Car Review: Suzuki S-Cross is a gentle, green giant

Largest model in Suzuki's current line-up is roomy, well-equipped and surprisingly frugal

Among the Japanese marques in Singapore, no brand is as well known for its superminis as Suzuki.

The mere mention of the carmaker's brand immediately conjures up images of the popular Swift hatchback and its hotter sibling, the Swift Sport.

Less well received, on the other hand, are Suzuki's larger offerings - the Kizashi mid-size saloon and the Grand Vitara sport-utility vehicle (SUV).

The Kizashi, for all its performance and handling merits, remains a rare sight on our roads. Meanwhile, the Grand Vitara has been quietly removed from the stable of official agent Champion Motors.

To be fair, the main stumbling block to Kizashi buyers is the saloon's lack of smaller engine options - the sole powerplant available is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder.

As for the Grand Vitara, it is getting on in years - the current third-generation model was introduced in 2005 and, aside from an update in 2008, has essentially remained unchanged.

Suzuki is hoping to bolster its line-up and fill the void left by the Grand Vitara with the S-Cross, its contender in the hotly contested compact-crossover segment.

Although this model is known overseas as the SX4 S-Cross, it is being marketed here as the S-Cross (despite the SX4 badge on the tailgate).

According to the local dealer, this is to distinguish the S-Cross as a new model, not a successor to the SX4 hatchback.

Indeed, the exterior design of the S-Cross does not resemble that of any Suzuki model. Its most striking feature is its front end, which has a pair of headlights so massive that they dwarf the relatively small grille.

Although most buyers are unlikely to take their S-Cross off-road, Suzuki designers nevertheless decided to give the car a rugged image by wrapping the lower part of the bodywork in unpainted plastic mouldings.

The S-Cross' character as a "softie" rather than a "toughie" is more evident in the cabin. The seats are plush and the dashboard surfaces are softer than expected. There is even some semblance of the Swift inside because of the identical steering wheel and similar-looking gauges.

The S-Cross tested is the entry-level front-drive variant (a range-topping all- wheel-drive variant is also available), but you would not be able to tell because of the equipment.

Standard amenities include cruise control, seven airbags and dual climate zones for the air-conditioning.

There is also a useful hill-hold function which stops the vehicle from rolling backwards on a slope when the driver releases the brake pedal.

The S-Cross comes up short, though, when it comes to rear accommodation. Although the car's 2,600mm wheelbase makes for more than adequate legroom, the short rear seatbacks make it less comfortable for occupants who are taller than 1.7m.

And instead of proper doorbins, they get only bottle-shaped cubbyholes. Fortunately, there are still pockets behind the front seats for loose items.

While the seats are not as comfortable as expected, the ride quality certainly is. The S-Cross' rear suspension, despite being a mere torsion beam set-up, lets it glide over potholes.

But the comfort-biased ride means handling takes a backseat. If you are in the habit of chucking cars into corners with gusto, your passengers are likely to become very cross because the S-Cross does lean substantially.

This is strange, considering that the vehicle is made in Europe (Hungary, to be exact), as cars tuned for European roads usually have stiffer dampening.

If the cushy ride does not convince you to take it easy behind the wheel, then the powertrain certainly will. With the normally aspirated 1.6-litre unit delivering a modest 115bhp and 151Nm, it takes more than 12 seconds for the S-Cross to accomplish the century dash.

You are likely to be left behind by a family saloon being driven by a daddy (or mummy) in a hurry.

The good news, however, is that the S-Cross is efficient. With a gentle right foot, I managed to coax this crossover to a decent average of 8.8 litres per 100km in mixed conditions.

That is not too shabby, since I initially expected my consumption to be at least double that of Suzuki's claimed 5.8 litres per 100km average.

Undoubtedly, helping the car achieve this decent mileage is its continuously variable transmission (CVT). Like the engine it is paired with, it enjoys only gentle inputs - nailing the throttle or utilising the manual override function results in a droning sound and "rubber band" feel.

For equally laid-back drivers in search of an entry-level crossover that is well-equipped and as fuel-efficient as a compact hatchback, they will not go wrong with Suzuki's gentle green giant.

stlife@sph.com.sg

Jeremy Chua writes for Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.