I was quite excited about this one, the prospect of blasting my way down to the beautiful Fawsley Hall and its surroundings in Northants to get a taste of an important new model for Suzuki – their answer to the indefatigably successful ‘crossover’ C-segment models released by an array of manufacturers over the last 5 years or so. Scroll down to the cars if you want to skip my coverage of Suzuki’s launch presentation, but I feel it’s important to give this key new model a bit of context.
The crossover trend was largely started by the now ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai back in 2007, in which year total UK crossover sales totalled a mere 22k units. Fast forward to September 2013 and crossover sales are at 151k. Say no more. There are almost too many crossover cars to choose from – Kia’s Sportage, Hyundai’s ix35, Vauxhall’s Mokka, Ford’s Kuga and the new Peugeot 2008, to name but a few.
Admirable Ambition Against a Clear Rival
It’s fair to say, then, that Suzuki will have a job on their hands in making quick inroads with their own debut crossover model, the new SX4 S-Cross. What was abundantly clear from today’s media presentation by Ed Norman, the firm’s Product Planning Manager, was that Suzuki are currently buoyed by various successes and are aiming high as a result!
For starters, they have now moved up to 20th position in the Top 30 car brands in the UK and they are impressively the fastest-growing Top 20 brand of them all, growing by 33% in the last year. The UK is now Suzuki’s biggest car market and their strategy is to maintain a minimum sales volume of 33k units each year, focus on the dominant fleet and personal leasing sector and to make the average man and woman in the street more conscious of Suzuki as a car brand as opposed to motorcycles and marine products.
Suzuki plan to release a new A-segment car in 2014, a smaller, Juke-rivalling SUV in 2015 and a new B-segment car in 2016. Exciting times – and their crossover will kick-start these ambitious plans! It’s an all-new car, despite bearing the SX4 badge, and is aimed squarely at family buyers. As a crossover, Suzuki wanted the S-Cross to possess SUV-like, chunky looks, a roomy and well-equipped interior and full marks when it comes to safety. According to Suzuki, no other comparative rival ticks every one of the 15 or so attributes they listed as contributing to a great crossover model. Bold claims, indeed!
If I received £1 for every time their Product Planning Manager mentioned the Qashqai in his presentation, it would have easily covered my diesel bill for the 300-mile trip. Suzuki don’t beat around the bush in admitting that the trend-setting Nissan is the rival they have firmly in their sights. On paper, the Suzuki S-Cross does indeed beat the Qashqai, hands down. The S-Cross is cheaper, roomier and more economical, for starters.
The S-Cross will be available in a range of trim specifications from the SZ3 and SZ4 models at the lower end of the spectrum, through to the better equipped SZ-T and range-topping SZ5 guises, these being available with the new ALLGRIP 4WD system. Only SZ5 models were available for us to drive at today’s launch, albeit in petrol, diesel, 2WD and 4WD ALLGRIP variants – but Suzuki reckon that the SZ4 diesel 2WD model will prove itself as the best seller here in the UK. All the models are manual only, with the exception of the petrol SZ5, which can be specified with a CVT (automatic) gearbox.
Fleet buyers, including folk on Motability and who pay for their private cars by means of contract hire or leasing, make up 42% of the UK car-buying market. Suzuki ‘s experience is traditionally much more confined to the conventional retail car sales arena, but they now want to focus strongly on making a dent in the fleet sector, in which they feel the SZ-T diesel manual 2WD S-Cross will thrive, offering a superb specification, impressive environmental figures, more luggage space and stronger residuals than the current leader, the Qashqai N-Tec/360. Buyers in this sector expect parking sensors, sat nav and even DAB radio as the norm, these days – and you guessed it, the S-Cross SZ-T has them all. Suzuki aim to shift 5,000 S-Cross models a year initially, with 2,000 of these going to the fleet/leasing sector.
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross Crossover SUV – First Impressions
Suzuki suggested that we scribes pair up and take their new babies on an hour-long route. I was fortunate to team up with Andy Harris from the Yorkshire Times – a thoroughly nice guy who lives a stone’s throw from where I grew up. What impression did I glean of the S-Cross after driving its petrol CVT and diesel 2WD and 4WD manual offerings?
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.6 ALLGRIP CVT SZ5 (petrol)
First up was the variant which will inarguably achieve the least sales here in the UK – the petrol automatic (CVT) model. Suzuki have fettled their 1.6-litre petrol unit so that it’s lighter, produces more torque and returns better fuel economy (49.5mpg on paper) with lower emissions (130g/km).
