Johannesburg - Small Japanese cars are, for me, the best when it comes to everyday motoring.

I base my opinion on my uncle’s Daihatsu Charade, a car that never skipped a beat in more than 15 years of ownership. That car was loaded to the brim for family functions and it would even double-up as a workhorse for his carpentry business when his bakkie was being used to service other sites.

My dad on the other hand loved small European cars. He has had his fair share of Fiats and Opels (and yes, they leaked oil, eventually), but nowadays he prefers the blue oval, driving a Ford Fiesta as his daily.

When I think back to the small cars in our family over the past 20 years (Conquests, 323s, Unos and Laser Tracers), it is the Japanese cars that stand out, soldiering on the hardest, refusing to leak oil or eat their own clutches or melt their own electronics.

My own Daihatsu YRV Turbo and my Yaris 1.8TS (both heavily modified) also just kept on going and going and going, like proverbial Duracell bunnies before I sold them for a dad-mobile.

But, this feature is not about my cars (or my elders’ cars), it is about the Suzuki Ignis 1.2 GLX that Suzuki Auto South Africa has given us to evaluate over a period of six months. The reason I mention the Japanese cars that stand out in my life experience is because the Suzuki Ignis now ranks amongst the best in small-Japanese motoring from my perspective.

Styled with no intent of being the best-looking car in its class, the Ignis in high-spec GLX grade is actually quite interesting to stare at. Short and stumpy, with enough ride height to keep the undercarriage safe during off-road expeditions, the Ignis looks more SUV than hatchback. I like its styling but some of my friends and family keep asking if I left the boot behind somewhere. 

I do not mind the jokes because the Ignis’ boot is intact, and in fact it is able to swallow 260 litres of luggage. We’ve even fitted an adult-frame mountain bike in the thing and with the rear seats folded, you will be able to pack at least 947 litres of goods behind the driver and front passenger.

I have spent a few weeks in the Ignis now and each time I get to drive it, I am actually excited about it. I love the fact that it is nimble enough to scoot into the smallest of gaps (very handy when driving in town) and that visibility from the driver’s seat is unhindered by intrusive A, B and C pillars.

It is an easy car to drive, and new drivers will instantly feel at ease in its raised seating position. It also helps that the car is fitted with (as standard) LED headlights, as this feature makes night driving blissful in the small car.

On the subject of driving, this has to be one of the Ignis’ ultimate draw-cards, which is why you have to drive it to appreciate its swiftness, pardon the pun.

Its 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is remarkably eager to rev and its torque pick-up is confidence-inspiring in that you never feel wanting for more power in the car when overtaking (as long as you select the correct gear for your road speed).

Suzuki claims that the engine produces a mere 61kW and 113Nm, but when driving the car it feels almost as spirited as a ‘100HP’ car. I say a 100HP car because only one other small normally-aspirated car is as fun to drive for me; the old Fiat Panda 100HP. Sure, the Ignis doesn’t handle like the Panda, but it has the guts to give newer litre-class turbo cars a go for sure.

Beyond its ride, handling and performance, though, I’m really enjoying the frugal nature of the car when it comes to fuel consumption. I’ve been averaging around 5.5 litres per 100km in a combined cycle; a mix of M1 highway (in Johannesburg) and city traffic mostly. The Ignis cruises comfortably at highway speed and it is not revving at an ungodly 4000rpm to maintain 120km/h like most of these normally aspirated compact cars do these days. 

I do however find the steering system on the car to be rather odd in that it refuses to return to the centre position after turning around a bend or corner at lower speeds.

For example, if I’m in a parking lot, I can basically set the steering wheel to a slightly left of right position and the car will continue to move in that direction even if I let go of the steering wheel. In some instances it can get really annoying, as I need to yank the steering wheel back into the centre position to ensure the car tracks true. Apparently this trait is not common in the all-wheel drive version of the Ignis, but we don’t get that car here so this steering issue should be looked into by Suzuki’s engineers.

VERDICT

Steering oddness aside, the Ignis is a great daily commuter. Light on petrol, easy to place, park and turn, and exceptional at attracting attention. It is a really well appointed model that can serve your needs well if you’re just starting out in a car of your own, or if you are looking for a second car to use to work and back.

If I were in need of a compact car to commute in, the Ignis would be number one on my list thanks to its value-oriented pricing versus packaging.

Drive360