IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Apart from some obscure Japanese domestic market 4x4s, Ignis’s place in the European sub-compact go-almost-anywhere scene is only contested by the Fiat Panda 4×4, writes Iain Robertson, which it can trump at every juncture.

There is a question to ask: how important is 4×4 technology? Well, if you live on an unadopted lane, or somewhere in the countryside, where weather affected roads and tracks are commonplace, it may have its uses. On the other hand, the additional traction, stability, dynamic and safety benefits can pay dividends on the public highways, especially when grip levels are compromised.

Yet, I have always had an issue with most 4x4s. For a start, they are more costly. Secondly, the servicing bills can be significantly higher. Thirdly, the extra running gear adds weight and complexity. When the consumer (using a broad brush here) wants to cut running costs and eke out extra fuel economy, 4×4 is not really the most proficient way to achieve it.

IMGThe vast majority of all-wheel driven family cars fall into a handful of categories: Audi, Merc, BMW, SUV and some higher priced variants. Needless to say, SUVs rule the 4×4 roost. As suggested in the heading, Suzuki only has one key rival in its size category. Yet, between them, Fiat and Suzuki can satisfy a moderate slice of the new car scene that wants a compact motorcar for reasons beyond easier parking and more nimble handling.

Perhaps the most vital aspect is a markedly lower invoice price. As most SUVs are price-tagged in the £25-£30k territory, being able to lop at least £10,000 from that figure will make a huge difference to the buyers. Yet, both Panda and Ignis have a major task in converting new customers to their respective models. They can be perceived too readily as ‘Mickey Mouse’ wheels…a bit of an automotive joke. However, I can tell you, as will any of their owners, that both models are significantly more capable than some observers believe them to be. The Fiat is acknowledged for its Alpine capabilities and there is hardly a ski resort anywhere in Europe, or the UK, where a Panda does not serve purpose; battered and bruised maybe. The Suzuki is little different.

IMGCramming more equipment (4WD, LED headlamps, hill descent control, 16.0-inch alloy wheels, electric windows, twin-camera lane and obstruction detection, keyless entry and start, sliding/reclining rear seats, sat-nav, cruise control, autonomous braking and mild hybrid engine technology integral to an all-encompassing specification) into the SZ5 AllGrip Ignis is a perfect ‘catchpenny’ marketing approach. Listed presently at a just shy price of £14,500 (which includes the current dealer £1,000 discount offer), in a range that starts at less than £12k (2WD), creates a ‘nolo contendere’ proposition. The Panda is nowhere close in specification.

Within its 3.7m length, 1.69m width and 1.59m height, measurements familiar to owners of the up!/Mii/Citigo class of hatchback, is comfortable and accommodating space for four large adults. Thanks to bags of headroom, occupants sit more upright. Typical of Suzuki, a huge range of both steering column and driver’s seat adjustments means that a two metres tall driver fits readily, while still leaving space in the rear. Its boot area is capped at 204-litres, before folding the 50:50-split rear seats to almost treble the load area. Yet, there is no hint of pinching in either dimensional, or monetary terms and the driving experience is of a significantly larger machine, with deliciously quick and accurate steering, finely balanced ride, handling and grip and first-rate ride quality, despite its puddle-jumper inferences.

IMGThe sweet and willing 1.2-litre Dualjet petrol engine develops a modest 88bhp, accompanied by 88lbs ft of torque, but, in a car tipping the scales at just 920kgs, its mild-hybrid packaging provides stop-start frugality and enough punch to cover the 0-60mph dash in around 10.0s. topping out at around 112mph. It is no hot hatch but it does not have to be and returning up to 59mpg, while emitting just 106g/km ensures that running costs are eminently affordable. While the 5-speed manual gearbox is slick, the 4×4 system works automatically, apportioning engine torque to whichever end of the car needs it, with selectable Grip Control providing extra traction in stickier conditions (sub-18mph). The bias is towards the front but the torque-sensing differential reduces rolling resistance and helps to keep running costs in check.

As suggested earlier, it is the details that do it. The gills on the centre console and the C-pillar hint at Suzuki’s past (as used on the cheeky Whizz-Kid model of the 1980s), as do the black ‘vents’ in the bonnet edges (a Suzuki Vitara signature). Twin banks of rocker switches in the centre console manage the heating and ventilation (upper row) and drive aspects (lower row), while another supplementary bank in the right-hand lower dash manages the safety array. The rolled ‘metal’ door pulls and use of cream coloured lower dash and door cards trim add levity and class. The important aspect is that it is not overcooked and sidesteps the clichés deftly. All of the switches and both column stalks operate crisply and precisely, feeling classier and better assembled than you might expect of a car in this price range.

IMGWith the wheels pushed out to the corners, the blistered wheel-arches lined with protective black trim and a ride height that demands caution, when tackling severe surfaces, you could be forgiven for believing that the Ignis might shy away from more gruelling duties but you would be wrong. Pick the right track by positioning one set of wheels on high ground and this little car provides unerring traction and ground clearance over broken, or slippery surfaces, aided by its incredibly sturdy, rattle resistant construction and remarkable, confidence inspiring stability.

Conclusion:      Despite its sub-compact stance, the Suzuki Ignis is a genuine four-adult hatchback possessing amazing multi-surface, all-season dynamic capabilities and a smile-inducing and affordable ownership package. Now you can venture off the beaten track, in all climate conditions.

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