The Suzuki Ignis is back from the dead after a decade-long absence, the latest in the brand’s growing line of reborn '90s nameplates including the Vitara and Baleno. Moreover, it's affixed to one of the most intrinsically likeable cars you can buy.
Like the old version – which in retrospect was ahead of its time and was more or less the same size – the 2017 Ignis is a tiny urban runabout with the stance and space of a small crossover. Indeed, Suzuki wants you to consider it the market's first true 'light SUV'.
Notwithstanding the veracity of this claim, which we'll explore later, what you can't deny is the Ignis' edgy retro design (google 'SS20 Suzuki Cervo') that makes the brand's much cheaper Celerio look a right snooze-fest. The reborn Ignis has already attracted its share of admirers around the office, but is there any substance behind the style?
Launched this week in Australia, the revived Ignis has a starting price of $15,990 for the base GL manual (or $16,990 drive-away), a few grand more than a Kia Picanto but with much more equipment and space, and ballpark with a larger entry-level Honda Jazz or Mazda 2 fitted with less gear.
We mention the Picanto, and the Holden Spark for that matter, because the Ignis is about the same size – 3.7 metres long, 1.7m wide, 1.6m high atop a wheelbase a shade longer than 2.4m. But the trump card is the 180mm ground clearance, 25mm higher than a Mazda CX-3’s, and its high hip point and driving position that makes it a pseudo crossover.
Under the bonnet is a microscopic 1.2-litre four-cylinder normally aspirated petrol engine with 66kW of power at 6000rpm and 120Nm of torque at 4400rpm. The Baleno's brilliant 82kW/160Nm three-pot turbo engine isn't here on account of costs, but don't rule it out for a future iteration...
On a side note, unlike the Indian-made Baleno, the Ignis is made in Japan. One reason why Japanese symbols are all over the marketing for the car.
The drivetrain might be modest, but counting in the Ignis’ favour is the brand-trademark light kerb weight, which tops out at just 865kg and is 820kg on the base car, less even than an old Alto that had less of pretty much everything. Suzuki's new global platform has proven very effective at cutting kilos.
This makes the power-to-weight ratio perfectly reasonable, better in fact that a Swift, and ensures adequate pickup around town and an ability to cruise along at 100km/h revving at around 2000rpm. These duties are what the Ignis is designed for.
This light weight also means the small brakes (drums at the rear) work just fine, and also keeps the factory claimed fuel use to 4.9L/100km on the combined cycle, at worst. We averaged 6.5L/100km on a mixed route, promising a range nearing 500km.
Despite the crossover design, all Ignis’ sold here are front-wheel drive, though an AWD model is expected to arrive by the end of the year if the dealers report enough demand. The base GL's engine is fitted to a five-speed manual gearbox or, for an extra $1000, a continuously variable auto (CVT). The CVT is standard in the flagship GLX.
We didn't get a chance to drive the manual on the launch, though we suspect it'd wring the best from the engine. The CVT keeps the powertrain bubbling along in its sweet spot, but the trade-off is the strained note typical of this type of transmission, despite the stepped ratios. There’s a ‘sport’ mode that keeps engine speeds higher, but a performance car this is not.
The Suzuki’s rack-and-pinion steering is quick from centre but also a touch too resistant (or heavy) at low speeds, and the lack of telescopic column adjustment means some may struggle to find an optimal driving position. There’s also some rack rattle and vibrations through the wheel over sharp hits, something uncommon on electric-assisted systems.
Dynamically, the nippy Ignis is at its happiest around town, where the meagre engine, excellent high seat and great outward visibility come to the fore. Its tiny overhangs and 9.4 metre turning circle make it a breeze to park and tuck into gaps, while the 180mm clearance means you won’t scrape the undercarriage or bumpers easily.
The suspension comprises a MacPherson strut arrangement up front and a simple torsion beam at the rear. The little Ignis recovers well and isolates the cabin from ruts and cobbles easily enough, though it feels unsettled over sharper hits such as speed bumps. Softer springs with better damper compression would fix this, we suspect.