Although the CVT gearbox was largely free of any jerkiness, the whole car didn’t possess any rapidity, the quoted 13.5 seconds time to reach 62mph feeling entirely believable. Once up to speed, the car pounded on pleasantly and I was particularly impressed by the ride quality and handling. The S-Cross soaked up bumps and tamed poor surfaces very well and could be chucked around corners with aplomb without feeling unsafe.
Inside, although not of the finest grade, the dashboard, seats and other surfaces and controls all felt of a generally good quality and certainly very robust. Tall people may find that they can’t lower the seat quite far enough, but at 5ft 8ish I found it easy to get comfortable in the leather seats and enjoyed the elevated crossover driving position. Being a top of the range SZ5 model it was very welcome having colour touchscreen sat nav, Bluetooth and DAB digital radio at my disposal. The sporty blue dials are a nice touch, too.
In the back, legroom was absolutely fine and the seats comfortable, but I did find headroom to be a little tight. This was down to the two-panel sliding panoramic sunroof, extending the full length of the cabin, certainly making it a light, airy place to be. There’s a 12V socket in the boot, which is very handy, and under the hidden floor compartment, I was pleased to find a full-size spare tyre, as opposed to one of those fiddly kits.
Styling-wise, the Suzuki S-Cross isn’t radical and doesn’t stick its neck out bravely, in some ways looking similar to rivals from various angles if you glance quickly. But overall I really like it. The beefed-up SX4 face combines well with the solid-looking sides and sharp and modern rear, to create a crossover that is subtly striking and desirable – especially if you like standing out from the crowd with a different badge. I’m not sure about the larey ‘Crystal Lime’ colour option available, but the Boost Blue car we drove looked fantastic.
So the new Suzuki SX4 S-Cross instantly made a very positive impression on me in general terms, but I was itching to get behind the wheel of a diesel version to see how the inevitable future best-seller performs.
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.6 DDiS SZ5 (diesel)
The diesel engine shares a couple of statistics with the petrol – namely, 120PS and 1.6 litres. But where it instantly differs is its torquey delivery, with 320Nm available from just 1,750rpm. This new unit is coupled to a variable geometry turbocharger and the whole thing is really rather zesty.
Also impressive was the 6-speed manual gearbox, which has a lovely action to it and all gears felt well judged with just the right ratios. So as a duo, the 1.6-litre diesel engine and 6-speed ‘box worked very well together. Road noise was quite noticeable so the sound of the diesel engine didn’t really come through, for good or for bad.
The first diesel I drove at the launch was a 2WD version, which will almost certainly prove the most popular among UK buyers. But in terms of picking the peach of the whole range, I reckon it’s got to be the 4WD ALLGRIP version in diesel manual SZ5 guise. And indeed, it didn’t disappoint. Although it felt a tiny – and I mean tiny – bit slower and heavier than the 2WD model, it gripped the road extremely well, as you would expect. It also coped well on grass and a small section of a ploughed field, I must admit.
It’s a clever 4WD system, this ALLGRIP malarkey – and Suzuki are, of course, a firm with a mighty fine heritage and track record when it comes to off-road vehicles. ALLGRIP provides four selectable options, ranging from Auto which runs in 2WD until it feels the rear wheels struggling, and Sport which matches the levels of grip according to the way the throttle is being used, through to Lock mode in which the most power is sent to the rear wheels to help get the car out of sticky situations, and finally Snow mode, which predictable runs in permanent 4WD and provides remarkable traction on poor surfaces.
Having spent about 30 minutes in the automatic petrol and a combined 60 minutes in the two manual diesels, the latter was infinitely more enjoyable, especially in 4WD ALLGRIP guise and generous SZ5 trim. Overall, then, I feel the S-Cross has all the right ingredients to set it up as a commendable choice in the crossover market. It’s refined, spacious, has enough pace from the diesel, is stylish and refreshingly unpretentious, has a capacious 430-litres boot and is claimed to beat its rivals on economy and emissions, too. The starting price of £14,999 may well drum up a fair bit of interest in the S-Cross, but that’s for the lowest-spec 1.6 petrol manual in SZ3 trim. If you want my pick, the 1.6 diesel manual 4WD ALLGRIP in SZ5 trim, you’ll have to stump up £23,549. No, that’s not exactly cheap, despite what you get for your money. Then there’s the question involving how well the S-Cross will fare against the elephant in the crossover room – that’s right, the one whose name rhymes with ‘buster’.
As many of you know, I’m the kind of guy who likes to stand out as different, so I really rather like the Suzuki S-Cross after my experiences with it at its launch. It gives me a warm feeling to know that it’s a crossover made by a somewhat modest firm with such outstanding four wheel drive pedigree, who instil the values of solidity and honesty in their range of cars. Good luck, Suzuki – I hope the S-Cross goes on to sell really well. Thanks once again to Alun, Jade, Adrian and the rest of the team for your hospitality.