Performance: ★★★
Ride/handling: ★★★
Safety: ★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★+

For: Appealing styling, spacious cabin, characterful motor
Against: Ride unsettled by sharp bumps and potholes, limited handling finesse
Verdict: There's a lot more to like than dislike with this smart new super-mini

Price (as tested): $22,500
Engine: 1242cc four-cylinder multipoint fuel injected petrol, maximum power
66kW@6000rpm, maximum torque 120Nm@4400rpm
Transmission: Constantly variable transmission, front-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Disc/drum brakes, ABS, ESP, EBD
Safety rating: ANCAP assessment not yet available
Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 175/60 R16 tyres
Fuel and economy: 91 Octane unleaded 4.9 litres per 100km on standard combined cycle,
capacity 32 litres
Emissions: CO2 114g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 3700mm, width 1660mm, height 1595mm


Overall: ★★★+
Design and styling: ★★★
Interior: ★★★+
Performance: ★★★+
Ride/handling: ★★★+
Safety: ★★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★

For: Great new engine, practical interior, decent road manners
Against: Unusual nose, easy to engage manual transmission mode accidentally
Verdict: Update improves a thoroughly competent compact crossover

Price (as tested):
Engine: 1373cc four-cylinder multipoint fuel injected turbo-petrol, maximum power
103kW@5500rpm, maximum torque 220Nm@1500-4000rpm
Transmission: Constantly variable transmission, front-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, ESP, EBD
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP
Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 215/55 R17 tyres
Fuel and economy: 95 Octane unleaded, 5.9 litres per 100km on standard combined cycle,
capacity 47 litres
Emissions: CO2 138g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4300mm, width 1785mm, height 1585m