Thursday 20 July 2017

Vitara's big brother finally gets into crossover shape

One-litre engine star of show but cabin is dull

Bigger brother: Suzuki S-Cross
Bigger brother: Suzuki S-Cross
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I'm often introduced to people as my brother's brother. It's a lovely way of giving strangers context and background with just a few words. Straight away, they and you subliminally update; it covers a lot of getting-to-know you ground with minimum effort.

That's why I think if I said to you that the Suzuki S-Cross I'm reviewing today is the Vitara's bigger brother, you'd glean a lot more information than if I just gave you its name in isolation.

If I didn't put it into Vitara context, I'd expect most people to look quizzical and begin asking either a whole lot of questions or steer the conversation to something that really interested them.

Without doubt the car on test can, historically, be described as the lesser-known S-Cross. Certainly, I paid little or no heed to its previous incarnation. The fact that it has hovered a mere €1,000 above the Vitara was hardly a recipe for getting noticed either.

It was, I also feel, quite boring. Suzuki admit that people complained it didn't look much like an SUV/crossover. But they have gone and done something about it. Without spending a fortune on rebuilding, they have made it look an awful lot more like a SUV.

A bit like giving a dull room a lick of paint, it covers over a multitude for now. In this case, I don't think that's enough. Cosmetics will only go so far.

The reason I'd be a lot more interested in it now is the presence of an excellent little 1-litre 3cyl petrol engine.

These are all the rage nowadays and are a growing presence in an environment where diesel is being looked at in a different, and unfavourable, light.

I'd have no hesitation in saying this is among the best of the new generation. Without going all technical, 111bhp and more-than-decent pulling power (torque) from a tiny-tot powerplant like this is a great achievement.

More importantly, it works. I had it for the best part of two weeks and came to enjoy its energetic nature in what is a big frame of a car.

It was by no means underpowered; indeed it brought a briskness that the larger 1.4-litre didn't on a previous drive. As such it is a practical alternative to the (predominant) 1.6-litre diesel. I'd have no problems taking it instead of the oil burner. None whatsoever.

Even though it looks more compact than better-known big brother Vitara, the S-Cross has more cabin space, especially in the rear-seat region.

Suzuki claims its core rivals are the Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai - names that are far more instantly recognisable, of course.

You may be surprised to learn that it is viewed by Suzuki as being more a family car than the Vitara which, they tell me, is being bought by greater numbers of young couples or singles.

Petrol engine apart, the other big attraction, I concede, is that SUV look which I've no doubt means that a quorum of people with perfectly acceptable hatchbacks will switch. Everyone wants an SUV, even one with little more to recommend it than a major nose job and a new small-petrol engine (and Suzuki's take on all-wheel-drive if you wish).

I wouldn't be so enamoured with the cabin; it's okay in a more utilitarian than fashionable manner, though the dash works well from a driver's point of view in that the display and instrumentation are simple and clear.

Neither would I be shouting the benefits of the seating from the rooftops but again they were perfectly functional and, to be fair, I carried a lot of people without hearing any complaint. I would have liked a more sturdy entity with greater support for my thighs.

On the plus side, I'd have to say the 1-litre engine quickly dispelled my doubts and preconceptions. Not alone that, but the way the suspension has been set up seemed to suit its output, and the vast majority of conditions over which I drove.

All you want from a car such as this is comfort, ease of drive and decent distancing from the rough and tumble of the road.

So would I buy it instead of the Vitara or some of the other rivals?

I'm not so sure. It's a fine little car and I was genuinely impressed. That 1-litre engine made a big difference to how I regarded it.

As a right old meanie, I'd probably say I'd wait until the next totally new version rather than opt for the SUV facelift this has received.

Then again, as a right old meanie, I'd look at the price and equipment, and wonder if anything else is as much on the button.

Finally, if you forced me, I would have to say that, for all the instant recognition afforded Little Brother Vitara, I'd take the lesser-known S-Cross over it any day.

Facts & figures

Suzuki S-Cross compact crossover; 1-litre 3cyl petrol engine (111bhp, 113g/km, €200 road tax).

Prices start at €20,995.

Standard spec includes cruise control with speed limiter, air con, Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, 16ins alloys, heated door mirrors, seven airbags.

SZ-T adds satnav, dual-zone automatic air con, front fog lamps, front/rear parking sensors, silver rear skid plates, 17ins alloys, LED lights, rear-parking camera.

And the range-topping SZ5 has Radar Brake Support (RBS), leather upholstery, heated front seats, panoramic sunroof and aluminium roof rails.

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