Ten years ago a visit to your neighbourhood Suzuki dealer promised as much excitement as doing three years worth of tax returns.
But, like a few other Japanese brands of late – Honda comes immediately to mind – humble little Suzuki has suddenly pulled its finger out.
While always known for honing reliable, practical and sometimes highly capable cars, the Japanese player has at best only flirted with being anything approaching cool.
There are exceptions, of course: the go-anywhere Sierra that shamed many more-macho 4x4s in its time, the sprightly Swift GTI, and the short-lived Kizashi sedan come to mind.
But now it seems the company can do little wrong, despite its automotive division operating on a budget approximating the proverbial shoestring – one reason why it had a since-axed partnership with Volkswagen under way for a while there.
On the one hand you have its new offerings, principally the high-riding and retro-styled Ignis hatch, the well-received Vitara small crossover and the brand new Swift that manages to tow the stylistic line between sweet and saccharine.
All of these blend funky exterior design with modern in-car technology, feather-like kerb weights that squeeze the most from modest engines, and universally fun handling characteristics.
On the other hand you have a few aged models well-overdue for updates, principally the Grand Vitara and Jimny. Yet, ironically enough, it’s the outdated design of these cars that has brought them full-circle.
The market’s shift to more car-like SUVs means the proper old school off-road capable GV and Jimny are now unique, both being throwbacks to a time when any SUV actually needed genuine toughness and agility.
The argument I’m prosecuting here may seem flimsy, but the simple fact is Suzuki is offering compelling brand stories in an increasingly anodyne automotive landscape – some thanks to savvy investments, some thanks to scarce resources yielding outdated models that stand apart precisely for this reason.
I’d also argue that the future looks good. The next Grand Vitara will become a monocoque soft-roader like the Vitara to take on the Nissan X-Trail and co, but the company suggests its next Jimny (due inside two years hopefully) will keep a body-on-frame design and proper low-range gearing.
Moreover, the excellent new Swift range will be topped-off by the MY18 Swift Sport next year, almost certainly with the Vitara’s strong little 1.4 turbo engine, making it quite the little warm hatch.
If Suzuki Australia can find a way to keep its prices sharp – tough, given its cars are all cheap, small and have low margins that can’t be offset by bigger offerings – it’ll enjoy sustained success in Australia.
Moreover, as an industry analyst who’s lucky enough to live and breathe automotive, there’s a brand story building that’s unique. Western Bulldogs, Cronulla Sharks, Leicester City, Suzuki… long live the underdog.