Johannesburg - A small car that’s not just about being affordable and delivering sensibly low fuel consumption, but with a funky vibe that makes you look forward to driving it. That’s why we voted the Suzuki Ignis our overall winner in the 2017 Drive360 Awards.

Now the little crossover has come our way for an extended road test, and over the next six months we’ll dig deeper into what it’s like to live with Suzuki’s little SUV-wannabe. So far, a few weeks into our long-term evaluation, all is hunky dory in Ignis land.

Straight out of the box, with the normally aspirated 1.2-litre petrol engine still not run in properly, it’s running on the sniff of petrol fumes and averaging just 5.6 litres per 100km. We expect this fuel economy to improve as the engine loosens up with some mileage, and we also haven’t particularly spared the horses in applying the throttle.

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At just 3.7 metres long the Ignis is a tiny thing (it’s dwarfed by a four metre Clio), but its cute and chunky styling includes SUV-like roof rails and black alloy wheels to give it some miniature macho, like a chihuahua in a flak jacket. I just wish those little 15 inch wheels would fill the arches better, without those gaps.

It’s surprisingly spacious inside for such a diminutive car. Four adults can fit inside the Ignis without their legs going getting squeezed into numbness, although the car’s narrowness will have them bumping elbows.

A big part of this car’s appeal is its funky intrior styling, which has 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 one unintended consequence of its small size is that, like a chihuahua, people don’t take the Ignis very seriously and some drivers bully it by cutting it off in traffic. 

Their perception that small means slow is not entirely fair, however, as the 61kW/113Nm engine only has 850kg of car to lug around. This gives the flyweight Suzuki a fairly decent power-to-weight ratio that makes it scurry around town with the urgency of a small dog on a sugar high.

There’s also enough under the bonnet to stray outside of city limits, and the Ignis doesn’t feel desperately underpowered on the open road, where it will top out at 165km/h, according to Suzuki. A downshift is sometimes called for on steeper inclines, but the slick action of the five-speed manual makes this a simple task.

The car doesn’t succumb to the small-engine syndrome of becoming loud and buzzy, as if it’s being thrashed to within an inch of its life. Even at higher revs this ‘lil Suzuki stays composed and reasonably quiet. The car also feels quite solid despite seemingly weighing little more than an old Nokia 2110 cellphone.

This not-quite-SUV is sold in South Africa as a front wheel drive only (overseas there’s also an all-wheel drive version) but it sits a generous 180mm off the ground and wears 175/65R15 tyres which makes it very ramp-friendly. Bumpy gravel roads also present no problem for the Ignis, which delivers a fairly comfortable and not-too-choppy ride on the rough stuff.

The handling’s neat and nippy too and not overtly affected by the raised ride height. This is such a light car that it changes direction like a startled sardine, although the criticism here is that the electric power steering feels unnatural and doesn’t have enough of a self-centring action.

This higher-specced GLX model on test (the Ignis is also available as a more basic GL) ticks more boxes than you'd expect at this price point, including keyless starting and fully automatic climate control, rear parking sensors and a height-adjustable driver’s seat, while the radio/CD system is a six-speaker system with Bluetooth connectivity and control buttons on the steering wheel.

That’s in addition to front and rear electric windows, a trip computer, and keyless entry. The peace of mind in both models comprises dual front airbags and ABS brakes.

Spending extra money gets you an optional colour touch-screen display which can be linked to iOS and Android smartphones, and allows access to apps such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also an SD card slot for map data which enables on-board, real-time navigation.

The standard audio deck fitted to our test car is a more old-school button-operated system with a monochrome display, but we really like it because it’s child’s play to use.

Boot space isn’t this Suzuki’s strong point at just 260 litres, but it does contain a full-size spare wheel instead of a dreaded marie biscuit. And, with the rear seats folded, I was able to squeeze a 29 inch mountain bike in there by shiting the front passenger seat far forward.

The Ignis is sold with a five-year/200 000km warranty and a two-year/30 000km service plan.

VERDICT

A comprehensively-specced small car with plenty of charm. The macho-cute styling and general funky vibe elevate Suzuki’s little Ignis above the ranks of the average budget car, and at a pretty competitive price too.

Drive360