If the automotive industry were a costume party, models like the Suzuki S-Cross would turn up wearing nothing but jeans, a T-shirt, and maybe a silly hat in a half-hearted nod to the theme.
But though they might not boast as much aesthetic flair as pricier European cars, or as much standard equipment as some of their stablemates, entry-level offerings like the S-Cross are often buyers’ bread and butter – affordable, reasonably well-equipped ways to get from A to B.
For the Suzuki S-Cross, the 'silly hat' in this costume party analogy is its sub-$30K pricepoint and unexpectedly roomy boot, plus the X-factor it possesses by way of being an underdog in its class (i.e. you won’t see many others around you at the traffic lights).
A lot of people weren't fans of the S-Cross redesign in 2017, but I disagree. It’s got a distinctive, almost wagon-like exterior design that’s equal parts unassuming and unique, with some trademark Suzuki cute factor and even some quiet sophistication, especially when in the paint shade of ‘Cosmic Black’. Unfortunately, the ‘Cool White’ shade on my S-Cross wasn’t quite as enticing.
There are only two variants in the S-Cross range, and there’s not much between them. The S-Cross Turbo will cost you $28,490 plus on-road costs, while the S-Cross Turbo Prestige is $29,990 plus on-road costs. At the time of writing, Suzuki was running a deal lowering these prices to $27,490 drive-away and $28,740 drive-away respectively.
For the purposes of this review, I drove the top-spec 2020 Suzuki S-Cross Turbo Prestige variant, which adds leather-accented seats, rear parking sensors, LED headlights with dusk sensors, rain-sensing wipers, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror on top of the base-level Turbo’s package.
That’s a fairly sensible suite of add-ons for the extra $1500 or so separating the Turbo Prestige from the regular Turbo, but it’s not enough to have the Turbo Prestige feeling like a 'top-spec' car. And the S-Cross also hasn’t been updated since the facelifted version appeared in 2017.
As a result, I’d describe the overall feel of the S-Cross as 'basic'. It ticks crucial boxes but doesn’t over-deliver. For example, the leather-accented seats are – well – leather-accented as promised, but you won’t be wanting a matching handbag anytime soon.
The same can be said of the drivetrain, comprising a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine with outputs of 103kW/220Nm that drives the front wheels only via a six-speed automatic transmission. For context, that's 20 per cent more power than a Toyota C-HR and it can feel almost too responsive, with the car jumping forward upon moderate to high throttle input, which is a little jolting.
This merely takes some getting used to, however, and the car is otherwise well powered for its weight, with steering that’s well-weighted and smooth around corners and at both low and high speeds. The car’s lightweight body and size mean it’s like a hatchback to drive – spirited and straightforward. It’s also fairly unencumbered on rougher roads despite not being a full-blown SUV, although it can’t completely cut through road noise and harsh surfaces.
Comfort is a priority, and the S-Cross takes uneven urban roads in its stride. The ride is compliant and the car does a good job of rounding off sharp edges, but larger bumps, will translate a bit of suspension oscillation through the cabin. This will give you a few seconds to ponder the rate at which you went over the speed hump, and perhaps encourage you to take it easy next time.
Something else that will require some getting used to is the gearstick, which I found staggeringly difficult to manoeuvre. Why? It’s imprecise and constantly seems reluctant to slot into the gear you’re after. If I had a dollar for every time I found myself in neutral when I really wanted to be in drive – let’s just say I wouldn’t be driving a Suzuki.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen is refreshingly simplistic compared to the convoluted set-ups I’ve encountered in other cars. You’ve really only got four options: radio, Bluetooth phone connection, smartphone phone connection or navigation. There’s voice control and some sparse settings options, but that’s it. I loved the simplicity and found I wasn’t wanting for anything.
The Turbo Prestige also boasts seven airbags, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reverse camera, keyless entry, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, paddle shifters, push-button start and a speed limiter. You’re going to need that last one, as I found it hard to gauge precise speed amongst the very rudimentary quasi-digital instruments cluster (which also gives you live petrol consumption figures and not much else).
There are, however, a few upmarket items missing from the S-Cross Turbo Prestige: a head-up display, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, electronic parking brake, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alerts and electric seats, to name a few.
How does that stack up against competitors? The S-Cross is facing off with some fairly intimidating rivals in the form of the Subaru XV, Mazda CX-30, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Kia Seltos, Hyundai Venue and Hyundai Kona.
All of these models offer entry-level automatic variants priced below $30,000 – and some of them offer a bit more standard kit. The Mazda CX-30 Pure ($29,990 plus ORCs), for example, offers rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and traffic sign recognition as standard.
The Kia Seltos Sport ($28,490 plus ORCs) boasts AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist and driver-attention alert as standard. On the base C-HR ($29,450 plus ORCs) standard equipment includes AEB with pedestrian detection, all-speed adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure alert with steering assist, and front and rear parking sensors.
Meanwhile, the Hyundai Venue Elite (the top-spec variant available for $25,490 plus ORCs) scores blind-spot monitoring, AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warnings, a rear cross-traffic alert, driver fatigue 'sway' warning, leading vehicle departure alert and high-beam assist.
All of a sudden, the S-Cross’s value proposition feels like it’s taken a hit. It doesn’t help matters that the last time the S-Cross was ANCAP tested was way back in 2013, when it scored five stars. These days, against stricter criteria, it’d be hard-pressed to emulate that score again.
Where it may have the leg up on the competition is its cabin space, which is roomy and configurable. The rear seats fold in a 60:40 split, and there’s plenty of leg and toe room for back seat occupants – plus water bottle holders in the door and an armrest with two cupholders, although they don’t get rear air vents.
I was impressed with the 430L boot, which offers tiered storage in the form of a second layer under the floor that opens up further to reveal a space-saver spare wheel. Here, the S-Cross beats almost everything in its class bar the Kia Seltos, which offers 433L of boot space, or the Honda HR-V that boasts 437L.
Fuel economy is also pretty solid. Suzuki promises 5.9L/100km, and I got 6.3L/100km with mostly short stints of stop-start city driving. That’s stock-standard for a hatchback, but pretty great for a small SUV (although it drinks the slightly more expensive 95 unleaded).
If you're not too fussed about performance, on-road X-factor or high-tech features, and just need an affordable new car for city driving and the odd weekend road trip, the Suzuki S-Cross will do the trick.
Sure, the interior feels a bit budget, and the tech and safety features could be better – especially when a few competitors offer more for roughly the same pricepoint – but those who like the S-Cross's unique looks and happen to snap up a good drive-away deal would be pretty chuffed.
If you’re looking to save even more money and are willing to sacrifice rear parking sensors and leather seats, I’d advise opting for the base-level variant, which is basically the same anyway. Just promise me you’ll put those extra savings towards a really kick-ass outfit for your next costume party.