Cape Town - Suzuki has entered South Africa's baby-SUV wars with its new Ignis, a little urban adventurer that is pitched against rivals like the Renault Sandero Stepway, Toyota Etios Cross and Volkswagen Cross Up.
The crossover is available here in front wheel drive only (overseas there’s also an AWD) but it has a raised 180mm of ground clearance making it more suited to gravel roads than the average car.
At just 3.7 metres long and 1.69 metres wide it’s a compact but surprisingly roomy vehicle with plenty of head and legroom for four passengers inside, though the narrowness has occupants prone to touching elbows.
The boot, which has a full-size spare wheel, offers a rather tight 260 litres of cargo space but it’s expandable to 469 litres with the rear seats folded.
The little Suzuki’s styled with a youthful vibe that will catch the attention of the young (or the young-at-heart) with its chunky shape and pronounced wheel arches.
The trendy theme continues inside. At this price level you’re not going to get a soft-touch dashboard but the hard plastics in the Ignis are neatly finished, and the cabin’s glammed up with appealing touches of colour. There’s two-tone black and white treatment on the dashboard and doors, while the inside door grips and the centre console panels are finished in bright hues - including red, blue and titanium - depending on the exterior colour.
The Ignis is sold in three versions with a starting price of R169 900 for the entry-level GL 1.2 manual which comes standard with electric windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning, electric power steering, onboard computer, and an MP3-compatible two-speaker radio/CD sound system with USB port and 12V accessory power socket. Range-wide safety comprises dual front airbags and ABS anti-lock brakes.
The more comprehensively equipped 1.2 GLX - available in five-speed manual and five-speed automated manual - is styled up with 15” piano-black alloy wheels, wheel arch extensions, roof rails, and a black grille with chrome accents. The GL’s halogen headlights make way for projector-type LED designs with daytime running lights, front fog lamps, and exterior mirrors with turn signal repeaters.
The GLX also offers keyless starting and fully automatic climate control, rear park distance control, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat, while the radio/CD system is boosted to six speakers and gains Bluetooth connectivity with multifunction buttons on the steering wheel.
The black-and-white dashboard and colour accents remain the same, but the GLX’s air vent louvers, gear shift knob and interior door handles feature silver and chrome finishes, compared to the GL’s black execution.
Digging into the Ignis options list gets you a centrally mounted colour touch-screen display which can be linked to iOS and Android smartphones, and then allows intuitive access to compatible apps such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. An SD card slot can be used to deliver map data, which enables on-board, real-time navigation.
The engine under the cute nose is a modest normally-aspirated 1.2-litre petrol but the Ignis subscribes to the Lotus school of extracting performance through lightweight design instead of mega-muscle.
With the car’s kerb mass of just 850kg (10kg more for the auto version) the 61kW/113Nm engine doesn’t have a lot of bulk to lug around and this translates to a generous power-to-weight ratio, with a sea-level acceleration figure quoted at 0-100km/h in 11.6 seconds (13 secs for the AMT).
The little car felt surprisingly eager off the line when I drove it at the media launch in Cape Town, and if it feels even half as perky at power-draining high altitudes it’ll make for a very appealing commuter in Gauteng too.
Easygoing open-road cruiser
The Ignis isn’t confined to the urban streets and made an easygoing open-road cruiser at sea level, with a rated top speed of 165km/h and a slick five-speed manual that makes hustling through the gears an easy task. I didn’t get to drive the auto, which has a 155km/h top speed.
It’s a fairly refined car, with little wind noise and no annoying buzziness to reveal the presence of a small engine. The little four-cylinder was vocal but never sounded strained.
Fuel economy’s quoted at 5.1 litres per 100km for the manual and 4.9 litres for the AMT. The manual test-car I drove was averaging in the mid-sixes.
A cruise through the Western Cape’s urban streets, freeways and a short dirt section revealed this little Suzuki to be a competent all-rounder combining a comfortable ride with neat handling. Despite its short wheelbase the Ignis doesn’t have a too-choppy ride and it also felt self assured on dirt, with good bump-soaking ability from those high-profile tyres. The lightweight car didn’t feel tinny and cruised over bumps with a solid, rattle-free demeanour.
With its funky styling, surprising spaciousness and eager performance, the well-priced Ignis is an endearing little crossover and Suzuki South Africa have themselves a definite Car of the Year contender.
1.2 GLX Automated Manual
These include a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a two-year or 30 000km service plan.