Can Suzuki take on the mighty Nissan Qashqai with its new SX4 S-Cross?
The SX4 isn't a headline-grabbing, splashy-photo-shoot kind of car, but it is one of those models that you feel would slot rather nicely and rather seamlessly into your life. It's a solid set of family wheels and one that should go on to provide years of reliable, faithful service.
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross: 4/5
Good points: dynamics, space, looks, quality
Not so good: engine a little noisy
Test car details:
Model tested: Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.6 DDiS AllGrip GL+ EASS
Pricing: €28,095 (SX4 range starts at €19,995)
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Body style: five-door compact crossover
Rivals: Kia Soul, Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti
CO2 emissions: 114g/km (Band A4, €200 per annum)
Combined economy: 65mpg (4.4 litres/100km)
Top speed: 175km/h
0-100km/h: 13.0 seconds
Power: 120hp at 3,750rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1,750rpm
We've always held the belief that Suzuki is one of those brands that garners far less media coverage, and indeed sales, than it deserves. Although its global reach is huge, in Ireland, Suzuki is a small player and, against the massed might of Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota et al, it's always going to struggle to snatch customers.
Those that become snatched though tend to be both satisfied and loyal, and Suzuki's generally exceptional reliability - allied to the fact that its cars tend to be more fun to drive than you'd expect (try a current Swift and see what we're talking about) - means that, while its sales numbers might be small, it will always have a solid base of returning custom.
The new SX4 though faces into a spectacularly tough task. Now with the appended S-Cross name (which basically signifies that it's bigger and a bit more rugged than the outgoing model), the SX4 wants to take on the bull elephant of the compact crossover class - the Nissan Qashqai. Not only has the Qashqai been a runaway sales success for Nissan both here and around the world, it's just been replaced by an even more sophisticated version.
While a direct SX4/Qashqai face-off will have to wait for a little while longer, the Suzuki is marching into battle better equipped than you might think. For a start, it's rather affordable, and at the basic end of the range is priced more closely to a Volkswagen Golf than to a Qashqai.
It's also quite handsome. Not gorgeous, exactly, but in the lurid metallic blue of our test car (an equally arresting shade of Kermit the Frog green is also available) it looks chunky and rather nice.
It's also pleasant inside, and that's not something we've always been able to say about Suzuki. It tends to be one of those car makers that concentrates on the practical, rather than the touchy-feely side of things (a bit like Subaru in that respect) and previous Suzuki models have had occasionally rough-and-ready cabins. Not so here. It's not exactly a Volkswagen-level of quality, but it's certainly up to taking on the Qashqai, the Yeti and anything that Toyota has in its stable. The important contact points (steering wheel, column stalks, handles etc.) all feel good to the touch. In parts, it could even be called quite expensive looking.
Don't worry though; Suzuki hasn't gone all soft and forgotten the practical things. There's good space in both the front and rear of the cabin and although the front seats are a tiny bit narrow, they're still pretty comfy. The optional massive glass roof really lifts the ambience of the interior too, so it may well be worth shelling out the extra on. There's a decent boot, too - 430 litres should be enough for most family needs.
Definitely worth shelling out for is the upgrade from front-wheel drive to the 'AllGrip' four-wheel drive system. It's controlled by a small knob between the front seats, which allows you to select between Sport, Snow & Ice and Auto modes. As with all these systems, you're usually just better off leaving it in Auto and letting it go about its own business, but it's a good set up, giving the SX4 a usefully more capable feel in poor conditions - and indeed even on a spot of light off-roading - than its mostly front-drive competition would muster. It may not be a Land Rover Defender, exactly, but when the rain or sleet is coming down hard, it should see you home safe.
Presumably, Suzuki's terrific reliability reputation must speak volumes towards the fact that it's happy to put a Fiat-built engine in the car. It's the same 120hp unit you'll find in the new 500L, but in the Suzuki it actually feels, and especially sounds, like a much better engine. Refinement is improved here over the Fiat (albeit you'll never be in doubt which pump it drinks from), and while it's not exactly quick, there's enough mid-range punch that through the gears it can feel quite lively. Fuel economy is also good, and while you probably won't be able to match Suzuki's 65mpg figure, you should be able to get around 50mpg.
To drive, the SX4 is a typical Suzuki - not explosively brilliant, but enjoyably competent. The steering feels well weighted and precise, there's a little body lean through corners, but it's well contained and the ride quality, although occasionally a touch firm, is good enough to deal with most of the worst that Ireland's urban and rural surfaces can throw at it.
I can feel myself drifting inexorably towards a 'nice' verdict here, which always feels like damning with faint praise, but it feels like the right one. The SX4 isn't a headline-grabbing, splashy-photo-shoot kind of car, but it is one of those models that you feel would slot rather nicely and rather seamlessly into your life. It's pleasant to drive, practical enough for a bit of occasional hard work, a solid set of family wheels and one that should go on to provide years of reliable, faithful service. That four-wheel drive system will come into its own once another harsh winter comes into view (and doesn't seem to exact an especially harsh fuel consumption penalty) and even our close-to-range-topping version seemed like good value compared to an equivalent Qashqai or Yeti. One of those cars that if you try, you'll probably buy.
Kia Soul: a bit unsung in the Irish market, but snazzy looking and really sweet to drive.
Nissan Qashqai: what more need we say? A sales juggernaut and a new one is imminent.
Skoda Yeti: sweeter to drive than the SX4 and has bags of character.