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The comforting confusion of S-Cross that questions Suzuki’s logic

Suzuki-S-Cross-1
Suzuki-S-Cross

Every car brand should have at least one standout model to act as an umbrella product, or something by which the entire brand gains renown, states Iain Robertson, but Suzuki, as much as he adores the marque for its many worthwhile attributes, had only served to muddy its own waters, even prior to cosying up to Toyota.

Recalling when the previous generation S-Cross was introduced, it was much larger than its forebear, the Fiat-related SX4 (the Fiat version was known cleverly as Sedici…4×4=16) that had arisen from Suzuki’s strategic but failed partnership with General Motors, the US giant having been on the acquisition trail snaffling up unpartnered world brands, including Fiat Group. Where the previous SX4 seemed to fit in the range quite well with Vitara above it in terms of dimensions and price tag, the heavily revised S-Cross, which also carried over the SX4 soubriquet, had not merely expanded somewhat but also appeared to have aspirations above those of Vitara in the burgeoning crossover sector.

Suzuki has always produced surprisingly sturdy and resilient models that have carried a very judicious brand message…careful weight management combined with conservative styling but purposeful engineering. They have also been carefully priced to underscore an industry-wide, much abused ‘value for money’ proposition. The new S-Cross was marginally heavier than the Vitara but seemed to lack its more serious off-road intentions, yet it had a heftier price tag attached, in some ways more in line with its crossover rivals but making the Vitara the apparent bargain in the range offering. Although there is now a new replacement version, the core of the new car is much the same as before, so stick with it for the moment.

Suzuki-S-Cross-2
Suzuki-S-Cross

Notable for its largest in class panoramic sunroof, an enormous, twin glazed, electrically powered aperture provided as much open air value as a convertible, which lent its role ideally as a camera car, when a colleague, Rob Marshall, and me set out to produce an around-Britain drive video for the (then) new model. Yet, as enjoyable as that week-long trek was, the most impressive aspects of the S-Cross resided in its comfortable but unhurried nature and seemingly unburstable 1.6-litre normally-aspirated petrol engine. Every drive felt like I was donning a warm sheepskin jacket and my most comfortable Timberlands but, as good as it was, it lacked any discernible character and was charmingly competent (excellent ride quality, modest running costs and inherent safety), without imbuing a sense of pride. S-Cross was a car to appreciate but not to fall in love with.

The mid-life upgrade introduced the sparkling 1.0-litre triple and utterly cracking 1.4-litre four-cylinder Boosterjet engines to the S-Cross. They were the perfect accompaniment, as meeting up with colleagues on the Fiat 124 launch being held at the same time on the wondrous roads of North Wales would prove. Despite less power and less effective aerodynamics to the Italian Mazda MX-5 sporty number, a back-to-back, on-road performance comparison demonstrated that Suzuki’s 1.4-litre engine was a real gem and its on-limit handling was equally impressive. Although falling into a completely different class, the Fiat was not the better car!

Suzuki’s recent ’emissions-led’ rationalisation of its engine line-up has dropped the brilliant 1.0-litre unit from the much-revised S-Cross, although (thankfully) the 129bhp Boosterjet remains. Unsurprisingly, it is now hooked up to a 48V mild hybrid system, which lowers CO2 emissions (120g/km), raises fuel economy expectations (53.2mpg) and provides a useful, if gentle, low-revs performance boost should the driver require it during overtaking manoeuvres (0-60mph in 9.2s; 118mph top speed). Suzuki has been pushed into partial electrification of its model range, which had already commenced with the previous model’s compact, integrated starter-generator unit. It is pressure that led to the adoption of the Toyota RAV4 as the new Suzuki Across and Derby-built Toyota Corolla estate as the new Suzuki Swace sportswagen, both models being full hybrids, to help Suzuki leapfrog into the midst of pre-2030 electrification.

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Suzuki-S-Cross

However, the latest S-Cross is priced to start at £24,999 in new Motion trim, while the top Ultra version (avoiding confusion, there are only two trim levels) featuring a 6-speed automatic gearbox, 4WD and packed specification (360-degree camera, leather upholstery, sunroof) weighs in at £31,299, which further reinforces the Vitara as the all-action bargain in the line-up, even though its price tag has also been escalated somewhat. Thankfully, the previous generation’s comfortable old shoes interior has been retained, which means that those familiar to the make and model will scarcely notice the differences and will be eminently satisfied. However, the exterior has adopted some of Toyota’s attractive styling elements, such as the more pronounced wheelarch outlines and the corner-to-corner light bar across the rear hatchback.

Conclusion:          While the Toyota-based models clearly have roles to fulfil within Suzuki’s range, I still have difficulty justifying that of the S-Cross. Do not misunderstand me, it is a very competent and spacious family car, providing more than adequate room for the disabled member of the family, with an accommodating boot and a cabin that can also stash a folding wheelchair without much of a problem, but it does seem conspicuously high-priced for such a compact crossover. You might experience some some difficulties convincing the company accountant about its better qualities as a business option.

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Suzuki-S-Cross