Suzuki S-Cross – an unexpected surprise

Posted on September 18th, 2014 by Rob Marshall

suzukiAs part of my career, I am fortunate to assess many of today’s latest car models and, while doing so, I aim to fathom what makes each newcomer tick. Being GEM’s Technical Advisor, this does not mean that I dismantle it but I try, instead, to imagine why anybody would choose the model over any other, especially when negotiating a new car market that is becoming increasingly crowded and confused.

Naturally, it leads to why motor companies spend a fortune on marketing, media and PR, while encouraging salesmen to focus on paper-statistics, be it the stated fuel efficiency (a guide that tends to be unrealistic in everyday driving conditions), equipment levels, or performance, in order to make their product stand out.

When faced with a week-long, 3,000 miles trip, from my central England location to the Scottish Highlands, before venturing to Southampton, via Lincolnshire, North Wales and the Cotswolds, I admit to being far from enamoured on first acquaintance with the Suzuki S-Cross that awaited me, a car that, on paper at least, seems far from remarkable. While it is keenly-priced (well, ‘competitive’ in its market sector), my heart failed to skip-a-beat, while studying the 1.6-litre petrol version’s technical specification. Admittedly, performance, running costs and standard equipment all seemed reasonable but, twin-panelled panoramic sunroof excepted, there seemed little that would ‘surprise and delight’, a marketing vernacular that was reinforced, when the car was delivered. While both interior and exterior styling is contemporary and smart, it looks anodyne, especially when compared to the more ‘shouty’, design-focussed (and often more expensive) soft-roaders that are very much in-vogue at the moment.

Yet, there is more to a car than outright kerb appeal and ‘tech-specs’, considering that traditional styling ages more gracefully than short-term fashion, which tends to be overlooked in the showroom, because intrinsic deficiencies are more likely to be highlighted after an intensive drive. Many car companies have focussed too hard on cutting-edge technology, trimmings and design at the expense of the less headline-grabbing necessities that make the vehicle easier and safer to live with, such as supportive seats, effective suspension damping, a comfortable driving position, good visibility, linear steering and efficient noise suppression.

After the first day’s drive, I arrived safely in Northern Scotland but, after alighting from the car, I realised that something was missing – my backache. Allow me to explain. I have driven new cars over similar distances, many of which retail at double (or more) of the S-Cross’s list price, only to be distracted by lumbar pain that develops after the first five hours’ of driving, rest breaks included. Although the S-Cross is not intended to be a rep’s mile-muncher, the fact that Suzuki has harmonised both the suspension and seat damping together so effectively was appreciated, especially in my lower back. Although its mechanical configuration is entirely conventional, perhaps even unexciting, on paper, it has also been well executed. Furthermore, I came to value the sensibly weighted controls and electric power steering that provides the driver with a degree of positive feedback, the latter of which was welcomed the most, when negotiating a short-cut, in thick fog, through The Pass of The Cattle, tackling the Kielder Forest toll road and climbing the Cambrian Mountains, where the car’s photograph was snapped.

As the miles passed, I became convinced that the S-Cross has been exceptionally well-thought out for long-term ownership, a quality that we expect modern cars to deliver but which many of them do not. While the standard-fit cruise control and speed limiter were useful, on the sampled range-topping SZ5 version, the absence of gimmicks, such as ‘stop-start’ technology, which tends only to make the quoted fuel consumption figure even more unattainable, was also a refreshing change. Furthermore, the 3,000 miles were made both easier and safer by the uncomplicated heater controls, clear instrumentation, buttons that do not dominate the steering wheel’s spokes, an easy-to-operate stereo and the satellite navigation system that was both intuitive and effective (despite my tendency to contaminate its touch-screen, with sometimes greasy digits).

Fuel consumption for the trip was just over an indicated 42mpg but, while it fell short of the Official Combined 47mpg, I view it as a credible result for a heavily-laden car, which was not driven with frugality in mind. Unsurprisingly, considering Suzuki’s repute for reliability, no mechanical issues were encountered. It is a well-worn cliché to say that I returned the car, having developed a healthy respect and appreciation for it, although my osteopath might have a different view, as I will not be seeing him this month…

Therefore, if you are considering buying a crossover-type vehicle, it is too easy to be tempted by the more populist alternatives and I recommend that you give Suzuki’s S-Cross a try. An extended test-drive will highlight its unadvertised strengths but I doubt that your local dealer would appreciate 3,000 miles being added to the clock of his demonstrator!