Suzuki takes to a rougher road to highlight 4×4 talents
When a brand is based as powerfully on 4×4, as Suzuki is in the UK, it can be worthwhile, explains Iain P W Robertson, to explore its outer limits on occasions, an exercise he carried out to perfection in North Yorkshire.
It is fair to state that we all know an owner of a 4×4, whether those wheels be Jeep-shaped, Land Rover-badged, Audi-ensconced, or one of the myriad new ‘pseuds’ (all dressed up but incapable of traversing ground more gruelling than Sainsbug’s rose-beds in the car park). Even in the depths of our recent, national depression, 4x4s and SUVs were still selling like hotcakes.
In some ways, it is an embarrassing situation. After all, stick some decent tyres on a front, or rear, engined motorcar possessing just two-wheel-drive and, should the muse take you, preferably with a modicum of driving experience, you could still traverse mountainsides, rocky-ish outcroppings, or ploughed fields, hounding the bovine, or ovine, population and even Julie Andrews, as she fords every stream.
Yet, there are some other considerations to take into account. Firstly, I cannot pretend to be a faithful fan of the four-by-four. You see, being of the ‘old skool’ and notably of Highland agricultural stock, I think of 4x4s as being mildly raucous, mildly smelly, mostly smoky, notably costly in terms of running costs and not especially capable on-road, in public environments. In fact, the further away they are from the populous, the better. This theme does tend to control my emotions somewhat, although you will not find insincere ‘emoticons’ alongside my mentions of such vehicles.
Secondly, I truly appreciate the inherent safety of the archetypal 4×4, especially in the car scene, where Audi grasped ‘Quattro’ technology eagerly and does claim, quite justifiably, the outstanding on-road performance records of its models. It is an aspect that has been grappled as eagerly by American Motors, in the late-1960s, through many international brands, to the most recent BMW cars and even the latest Ford Transit vans. In addition, some of the latest ‘reactive’ 4×4 technology is not merely lightweight but also brings the benefits of extra traction (in difficult circumstances) and a markedly lower cost penalty to the beleaguered owners, because those cars run normally in front-wheel-drive, only latching onto 4×4, when absolutely necessary.
It helps to like and appreciate a particular brand. I do so, with Suzuki. Its priorities have always been the latest and best technology, backed-up by pristine engineering standards, in a package that is defiantly low cost. It was also one of the Japanese pioneers in the UK, bringing its earliest ‘mini-Jeeps’ to our shores no less than 44 years ago. Offering a basic, power-take-off type of transmission, complete with locking hubs for the worst of off-road conditions, its spirit remains in the current Suzuki Jimny model (from £11,995 to £14,195). Wearing particularly chunky off-road tyres, the only wee problem was the occasional fouling of enlarged non-standard tyre on standard Jimny bodywork. Understandable but indefatigable and immense fun on the stickiest of off-road grounds (Yorkshire Outdoors, at Felixkirk, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire).
However, the outstanding gem, for me at least, is the Swift 4×4 (£11,799 un SZ3 trim, £13,699 as an SZ4 complete with sat-nav and DAB stereo). I really like the Swift model. Its taut build quality, first-class line-up of engines, excellent chassis dynamics and an air of outstanding unburstability gain an added benefit in the 4×4 version. Complete with the customary ‘4×4 cladding’ (wheel-arch lips, front and rear bumper addenda and 25mm extra ride height, most of which, were you serious enough, could easily be ditched at any off-road ground), it is available only with the 91bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine.
The Swift 4×4’s extra edge comes in the form of a centrally-mounted and very lightweight (65kgs) 4×4 transmission that gifts the little five-door with the most remarkable levels of traction that engages so imperceptibly that most owners will never notice it happening. The only on-costs would appear to be the 1.1 seconds increase in the 0-60mph benchmark time (13.1 against 12.0 seconds for the non-4WD version), a marginally smaller fuel tank (by 2.0-litres over the front-driven variant), an increased CO2 emissions figure (up from 116g/km to 126g/km, equating to an annual VED fee of £30, compared with £110 of the 4×4), while the Official Combined fuel return of the 4×4’s 51.3mpg, is beaten resoundingly by the stock version’s 56.5mpg. While nothing can be done with the VED rate, the real world differences are so small as to be negligible.
Its off-road progress is limited only by a relative lack of ground clearance and underbody strengthening (such as a proper engine sump-guard) but the Swift 4×4 will go anywhere that most Land Rover owners might dare to venture. As I made up new challenges for the little car to carry out, I watched as some hapless colleagues beached their otherwise excellent S-Cross alternatives behind me, as they attempted to emulate my circuitous and testing route.
To reach the off-road ground, I familiarised myself with the new S-Cross once more and took to some of the excellent farm-tracks and ‘soft-road’ forestry sections that had been usefully mapped out for the driving event. In these conditions, the car behaves impeccably, highlighting that even mildly adventurous owners can enjoy a sense of freedom and accessibility that is truly outstanding. However, the S-Cross scores most impressively on-road, with its surefooted handling agility, lovely steering and enough performance to exploit, no matter what the weather throws at the car. S-Cross prices start at £14,999 in 2WD form, rising to £23,549 for the all-singing-and-dancing All-Grip SZ5 4×4 version.
As I suggested up-front, Suzuki is a brand that can lean genuinely on a strong heritage and a first-class rating for its dependability. Thanks to modest costs and good residual values, ownership is not the ‘pain’ it might have been a few years ago, while the overall appeal of Suzuki remains high, not merely on my radar.
Conclusions: Leading the market with its tremendous affordability and eminently dependable technology, Suzuki is the ‘go to’ brand, if you really want to live your life to the max and, as its 4×4 models demonstrate so capably, potential high costs can be amortised more readily with a Suzuki than almost any other 4×4 vehicle.