Cheap’s crossed off list
Suzuki abandons bargain basement with a slick $30K city-focused SUV
SUZUKI’S S-Cross baby crossover is no longer a bargain basement proposition. The maker has dumped the cheapest version of the S-Cross and replaced it with a much more expensive, turbocharged model presented as an alternative to its Vitara small SUV.
The S-Cross used to be priced from $22,990 drive-away but the new model will start from $28,990 drive-away. A better equipped version will cost $30,990.
That’s a big leap but Suzuki managing director Andrew Moore says the move is designed to attract older, more conservative buyers who want more equipment and aren’t sold on the more rugged SUV styling of the Vitara.
The new S-Cross has had a visual makeover, with a bolder front grille, new alloy wheels and updated touchscreen infotainment set-up.
Gone are the 1.6-litre engine and continuously variable transmission, replaced by the 1.4-litre turbo and standard sixspeed auto from the Vitara.
All-wheel-drive is no longer an option and Moore says the new S-Cross is more car-like.
“About 95 per cent of our sales were two-wheel-drives,” he says.
Sales have tailed off badly in recent years but Moore believes the S-Cross can sell 150-200 a month, supplementing the Vitara’s tally of 500-600.
Competitors include the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, which are both more cityfocused than the Vitara.
Standard equipment on the S-Cross Turbo includes satnav, Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto), seven airbags, cruise control, reversing camera and 17-inch alloys.
The Turbo Prestige model adds keyless entry and start, rear parking sensors, partial leather seats and LED headlights.
Once you get past the inyour-face new grille and the smattering of hard plastics in the cabin, the updated S-Cross is not without its charms.
The new touchscreen is more modern-looking and the dials are clear and easy to read. Standard satnav puts it on par with the more expensive versions of the CX-3 and HR-V, while you can mirror your smartphone menu on the big screen — if you have an iPhone.
In a major oversight, the Suzuki doesn’t have the same function for Android users, despite the fact they are in the majority in Australia.
A digital speedo, rear air vents and automatic emergency braking are other notable omissions, although they are balanced by the leather seats and the generous head and legroom in the rear pews. Also welcome is a big rear load area with a handy 12V outlet and false floor for keeping valuables out of sight.
ON THE ROAD
The S-Cross is fun on the open road. It’s a lightweight with a reasonably low centre of gravity for this type of vehicle, which means it feels agile through the corners.
The fun factor is helped by direct and accurate steering and good grip from the Continental tyres. The suspension is generally well controlled over bumps and ripples, although the ride can be jarring at times, depending on the surface.
Less-than-perfect back roads generate a fair bit of road and suspension noise.
The 1.4-litre turbo performs above the class average, with good response off the mark and strong mid-range for overtaking. On the freeway it feels more relaxed than many rivals, lumbering along quietly at low revs.
Around town, there is some vibration on low throttle, as the six-speed transmission holds on to lower gears for better fuel economy. The auto can also be a little jerky at times but in general performance is aboveaverage for the class.
It’s thrifty too. We achieved 5.5L/100km on the freeway and about 10.0L in heavy city traffic.
At first glance, Suzuki’s decision to drop its cheapest model and chase the top end of the mainstream baby SUV market seems a gamble.
But even at $30,000, the Suzuki has its pluses — aboveaverage performance, stable road manners, generous equipment list and big, roomy cabin. It’s well worth shopping against the segment leaders.