Ignis, the small Suzuki that gives big hugs
It has been a long time since Iain Robertson last felt so drawn to a new car that he just wanted to pick it up and cuddle it but the latest baby Suzuki delivers a lot more than lashings of cuteness, as his recent drive proves.
Watching television during the festive period was its usual mind-numbing exercise, made barely tolerable by consuming body-numbing amounts of alcohol. Yet, one programme, a Top 20 ‘Best of Morecambe & Wise’, presented by Miranda Hart and a host of M&W fans, underscored that good comedy is timeless and how much we all miss that charming northern duo. It was worth the viewing.
One of the several sketches featured was the infamous and, as we were informed, meticulously rehearsed musical skit involving a very youthful Elton John. Playing the perfect ‘straight guy’ (ironic for EJ), at one stage, he uttered the word ‘funky’, a word possessing a questionable definition at the time of the original programme, especially for the hard of hearing. The ensuing word to the off-screen wings and an ‘invisible’ producer (who was, unsurprisingly, not really there!) was to question the use of the word at all. It was immensely amusing and packed with perfect comedic timing.
However, if there is one word to be attached in the modern idiom, then funky applies in spades to the latest sub-compact hatchback from Suzuki. It is cuteness in the metal, with its wheels stretched out to each corner to afford it a significantly grander poise than its teensy dimensions might otherwise allow, it is both retrospectively reflective, thanks to several stock Suzuki styling cues, yet as timelessly funky as any new car introduced in the past thirty years.
Priced from a lowly £9,999 in front-driven SZ3 trim (even the top SZ5 version is only £12,999; some £4,000 less than an equivalent Fiat Panda 4×4…and, yes, the top version has a 4WD option), complete with bath toy interior trim detailing, no car has appealed so much to the kid in me that I just want to scoop it up and take it to bed…to go sleepies!
Yet, despite looking very dainty, even though it tries really hard not to, this little car has a heart of steel. It is never more obvious than when tackling the cut and thrust of modern motoring. The money-no-object version, powered by the same 1.2-litre mild-hybrid engine deployed in the more up-market Baleno model, accelerates cleanly and quite briskly up to motorway speeds, at no time feeling over-stressed, instead being willing and amazingly zesty, with enough punch in reserve to accelerate up to a three-figure maximum, given enough road.
Pulling almost 30mph per 1,000rpm in fifth gear, high-speed cruising (which is not really an expectation) is a relaxed affair and a mere flex of the throttle foot engages the supplementary electrical charge, which means that downshifts are unnecessary, even on longer uphill main road gradients. As a result, the Ignis delivers a manful performance that is considerably greater than expectation.
However, when tackling the real heartland of its potential, the 4×4 Ignis becomes a little demon, fortunately not on the side of malevolence. So eager is its turn-in, so crisp the responses from suspension and steering, that I have renamed the SZ-T model ‘SZT-BASS’, where T-BASS stands for Takes Bends At Silly Speeds. In truth, the Ignis is a tiny car that will surprise in massive loads.
It is not all perfection. Its low-speed ride quality, which is not helped by a relatively short wheelbase, fairly stiff suspension damping and a narrow track, is lumpy to say the least, encouraging the driver to emit little shrieks, when striking bumps and road surface imperfections. However, at higher speeds, the car levels out and rides impeccably well, probably because it is leaping light-heartedly from one peak to the next, although, fortunately, it does not transmit any bad influences to the cabin.
As you are probably aware, I am not a fan of hard plastic trim and the interior of the Ignis is, make no bones about it, plastic-fantastic. However, the company has managed to make it appear more interesting than some of its stablemates, by using a mix of different textures and colours, with some elements that can be customised in body colour, thereby lifting what could have been all too readily grey and about as interesting as Steve Davis (former snooker champion).
While the exterior is a bit slab-sided, at least it is relieved by some interesting design graphics, such as the Vitara-like plastic fillets above the front wheel arches (they are faux air intakes but they add a teensy dash of familial character) and the hinted ‘gills’ on the C-pillars (reminiscent of the SC100 model, also known as ‘Whizzkid’). Higher specification models receive an horseshoe LED light signature and chromium trim around the front radiator grille, although lesser variants manage without. However, Suzuki is keen to highlight that personalisation is very much on the cards for owners, so do not be surprised to find a base version boasting of innumerable trim details from models higher up the range.
Suzuki introduced its DualJet engine technology a couple of years ago on the Swift model that is set to be replaced later this year and it appears in 87bhp form across the full Ignis range. However, the SZ5 and SZ5 4×4 versions also gain from the integrated starter-generator (ISG). It incorporates a Lithium-ion battery (stored below the front passenger seat), which recharges using brake energy recovery and means that the conventional starter motor is only used on initial start-up. The result is a lower CO2 rating (97g/km; 104g/km standard; 106g/km 4×4) and better fuel economy (up to 65.7mpg Official Combined; standard car: 61.4mpg).
You might recall that I mentioned up-front the zesty performance of the Ignis, while there is some very minor positive effect from the mild hybrid technology, in that the car’s electrical performance is always optimised, the refined, sweet-revving 1.2-litre, four cylinder engine relies on the car’s lightweight but structurally rigid body to aid its performance envelope. As a result, the regular petrol unit will accelerate from 0-60mph in 11.5 seconds, even with the single-clutch automated 5-speed gearbox option, while the SHVS (hybrid) version lops 0.4s off that time, the 4×4 model shedding another 0.3s to 10.8s for the dash. Possessing 88lbs ft of torque, the pull is consistent and strong throughout the rev-range.
Ignis is exceptionally practical, its rear, 50:50-split seat bases sliding forwards easily to increase already good boot space, considering the car’s size. However, mums-with-babies and child-seats will appreciate the way that the back seats will close up to the rear of the front seats, to make tending to a child a somewhat easier task. However, the higher overall seating position promotes a better view out from the cabin for all occupants. Storage slots and bins are well considered within the car. The standard equipment list is generous and all models benefit from a minimum of six airbags, air-con, DAB stereo system with Bluetooth and electric front windows. SZ-T adds sat-nav, a rear-view camera, 16-inch alloys, roof rails and the individually sliding rear seats, while the SZ5 adds climate control, the innovative twin-camera brake support system, keyless entry/start, rear electric windows, LED headlamps, with the daytime running lamps and front fogs.
Conclusion: Driving the Suzuki Ignis makes you appreciate what a gift driving joy can be. It is fun, with a capital ‘F’. However, it is also a seriously good small car, delivering tremendous stability (notably in 4×4 form but almost as impressive in front-driven form) and copious amounts of space, despite tiny dimensions. However, as good as it is in a city-scape, the new Ignis also revels in cross-country forays and the 4×4 model will take you places that you almost would not believe. Love it, because it loves you!