Respect is what wins Suzuki sales
A long-time proponent of the Japanese Suzuki brand, Iain P W Robertson believes that when car companies talk about their ‘lost consumer loyalty’, perhaps they ought to reflect on those qualities that generate support.
Regular readers of this site’s contents might realise that I am something of a car fan. The more observant might even detect that I am a Skodaphile, a factor that is not linked (thankfully) to many other ‘philes’, although I do appreciate the Czech carmaker’s products a lot.
My personal biennial motoring journey to acquire the next, latest model reached fruition last September, when I was handed the keys to my Citigo, which, without wishing to be derogatory, was soon renamed ’Shitty-go’, with deference to that great Scottish actor, Sir Sean Connery. It has been a magnificent, giant-killer of a car that has wormed its way into my heart.
However, Skoda has absolutely zero issues on the loyalty front, a fact highlighted by its consistent top performances in both Auto Express Driver Surveys and the JD Power Customer Satisfaction Surveys. In fact, even though Mercedes-Benz used to hold pole position, which it has lost, it is known that Skoda owners are the most loyal in the UK car market.
It is a little known fact that Suzuki Cars enjoys a not dissimilar consumer response. Of course, the volumes sold are somewhat different but Suzuki remains a highly valued niche player. A recent survey showed that the test drive conversion rate, at Suzuki dealer level, is a remarkable 50%. In other words, every other first-time test drive results in a sale, which is immensely positive for the brand.
Yet, there is a lot more to gaining customer respect than loyalty, even though it rates very highly. Although it is now ten years old, the current Suzuki Swift has been a runaway success for the brand and it has helped immeasurably with its combination of excellent dynamics, decent packaging and the all-important fun aspect, with a peppering of really neat styling details both inside and out.
Suzuki’s current TV advertising campaign for the S-Cross, which has become ever-so-slightly annoying, with its constant repetition, actually exemplifies what the maker experiences at dealer level, apart from the annoyance part. If there is a brand that can be described as changing new car buyers’ perceptions, then this is it. I showed the test car to my next door neighbour, who has now visited his local dealer to place an order. So, go figure.
To provide its full name, it is the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross Crossover (slightly clunky), although the test model was devoid of the stability-enhancing Allgrip 4WD system as fitted to the top/most expensive variant (from £23,549). Powered by the diesel alternative to the 1.6-litre petrol engine (prices start at a lowly £14,999) and in SZ5 trim (tagged at £21,749), it is only living with the car for several days that makes you realise just how well-equipped it is. There are very few accessories that need to be fitted.
At just over 1.3-tonnes kerb weight, it is not as bloated as some of its rivals and, thanks to delightfully weighted power steering that possesses an excellent level of feel and feedback more intrinsic to some significantly classier cars, it is both wieldy and fun to drive. Being lower to terra firma than many crossovers is reflected in its ease of cabin access and its superior handling traits.
While you would not expect a ball of fire in performance terms, with its on-paper 0-60mph blitz in a less-than-blistering 11.7 seconds and a top speed of a modest 111mph, it does drive exceptionally well. However, that is not why people feel so entertained by the S-Cross. In SZ5 trim, it offers one of the largest full-length electric sunroofs on a UK-spec car, which actually opens (in two sections) to provide unrivalled open-top motoring.
Yet, do you want to know what makes the S-Cross such a superstar? The answer lies in the fact that Suzuki actually does not shout about it. There is nothing on-board that is unnecessary but everything on-board is installed so subtly and imperturbably. It features daytime running lamps, that aforementioned enormous sunroof, the ever-so-practical hill-holder device (no…not a half-brick on a string!), a full complement of airbags and the customary antilock brakes and stability control.
Its keyless entry and pushbutton start/stop are supplemented by parking sensors fore and aft, allied to a rear camera for added reversing safety. When the screen is not showing what’s behind, it displays the stereo information, or sat-nav application. The steering wheel mounted audio controls work a very good system most efficiently. The auto-on wipers and lights, fantastic vision outwards from the cockpit and even a good nocturnal spread of illumination help to seal the deal.
Even living with S-Cross is not a major burden, the first-class diesel engine delivering strong pull from low revs (117bhp; 236lbs ft), regardless of which of the six forward gears happen to be selected. Punting around town and the local countryside returned an excellent 58.7mpg, which almost gives credibility to the Official Combined figure of 67.2mpg. Its insurance is in Group 19A (fairly cost-effective), while a lowly CO2 rating of 110g/km equates to Band B for VED taxation, which costs just £20 per annum.
Obtaining a comfortable driving position is aided by the extensive range of adjustability. The driver’s seat is height, tilt and reach adjustable, while the steering column’s rake and reach can also be altered. Leather trim is standard at this level. The instruments are good looking and informative but, most of all, there is just no clutter around the car and everything that needs to, falls to hand without instigating an Interpol search.
I have owned a couple of Suzuki Swift Mark Twos in the past, both Gtis bought for my eldest son (for his 18th and 21st birthdays, respectively) and I became thoroughly enamoured with the brand at that time, an aspect that has not left me in over twenty years.
Conclusion: Suzuki appeals to both head and heart, which is a good reason to presume that it earns its consumer respect. There is a disarming honesty about the car (and the entire Suzuki range, to be fair) that also aids its place in the market. If that can be considered the best reason for Suzuki products to earn the respect and subsequent loyalty of their buyers, then Suzuki has a lesson to teach much of the rest of the industry, of which it can be deservedly proud.