Our tame racing driver helps kicks off Evans's CarFest motor show...
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Suzuki could have built a direct replacement for the SX4. The SX4 might be a forgettable car in many ways, but it was the first of the current epidemic of supermini-sized crossovers, having beaten the Nissan Juke by aeons. But instead, Suzuki realised the really big market isn’t the Juke-sized crossovers, but a size up. So the S-Cross is Qashqai-sized.
In fact, from the side view, it could easily be mistaken for the Qashqai. Which might make it seem a bit stale next year or two when the next-generation Nissan is on the streets. Still, the S-Cross is a well-targeted design. It’s supposed to be not just a rival to the Nissan and Peugeot 3008, but to attract people out of Scenic-sized five-seat MPVs. And a radical design would scare them away.
Before we come to the driving impressions, two facts. First, the S-Cross is by the standards of the class usefully cheap. Suzuki makes competent reliable cars (and in the Swift Sport, one that’s a bundle of fun). Suzuki doesn’t waste time pretending to be ‘semi-premium’ (recall that a Suzuki was Top Gear’s original Reasonably Priced Car). The S-Cross will be about £2000 cheaper than an equivalently powered and equipped Qashqai.
Also, the S-Cross is roomy. This is a class of family cars, but some of them, especially the Nissan, are a bit cramped in the back. No such worries here.
So even if was a donkey to drive, the S-Cross could justify itself as a family hack.
Actually though, it’s not a bad mover. The handling and ride weretested and honed on British roads, by the same people who did the Swift. Although the S-Cross is fairly tall, it doesn’t sway about much, and corners surprisingly tidily.
That means it doesn’t have the plushest ride in the world, but it’s well controlled, taking the sharp edges off bumps and potholes, so you feel at ease with it.
Suzuki has loads of small-4x4 heritage to call on, so there’s a version of the S-Cross with electronically controlled 4WD. It has a selector so you can choose the bias of the front-rear torque split programming. But most people will buy the simple FWD version. That’s fair enough unless they spend a lot of time in the snow or mud. With just 120bhp to dispense, traction on the road is seldom an issue. The 2WD and 4WD versions have the same type of suspension and calibration so they mostly don’t feel different.
But these aren’t cars for belting round. The 0-62 times are near-geologic: from 11 seconds (petrol 2WD) to 13 sec (turbodiesel 4WD). Both versions make do with 120bhp and 1.6 litres. The petrol is naked of a turbo, so you’d think it would feel puny, but actually it’s just - just - game enough for gentle family use, and not too noisy. The diesel, bought from Fiat, is a bit rough-sounding if you listen, but actually decently quiet and usefully torquey. Both engines have strong economy, implying low CO2 and company tax.
By the way, even if we’ve forgotten the original SX4, Suzuki hasn’t. In 2015 it will launch a new supermini-sized crossover. The company’s people promise it’ll have more interesting styling than the first one. (Strange fact: that original, because Fiat also sold it as the Sedici, was actually designed by Giugiaro. On what must have been a particularly dull Friday afternoon in Turin.)