It's the happiest looking car on the market, but does the entry-grade Suzuki Ignis still have enough to make it a real city-car character?
There’s a really handy word to describe the overall nature of the 2017 Suzuki Ignis GL, anthropomorphism.
Okay, so ‘handy’ is a stretch, but it helps tell the story, so hang in there.
Defined simply as the attribution of human characteristics to an otherwise inanimate object, it is the Scrabble winning, Tinder-date impressing way of saying the little 'Zuke has a cheery face and features that give it a character beyond its 865kg mass of metal, glass, rubber and plastic.
The fact the happy-panda face can’t make you stay mad at the goofy hatchback has plenty to do with it, but so has the groovy anti-establishment packaging, impressive value and just downright fun nature of the tiny machine.
A wraparound glasshouse, thick, straked C-pillar, a wheel at each corner, and a width of just 1.66m, the Ignis looks like a motorcycle helmet for a head only marginally bigger than your own.
The narrow track, narrower turret and 1600mm height make the Ignis look tall. It has an 180mm ground clearance, higher than the long-term Toyota RAV4 we just returned, making the Suzuki somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of categorisation.
In a sense, it is the poster child for what a ‘crossover’ should be. Part SUV, part hatchback, part panda.
Suzuki claims to have added design cues from many classic and iconic models from the brand’s 60-odd years of car production, but even without these heritage nods, the Ignis is an exercise in youthful and vibrant design.
Helped in no small part by the fact you can customise the car with a selection of coloured trim ‘mascara’ components, limited only by taste, to help make your Ignis stand out from the crowd even more than it already does.
Priced from $15,990 (before options and on-road costs) as a manual, add $1000 more for the CVT in our car, the GL undercuts its big brother GLX by $2000 (GLX is exclusively available with a CVT).
For that, you miss the funky LED running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, a pair of speakers (six in the GLX and four in the GL), digital climate control (you do get air conditioning, though), auto headlamps, keyless start and sliding rear bench seat.
The chrome strips around the bonnet and fog lamp bezels have gone too, and even in our optional ($500) Flame Orange (one of five choices, which can each be augmented by a $1000 two-tone option), the GL does look a little bit plain. Still lovable, sure, but more the Kung Fu Panda toy you win at a Moomba sideshow, than the licenced Dreamworks plush doll – if we’re still on the anthropomorphism wagon, that is.
For mine, the jump to the GLX is worth it (although, it would be even better as a manual), if only for those LED running lamps.
The GL isn’t totally left out in the cold, though.
You still score the seven-inch touch screen with native navigation functionality and support for Apple and Android mobile device projection, plus the running gear is identical.
The 1.2-litre 66kW/120Nm Dualjet petrol engine isn’t the rortiest thing out there, but it gives the Ignis enough sprite for zippy urban running.
You need to rev it out to get the most amount of performance, power doesn’t peak until 6000rpm, but for traffic that tends to be moving at or below 40km/h, there’s enough low down response, despite peak torque not arriving until 4400rpm, to keep things moving along.
It holds speed well, so once you are up to 80 or even 100km/h, the Ignis buzzes along quite happily.
Until you get to a hill that is. Even trying to zip ahead of traffic up Punt Road is like trying to scale Everest.
We’d love to see a sportier version, with perhaps the 1.0-litre turbocharged Boosterjet engine from the Baleno, if only for its broader torque band from 1500rpm.
That might even help efficiency, as you won't be so tempted to run the little 'Zuke’s tacho around the clock.
As it is, the Twinjet in the Ignis is claimed at 4.9L/100km, but we were expecting less given the size and output of the car. Our week of running about saw consumption range between 6 and 7L/100km. Not bad, but not great.
The CVT gearbox again isn’t the most engaging transmission, making a choice for the GL a better one with a manual, but it is only when you are trying to over-drive it, pushing your fuel consumption up, that it feels underwhelming.
Potter around like a millennial on their way to a silent rave (it’s a thing, really), and things tend to work a lot more cohesively.
Leave everything in its standard ‘drive’ setting and the shifts are quite well timed and smooth. There is a gear-holding ‘sport’ function that really doesn’t do much more than insisting the engine keep revving, so we suggest you forget it's there and just go with the flow.
You can take your friends to that Beats-wearing shuffle-show too, as the Ignis is positively cavernous inside.
The narrow body and high roofline make it most comfortable as a four-seater, despite the inclusion of five seatbelts.
Even without the sliding and reclining back seats from the GLX, there is ample room for two tall adults back there, as well as space for spare selfie sticks in the 271-litre boot. You can fold the seats 60:40 to expand the cargo area to just over 1100 litres, although there is no flat floor for longer items.
It’s all pretty simple back there, though, with just bottle holders in the doors for the rear passengers, and just a flip-out cargo hook in the boot.
Up front, and the clever use of hard-wearing ‘esky lid’ plastics and even some fake carbon fibre, keep the fun theme of the Ignis ticking along, despite the obvious cost-saving nature of materials.
It all works, though, as anchored by the seven-inch media display, the dashboard is just the right mix of simple form and function.
The multimedia software is the same as found in the larger Vitara SUV and has native navigation support as well as the ability to run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto projections. Many other manufacturers who don’t offer such systems in even higher ticket price cars should take note.
One of the most convenient features of this unit is the ability to switch from CarPlay back to the native system quite quickly. This makes it easy to jump from a mobile maps navigation waypoint to change the radio station and flip back again. Many other projection implementations take an all-or-nothing approach, which can become quite frustrating.
A simple instrument cluster, basic switchgear, and support for the most commonly usable tech makes the Ignis feel much more funky than cheap. Like the outside, you can customise some trim elements in a range of colours, a further step towards giving the Suzuki its own personality.
It’s fun to be in, and judging by the reaction from passers-by, it’s fun to see out and about.
The diminutive size makes the Ignis fit where many other cars won't, zipping from gap to gap in a cheery, orange motorcycle helmet with wheels type way.
You find that you’ll turn to make a sharp corner or u-turn and be able to not only make your move but still have steering lock to spare.
Speed humps and other urban imperfections are dealt with easily, the extra compliance in the suspension a welcome addition over many small cars. Keep the pace in check, though, as once you try to outfox an advisory speed sign over a bump, or aim for too many sharper, man-made edges, and the light Ignis will feel and translate the hit as a solid thump into the cabin.
Owning your Ignis is a manageable experience too, with service intervals every six months or 10,000km costing $175, and a larger $359 for each two-year anniversary.
Worth noting, though, is the Ignis only achieved a three-star EuroNCAP test score, when tested as a basic offering in Europe. It received five stars with the full, optional, safety package fitted. The Australian car is offered as standard with six airbags but has no AEB or other preventative technology, so we'll keep you posted on the ANCAP when it is tested for the Australian market.
The 2017 Suzuki Ignis GL is a car with character beyond its price tag and top-line outputs. For a modern, clever take on the simple city car, it’s a friendly option which, while being simple and cheap in places, still manages to elicit a smile.
As it suits a market where personalisation is key, we'd stretch that little bit further from the automatic GL and get the marginally better featured, and cooler looking GLX, or drop back a notch for the no-frills manual option while making sure our colour choice made as much of a statement as possible.
But whatever your choice, your Ignis will ooze personality and become a real character in its own right. Forget trying to explain anthropomorphism to your friends, just give the car a name and you're already most of the way there.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.