The Suzuki SX4 S-Cross is out to challenge compact crossovers such as the Nissan Dualis and Skoda Yeti.
It’s a successor to the SX4 that has struggled to find the kind of success in the small car segment achieved by the smaller Swift in the city car world.
The SX4 never seemed to be sure whether it wanted to be a higher-riding hatchback or a pint-sized soft-roader, but the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross due locally in December makes a more direct shot at the SUV look.
The S-Cross is longer and wider than the outgoing SX4, sitting on an all-new platform.
Off-roader design cues for all models include plastic underbody protection, while the SZ4 trim grade we tested in the UK featured scuff plates and roof rails.
Some styling inspiration does seem to have been drawn by rivals as the overall look is handsome but rather generic. There’s a hint of the Dualis at the back, for example.
As with the old SX4, all-wheel drive is offered, though entry models power only the front wheels.
Inside, you’ll find plenty of switches, buttons and dials familiar from the Swift. That means the dash layout is unfussy and parts well made, though some of the plastics feel a tad cheap.
The multifunction steering wheel and gearlever have a quality feel, though.
The cabin feels quite narrow but there’s plenty of legroom in the back seat thanks to a 100mm extension to the wheelbase. The panoramic sunroof fitted to our test car, though, did rob some head space, though Suzuki says the standard car is likely to be better at carrying passengers in the back.
Back up front, good visibility is afforded by a high driving position and tall windscreen and the seats are firm but comfortable.
Stepped seat adjustment means it takes longer to find the perfect driving position but the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and height.
Suzuki is keen to point out that the new SX4 has been designed for buyers who need something bigger than a hatch, and this is where the Suzuki scores points over its rivals.
The standard boot offers a generous 430 litres – 20 litres more than the Dualis and 14 more than the Yeti – and features a false floor that be used to store hidden items and to create a flat loading area. Or it can be simply removed.
Power comes from a choice of 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engines. Both produce 88kW though the Fiat-sourced diesel more than double the torque – 320Nm versus the petrol’s 156Nm.
That makes the diesel the better choice despite being a bit grumbly on start-up and under heavy acceleration. It pulls strongly in-gear from just 1500rpm and makes the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross diesel 2WD the more capable, relaxing cruiser.
CO2 emissions are also only 110 grams per kilometre.
The petrol is teamed with either a five-speed manual or a CVT auto but it feels strained and often underpowered when driving up steep hills or when the vehicle is loaded with passengers.
All the major controls feel nicely weighted. The steering is light but pleasingly accurate, and the six-speed manual gearbox has a slick, precise action.
And the handling is very tidy for a vehicle in this class. Throw the Suzuki SX4 hard into corners and even this front-wheel-drive model provides a high level of grip and little in the way of body roll.
There’s not so many positives for the ride, however. For a family vehicle, it feels rather firm. It settles down at high speeds but could prove tiring in town with low-speed bumps thudding through the cabin. Bigger crests can bounce you around, too.
Opt for a four-wheel-drive Suzuki SX4 and there are four different driving modes to help deal with tricky conditions. Leave it in Auto and the system defaults to front drive to help save fuel.
Switch to Sport and the throttle response is improved and torque can be sent to the rear wheels if required. The Snow and Lock settings are for more serious off-raoding.
However, the SX4 S-Cross doesn’t have the best ground clearance, so a Skoda Yeti is actually better suited to driving in mud.
Suzuki Australia will reveal specifications for local models closer to its launch.
In the UK, the entry-level Suzuki SX4 S-Cross SZ3 comes with alloy wheels, electric windows and cruise control.
The mid-range SZ4 we tested included 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, climate control, Bluetooth, and keyless entry and start.
Top-spec versions get heated leather seats, a huge sliding panoramic roof and upgraded auto headlights.
Crossover buyers have a wide range of demands, and the new Suzuki SX4 S-Cross will hold a lot of appeal for those who value practicality, low running costs and a generous standard spec.
The firm ride could deter some family drivers, but the pay-off is tidy handling.
But if the SX4 replicates its UK pricing positioning in Australia, especially 4x4 versions, Suzuki could be onto a hit.