Suzuki’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Nis­san’s Qashqai pays off, says Neil Lyn­don

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Motoring -

The name of Nis­san’s Qashqai came up so of­ten at the re­cent launch of Suzuki’s SX4 S-Cross that an un­in­formed ob­server might have won­dered which car Suzuki was try­ing to sell. The Qashqai was “the bench­mark”, it said. Not only was the Qashqai the mar­ket leader, it was the one that had opened the “cross­over” niche – the 4WD with SUV char­ac­ter­is­tics, which also had fam­ily-car ca­pa­bil­i­ties – into which the en­tire car in­dus­try was now try­ing to pour its prod­ucts. Prices for the SX4 S-Cross had been care­fully cal­cu­lated to un­der­cut the Qashqai. And so on. And on. When we set eyes on this new Suzuki, it was also im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous whose lead the de­sign­ers of the S-Cross had been fol­low­ing. “I wouldn’t have found it at all hard to be­lieve,” said one mo­tor­ing sage, “if you had told me we were look­ing at the new Qashqai.” Im­i­ta­tion may be the com­mon coin of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, but self-abase­ment is rare in­deed. Suzuki’s “We are not wor­thy” mod­esty was so un­usual that one felt like pat­ting it on the back and say­ing, “Cheer up: the Qashqai is not so strato­spher­i­cally good. And you’re not so bad your­selves.” One part of Suzuki’s dif­fi­culty in sell­ing cars is, as it ac­knowl­edged, the fact that few peo­ple re­alise that it makes cars. “Peo­ple as­so­ciate our name with mo­tor­bikes,” said a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive. “Yet 60 per cent of peo­ple who take a test drive in a Suzuki car go on to buy one.” This is en­tirely be­liev­able. Ja­pan’s Suzuki may not be up there at the top of the bon­sai tree for qual­ity and en­gi­neer­ing ex­cel­lence along with Honda and Toy­ota, but it is ap­pre­cia­bly more soundly en­gi­neered and screwed to­gether than some Euro­pean brands that swank around with far snootier rep­u­ta­tions. Like­wise, Suzukis may not equal the easyJet at­trac­tions of Da­cias, but their prices will stand com­par­i­son with brands such as Skoda and Kia, which have traded for years on a rep­u­ta­tion for cheap­ness but whose prices are now de­cid­edly edg­ing away from the Ryanair bot­tom of the bucket. The £14,999 low­est price for a two-wheel drive SX4 S-Cross is cheaper by more than £100 than the cheap­est Skoda Yeti and by more than £2,000 com­pared with the cheap­est Kia Sportage. Mean­while, Suzuki has now caught up with the rest of the in­dus­try in of­fer­ing such stan­dard ad­dons as DAB ra­dio, Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, panoramic sun­roof and the like. The SX4 S-Cross’s bleak in­te­rior may be as ex­pres­sion­less as the mask of an ac­tor in a Ja­panese Noh play, but the 1.6-litre diesel or petrol en­gines in the cars we tested were full of zip and – with the petrol ver­sion re­turn­ing an aver­age of more than 55mpg – eco­nom­i­cal with fuel to an un­prece­dented de­gree. Never be­fore on a launch have I known a car to ac­tu­ally achieve a fig­ure for con­sump­tion that was close to the one be­ing op­ti­misti­cally claimed by the man­u­fac­turer. Suzuki’s engi­neers have de­vised an in­ge­nious all­wheel-drive sys­tem they call All­grip with set­tings for Lock, Snow and Sport, which can be se­lected through con­trols mounted on the cen­tre con­sole. In its de­fault Auto set­ting, the sys­tem usu­ally op­er­ates in two-wheel drive, but it will in­stan­ta­neously switch to 4WD when­ever it de­tects a wheel spin­ning. A CVT (con­tin­u­ous vari­able trans­mis­sion) ver­sion is avail­able among the more ex­pen­sive op­tions for the SX4 S-Cross. This is yet an­other re­spect in which this car fol­lows faith­fully in the foot­steps of Nis­san’s Qashqai. How­ever, we were de­ter­mined not to rest un­til we had pinned down a dif­fer­ence; and we un­earthed it fi­nally in the boot. Here we found that the SX4 S-Cross of­fers 20 litres more load ca­pac­ity than Nis­san’s Qashqai’s. At last, we’d found some­thing for Suzuki to boast about. This will show Nis­san who’s boss. Go on, Suzuki: put the boot in.

Mod­est start: the Suzuki SX4 is a strong cross­over con­tender

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