Thursday29 September 2016
The Suzuki dealer may describe this 2017 S-Cross as a ‘new’ car, but the truth is that it’s more like a heavy facelift. Under the more muscular front end, the raised ride height and the new interior, this is the same basic car as the competent Skoda Yeti rival that was launched back in 2013.
That’s not to say the changes aren’t sizeable, though. The new-look grille is one of the more obvious changes, but there’s also a more tactile cabin, an upgraded infotainment system and a host of new engines.
If you want, you can still have the frugal 1.6-litre diesel that powered many examples of the previous-generation car, but the 1.6-litre petrol engine of old has been eschewed in favour of smaller, turbocharged units. The performance figures are dominated by the 1.4-litre powerplant stolen from the Vitara S, but there’s also a very worthy entry-level 1.0-litre engine that could well be the pick of the range.
Suzuki wanted the new S-Cross to look more “like a crossover”, so wholesale changes were made to the front. Where once there was a drooping grille that dropped away from the bonnet, there is now an upright, vertical grille and bulging, muscular headlights.
The effect has been dramatic, and its impact has only been increased by the 15mm increase in ride height. Now the car looks far more like a low and sporty SUV than a slightly jacked-up family hatchback.
The interior has been updated, too, with new plastics that are softer to the touch than before. It’s still a fairly featureless place to be, though, despite the best efforts of the new touchscreen, but at least it all feels substantial and properly built.
SUVs are often bought for their practicality, and the S-Cross provides that in spades. The new tilting rear seats have upped the maximum boot volume from 430 litres to 440, which keeps the S-Cross well ahead of its closest rival, the Skoda Yeti.
In the cabin, however, the S-Cross is a tad cramped, with slightly less headroom than the Skoda and no more space for those in the front.
Despite its raised ride height and bulkier SUV design, the S-Cross is a remarkably pleasant car to drive. You sit just high enough for the view to be classed as commanding, yet the car doesn’t feel bulky and ungainly in the way that some larger SUVs often do.
There’s a pleasant feel to the controls, too. The clutch is light enough to prevent manual variants being a chore to drive, while the steering strikes an almost perfect balance of weight and precision. It doesn’t offer that much feedback, but it feels meaty and allows you to position the car just where you want it.
Because the S-Cross sits relatively low for an SUV, it doesn’t roll too much, and that means you can, if the mood takes you, have really good fun on a flowing country road.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine that was fitted to our test car. Like Ford’s critically-acclaimed EcoBoost engine, it’s a turbocharged, three-cylinder unit that replaces the old 1.6-litre naturally aspirated powerplant in the S-Cross range.
It is slightly less powerful than the old 1.6, with just 109bhp, but it is more efficient and the turbocharger ensures that there’s no noticeable performance deficit. Other manufacturers may have been developing such engines for a long time, but Suzuki’s unit is a match for any, offering more than enough power and good refinement.
No matter how good the BoosterJet engine is, though, the 1.6-litre diesel is still likely to be highly popular among S-Cross customers. It’s a bit noisy, but it’s immensely efficient, returning more than 60mpg without difficulty.
At £14,999 for the basic SZ4 model, the S-Cross is undoubtedly cheap. It isn’t even badly equipped, with that money buying you 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning and cruise control. Your only choice of engine, though, is the 1.0-litre petrol.
If you want goodies such as two-zone climate control, satellite navigation and a rear parking camera, though, you’ll have to spend at least £19,499 on the mid-range SZ-T model. That gives you a choice of engines and transmissions, as well as other niceties, including automatic lights and wipers, rear privacy glass and keyless push-button start.
To get leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and a wider range of safety systems, though, you’ll be spending almost £23,000 on the top-spec SZ5.
There’s no doubt that the S-Cross offers strong value and practicality, as well as a decent drive, but it’s competing in a tough market that’s brimming with excellent models. You could do a whole lot worse than buying an S-Cross – it’s a worthy rival to the segment leaders – but it isn’t quite good enough to be true contender.
Model: Suzuki SX4 S-Cross SZ-T 1.0 Boosterjet (£19,499)
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 110bhp and 125lb/ft of torque
Transmission: Five-speed manual, driving front wheels
Performance: Top speed 112mph, 0-62mph in 11 seconds
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