Review: Suzuki's SX4 S-Cross is a real contender

Suzuki has a problem. Not enough people know it is there. Its UK director Dale Wyatt says that once people are in the showroom it's a reasonably easy conversion to a sale. But first they have to be lured to the showroom. The Japanese brand has been established in Britain since motorbike sales began in the mid 1970s, with cars and light commercials following in 1979. Yet it's still a niche seller, with sales well down the pecking order.

The new-look SX4 S-Cross has got some front, and prices start at an encouraging £14,999 for the one litre SZ4 but then leap to £19,499 for the better equipped SZ-T

Nevertheless, it is bringing good money for dealers and their satisfaction rating for the marque is one of the highest in the industry.

UK sales are up 15 per cent this year on the back of new models like the Celerio and Baleno and next year there will be a new Swift – its core hatchback. Also coming is a sector-first small cross-over called Ignis – a name from Suzuki’s back catalogue.

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It’s probably a surprise to hear that in world terms it is the ninth best-selling car brand, shifting three million last year plus 2.1 million two wheelers. It sold 1.34 million cars in India, where it has a factory and holds almost half the new car market. Its Indian presence is huge, with more than 3,000 dealers servicing a million Suzukis a year. Some are doing 250 a day.

It’s a wow factor which does not translate to the British market, despite a loyal following for the Swift, its Fiesta rival.

But the brand is looking for awareness. The S-Cross reviewed here got its rapid mid-life crisis overhaul after a think-tank session involving head office and dealers like Dale Wyatt. In Britain it has gone on a spending spree to reach new customers. It is spending millions to do this, including an unspecified sum on Facebook videos by Ant and Dec to promote the Vitara.

Which brings us today to Cheshire, where Suzuki was showing off the revised SX4 S-Cross, the contender for the market dominated by Nissan’s Qashqai, Ford’s Kuga and Kia’s fast-selling Sportage, among others.

The message was that the outgoing version, just three years old, was not cutting the mustard. The body lacked “emotional” appeal and as well as more visual clout buyers wanted a higher ride and stance – presumably to look down on others rather than deal with wild terrain.

Well, it has certainly got some front now, with a shining slotted grille which is hard to miss, Jeep meets Dualit. It’s either gross or stunning, depending on which side of the bed you have got out of. The bonnet height is raised, with a new panel profile and lamps and front wings. There’s a new tail lamp design and a smarter fascia, with some softer cladding but still too much crackle black.

The 1.6 petrol engine is dumped, replaced by one litre and 1.4 litre options. Prices rise by £1,000. The one litre direct injection turbo is familiar in the Baleno. It is torquier than the 1.6 petrol, and cleaner. The 1.4 unit comes from the Vitara S and is sold only with the Allgrip 4x4 system which brings in rear wheel drive if needed. Gears are either manual or automatic.

The one litre model has manual or automatic gears, too, plus an Allgrip model with manual gears. The 1.6 diesel continues unchanged, manual gears, with front or Allgrip drive.

Don’t rush past the price entry SZ4. It has air con, 16-inch comfort alloys, cruise control and a speed limiter, DAB, heated mirrors, skid plates. SZ-T piles in with 17-inch wheels, auto lights and wipers, LED projector lamps, powered mirrors with indicators, navigation, rear camera, parking sensors, roof rails, dual zone climate control. SZ5 adds radar brake support, leather, heated front seats, a double sliding clear roof and the 1.4 engine with Allgrip.

Prices start at an encouraging £14,999 for the one litre SZ4 but then leap to £19,499 for the better equipped SZ-T. The six-speed automatic is £20,849 and the Allgrip version is £21,299.

The 1.4 versions have the top SZ5 specification and cost £22,849 with manual gears and £24,199 as automatics. The diesels are SZ-T trim and cost £20,999 or a jolt to £24,349 with Allgrip.

This being a petrol event we tried both engines. The one litre is certainly good enough and an obvious choice but note that the price jump to the 1.4 includes Allgrip and extra equipment. If you want that kit you have to have the 1.4 engine. There are no options – such as navigation with the SZ4. You pick the grade, get what you get. Metallic paint is available for £430 and a spare wheel is £148.

Logically, there’s nothing amiss with the S-Cross. It does what you’d expect in a comfortable manner. There is lots of headroom and luggage space, measuring well against the opposition. Odd, though, that while the cheaper Suzuki has a speed limit display in the navigation screen it was decided not to fit this useful and familiar system on its flagship model.

Verdict: Once missable, now rather shy-making.