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As far as small SUVs go, the Suzuki S-Cross is by no means a popular model. But that perhaps has more to do with Suzuki’s brand recognition in this segment than the merits of the vehicle itself.
As the 12th most popular small SUV in Australia (in a class of 19 entrants), the S-Cross is a rare sight at the best of times. Yet it remains a well engineered and commendably-built soft-roader that can easily hold its own against more popular rivals.
Firstly, it’s an SUV that is a lot more than just a small car on stilts. Unlike its main rivals, the S-Cross is a white-sheet engineered crossover that shares almost none of its chassis underpinnings with other Suzuki models.
Our test vehicle was the $32,990 Suzuki S-Cross GLX AWD with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Powering the entire range is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine capable of 86kW of power and 156Nm of torque, but a diesel is expected in 2015.
Its power outputs don't appear much on paper, but considering the S-Cross weighs from 1085 kilograms for the manual 2WD to 1185kg for top-spec AWD CVT, it doesn’t suffer too much in the performance stakes.
If you’re wondering, the S-Cross can dash from 0-100km/h in 11.0 seconds when coupled to a manual gearbox, with an additional 1.4 seconds required with the gear-less automatic transmission.
Over a long drive from Brisbane out to Toowoomba and back we found the S-Cross to be a comfortable cruiser, even if the whine from the transmission could get a tad annoying when the engine is hard at work.
Going up the hills leading into Toowoomba we found the little Suzuki working hard to get the job done, but never struggling to maintain the posted speed limit.
Suzuki says the S-Cross will sip just 6.2 litres of regular unleaded fuel per 100 kilometres and even though we conquered plenty of hills and city driving, our test vehicle still managed a reasonable 7.1L/100km over our week-long test.
Its driving dynamics are among the best in the segment, with sharp turn-ins and a confidence-inspiring ability to tackle bends and corners at the limit. Leave it in Sport mode and the car will work out the optimal balance of grunt distribution to the front and rear wheels, while the ‘Lock’ mode will help you get out of any sticky situation.
Though it’s by no means a proper off-roader, it can easily handle the beach or even shallow mud.
Despites its excellent dynamic handling, ride comfort can be a little on the hard side and if you do happen to frequent poorly surfaced roads, it really does need passengers in the rear to settle it down.
Inside is a bit different, with the cabin showcasing well-finished and textured soft-touch panel strip across the dashboard. Supportive and spacious seats both front and rear make it a pleasant place to be. The super easy and visible ISOFIX child-seat anchor points put the likes of even safety-king Volvo to shame, and make installing a just-approved ISOFIX child seat a very basic task.
In saying all that, there’s no real interior standout feature to differentiate it from its competitors.
Well, that’s until you realise the 6.1-inch infotainment system is remarkably good. Though it may not look exceptional from the outside, the voice command controls are better than some cars more than triple its price. We could easily ask it to call a person, navigate to a particular street, play a particular song or change the radio station and it would understand first time, every time.
Unfortunately its lack of proper dash integration does tend to cheapen the cabin somewhat, but we can forgive it as the design sacrifice was made to have a newer media unit equipped rather than something which is already outdated before it even lands in Australia.
The boot will take a reasonable 440 litres of luggage, more than enough for a large pram and the week’s groceries, but with the rear seats flipped and folded, that can extend to an Ikea-loving 875L.
It’s worth mentioning the S-Cross does get a fair share of kit, particularly in this pricey GLX variant. Features such as cruise control, an infotainment system with full Bluetooth functionality, seven speakers and GPS navigation, partial leather seats, reverse-view camera, USB sockets, parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels are standard, as is dual-zone climate control and automatic wipers.
It is let down a little by its ownership offering, with its capped-price servicing arrangement requiring the car be maintained every six months or 10,000km over a five-year/100,000km period, with an average cost of $516 per annum. As with all Suzukis, it has a three-year or 100,000km warranty.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Suzuki S-Cross if you’re after an efficient and technologically-advanced small SUV. However it faces a busy sector of competitors such as the slightly-larger and ageing Mitsubishi ASX and the more comparable Peugeot 2008 and Holden Trax, Skoda Yeti and comparison-test-winning Nissan Qashqai.
Unless you intend to take the S Cross off-road, it’s probably best to go for the base model front-wheel drive model, which starts at just $22,990 in manual guise ($25,490 for automatic).
Read our Small SUV Comparison.