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