Outside of town, that high roof and narrow track – alongside the economy-focussed Bridgestone Ecopia tyres – mean the Ignis’ body leans in quicker corners, and there's also some buffering in crosswinds. The Australian-tuned Spark eats the Suzuki alive beyond the urban jungle, and is quieter to boot. But in town, you frankly won't care.
Beyond the dynamics, the Ignis' cabin really impresses. First, the splashes of contrasting colour, modern tablet-style screen and chunky switches look distinctive and modern, while the design gives you plenty of headroom and an airy feel. The plastics are hard but the build quality is typically Japanese, meaning bulletproof.
Perhaps best of all are the customisable colours. Your dealer can clip on contrasting trims throughout the cabin, and outside the car on the grille surround, mirrors and fog-lights, for a few hundred bucks all up (pricing not revealed yet). This philosophy mirrors the Vitara, and it's a great way for owners to keep their car interesting as the years roll by.
Cabin space is strong for the class, with a surprising amount of rear headroom and legroom for such a tiny car thanks to the tall roof, and luggage capacity of 270 litres (up to 1100L with the seats folded). There's a space-saver spare wheel under the loading floor.
There's also an excellent list of standard equipment. Read the full detailed Ignis pricing and specs news story here.
The base $15,990 GL ($16,990 drive-away) gets 15-inch steel wheels, a leather steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, a trip computer, electric windows, cruise control/speed limiter, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB/12V inputs, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite-navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring and rear-view camera.
The Ignis GL also gets ISOFIX child-seat anchors in the rear and six airbags, including curtains for rear occupants, though we'd like to see AEB. A CVT automatic can be optioned for $1000, taking the price to $17,990. This is pricier than like-size rivals and sits around Mazda 2/Honda Jazz money, but the list of equipment in the Suzuki is stronger.
The better-equipped Ignis GLX costs $18,990 ($19,990 drive-away) and gets the CVT as standard. It also adds extra features including 16-inch alloy wheels, cool LED daytime running lights, climate control, extra body chrome, tinted rear privacy glass and push-button start.
The GLX also gets clever 50/50 split-folding rear seats that can slide and recline, giving the Ignis cabin practicality rivalled only by the Honda Jazz. Oddly though, the GLX is only a four-seater, with two rear headrests and seat belts. The GL has 60/40 folding fixed rear seats and technically space for three, admittedly tiny, occupants.
As good as those folding rear seats are, we'd be perfectly happy with the $16,990 GL. You get the same excellent infotainment, safety equipment, a similar funky design and rear seats that still fold flat in a pinch. Plus who cares if you scratch the hubcaps!
From an ownership perspective, Suzuki's three-year/100,000km warranty doesn't compare to rivals like Kia's seven-year/unlimited term, though the Ignis' Japanese build and old-tech engine means it should be very reliable. The service intervals are a meagre six-months/10,000km.
On first impression, the Suzuki Ignis does a lot of things very well. It's a little pricier than you might think, but it offers great infotainment, a cool and flexible cabin, crossover-style ground clearance and an edgy design in a range of bright colours that'll turn more heads than a Fiat 500.
On the down side, it feels fractionally less dynamically resolved than a Mazda 2 and offers less cabin space than an entry Honda Jazz. There's also a brand new Kia Picanto due in just a few months, which looks the goods. All this means that base $16k price might be a hard sell, but if you dig deeper you'll be satisfied.
What's more important, the heart or the head? It's difficult to walk towards the Ignis without a smile. City cars are supposed to be bold and brash, and Suzuki has delivered on that, in a tastefully retro way. Is it a light SUV or a micro/light car? Who really cares.
We suspect the edginess and character will be enough for a lot of buyers (Suzuki wants 400 a month here) and thankfully the 2017 Ignis is a laudable little trier that brings some cool to the urban jungle. Perfectly resolved? No. But we quite like it, all the same.