Beware of a ‘catchpenny’ trait being exercised by Suzuki GB, warns Iain Robertson, as it entices unwary customers towards a rocky shoreline of its own creation, where ladling-on the tech by way of a new transmission results in ‘Hobson’s Choice’.
Before you read on, I need you to appreciate something. Suzuki used to be the UK’s car value champion, until only recently. Its products have never been ‘cheap’ but they have represented excellent value for money. If you want ‘cheap’, then opt for a new Dacia, the Romanian-built, second-hand Renault line-up, or Chinese-built MG. There is always a market for ‘cheap’, snaffled-up readily by taxi firms and those retail consumers to whom build quality is an impossible status to comprehend, mostly because the motorcar to them is merely a characterless means of getting from Point A to Point B.
Obtaining the right price point is a critical exercise. Having slashed its UK product range by removing all 1.0-litre engines and dropping both Celerio and Baleno models from its line-up, under the excuse of them ‘not meeting future emissions targets’, Suzuki GB is about to fill the gaps with highly expensive rebadged Toyota hybrids and has used the opportunity to hike-up and align the retail prices of the rest. As a result, the ever-so-charming Ignis now starts at one pound under £14k in 1.2-litre mild hybrid SZ3 (5-seat) trim, while, at the other end of the scale, receiving one Pound change from a £17.5k transaction, you can have the choice of either the top-spec SZ5 AllGrip (4-seat), or the subject of this test, the SZ5 CVT (4-seat)…‘Hobson’s’!
As ‘smart’ as a constantly variable transmission is, its notional belt-drive system being electronically controlled to provide six ‘step-off’ points and a set of seven, manually-selectable forward speeds (using a pair of neat paddle shifts), unless driven judiciously, the annoyance of a constantly revving engine, while attempting to make speedy progress, can become overwhelmingly worrying. People buy into compact cars, because they seek frugality. Flooring the throttle pedal in ‘Drive’ setting upsets the applecart, as escalating engine revs equate to a mental fuel sluice.
Yet, against a stated (WLTP) combined fuel economy rating of 51.3mpg, the CVT equipped Ignis returned an excellent 51.8mpg during its week-long stay at Chez Robertson, despite testing the car to bursting point. I should also state categorically that it was only during sustained higher speed testing that the constantly rising engine revs promoted by the CVT became obvious, because the phenomenon was absent during normal driving, the ingenious electronic management system reining-in any raucousness most successfully.
Believe me, when I inform you that the refreshed interior of the latest version of Ignis, despite its distinct lack of higher-end, soft-touch plastic mouldings, verges on Honda quality, which is actually more of a compliment than it might read. The revised steering wheel mounted switchgear and new, hide-wrapped tiller are of excellent tactile quality. In fact, carrying the exterior colour of the test car onto the door grab-handles and the surround of the centre console adds a soupcon of additional interest that relieves the sea of grey. I also like the carbon-fibre(-ish) texture chosen for the circular air-vent nacelles and upper surface of the instrument pod. The white dashboard insert, although its cutaway slot is eminently impractical for carrying anything at all, factors in a playful character.
Accommodation is king within Ignis, its rear sliding pair of seats means that boot space can be augmented, when transporting four adults is not the primary requirement. Otherwise, the picture you see here of the back seats highlights the Tardis-like quality of Ignis, as the driver’s seat is set for a 6feet-6inches tall driver (me!) and another adult behind me does not demand compromise. The driving position is excellent, with plenty of foot space, headroom and shoulder room. If there is one minor criticism it lies in the plain white graphics of the digital aspect of the analogue instrument panel. A wee bit of additional colour would not go amiss, if for no other reason than to raise interest levels a snifter.
The last Ignis I drove, prior to this, was the AllGrip 4×4 version. I mention it, because the new model with CVT not only rides superbly for a ‘puddle-jumper’ but provides a grown-up refinement and unruffled progress of a car at least a step above it. It tackles the UK’s grimmest tarmac imperfections with aplomb, refusing to be jolted off the chosen line, unlike the previous AllGrip experience.
Presenting a genuine optical illusion, it was only when the Ignis was parked alongside my own Vitara model that I appreciated its overall height, which is almost identical. Its neatly clipped tail and curtailed front-end ensure that it is shorter than Vitara and the new ‘five-bar’ grille, which draws Ignis closer in design terms to the other SUVs in Suzuki’s line-up, is neatly executed. The open-spoke design of the alloy wheels (all-black on this model) serve to highlight the small dimensions of the car’s brakes but, fortunately, Ignis’s braking performance is non-faulted.
Sadly, while the 1.0-litre turbo-triple would have been the perfect engine for Ignis, its injected 1.2-litre four-cylinder develops a modest 80bhp, accompanied by 79lbs ft of torque, and ensures that the CVT model is not going to win any land speed records. Despite reaching 110mph indicated, its top speed is stated as 98mph and 0-60mph is said to be 12.1s but it feels more glacial than that. It emits 124g/km CO2, which equates to a first year’s road tax of £165 (£140 thereafter). The enhanced mild-hybrid package aids its stop:start functionality but offers little additional benefit.
Conclusion: Rating new cars by whether or not I could live with them is a good precursor: I could live with Suzuki Ignis, even in CVT guise but, for the money, I would opt for the 5-speed manual, 4WD and greater control over my destiny!