Johannesburg - If you haven’t yet seen Suzuki’s new Ignis in the metal you might be tricked into thinking it’s a much bigger car. Actually, you might think the same standing right alongside it.

Designers have done well to engineer an illusion of size into the macho little hatch’s exterior shell, to the point where it’s almost safe to call it a compact SUV. But it’s not.

This is a pint-sized city car, albeit a high-riding one, and if you haul out the tape measure (or internet) you’ll discover the Ignis is quite a bit smaller than rivals like Sandero Stepway and Etios Cross, and just a tad bigger than VW’s very un-SUV-like Cross Up.

If there are lines between hatches, crossovers and SUVs the Ignis blurs all of them. Its wide stance and flared arches would look right at home doing hotlaps at the track, while its butch face and squared-off tail section wouldn’t be out of place among a fleet of Fortuners at the horse stables. Ground clearance is especially high for this type of vehicle, though much of the 180mm is made up by its tall (but very narrow) 175/65R15 tyres.

But there’s no illusion of space inside. It’s fairly narrow in here especially with more than one passenger, and two biggish okes in either the front or rear seats will be forced to rub elbows. One-up journeys, however, as most of ours were, posed no real space or comfort issues. There’s tilt only adjustment on the steering column, but the driver’s seat is height and slide adjustable (in upper GLX trim) so I was still able to find a reasonably comfy seating position behind the wheel.

Overseas the Ignis can be specced with a sliding and reclining rear bench, which allows variable passenger/cargo room but in our market it’s fixed at a happy medium position. Rear legroom is surprisingly decent, and boot space is quoted at 260 litres with seats in place or 469 folded flat. That’s enough for plenty of shopping, but if three mates need a lift to the airport with luggage you’ll need another plan.

The cabin colouring uses an 80/20 split of white and black plastics (it looks better than it sounds), but if the Stormtrooper look isn’t your vibe you can spruce the place up with optional clip off/on colour bits for the centre console, door panels and vent surrounds.

The personalisable colour-coding (or contrasting) also extends to the exterior with a variety of mirror caps, decal stripes and alloy wheel accents to choose from.

The dashboard is an ergonomic delight with well laid out controls, all easy to understand and simple to use. There isn’t a lot of button-necessitating functionality to add clutter, but what’s there is arranged with common sense. Temperature controls, fan speeds, power points and trip resets are all right where you’d expect them to be.

A floating panel above the ventilation system controls houses a standard-fit radio with a basic monochrome orange display and two knobs, but our test car came with a R7000 optional colour touchscreen. It’s an aftermarket unit supplied by Pioneer, but it fits with a flush, factory installed look.

Unfortunately the steering wheel controls don’t quite sync with this locally-added device, and the song skipping function doesn’t work (though volume does) with phones plugged in via USB. Suzuki says the double-din sized device is also “satnav-ready” but an SD card loaded with South African maps isn’t included in the deal. Most buyers will likely stick with the regular radio.

The Ignis weighs in at only around 850kg and its featherweight status comes through in the way it drives. Under the hood is a 61kW/113Nm 1.2 petrol (the same as used in the Swift), and while those numbers will hardly send pulses racing, it scoots around with plenty of zing given there’s so little mass to lug. And, after a week of enjoying its responsive, free-revving nature (I didn’t exactly pussyfoot around in search of unrealistic economy figures) it showed a very reasonable 6.2 litres per 100km on the trip computer. Suzukis rarely disappoint in the fuel economy stakes.

Our car was a five-speed manual (an auto is also available), and it too was fun to work thanks to the lever’s nicely weighted and precise throw. Less impressive was the clutch pedal, which was extremely light with little feel. Pressing it had a similar action to the safety seal on a mayonnaise jar, but at least its light action will be friendly with beginner drivers.

Same goes for the electronically-assisted steering which twirls with almost zero effort. The car’s especially tight turning circle is noteworthy too, and it’ll zip around a shopping mall’s parking lot like a terrier sniffing scraps under a dinner table.

The Ignis comes in two spec levels: A base GL (above), priced at R169 900) includes electric windows, air conditioning, remote central locking, ABS with EBD brakes, two airbags, steel wheels with plastic caps, a full-size spare, and halogen lights.

The GLX  (R189 900) adds alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, steering controls, push-button start, four extra speakers (to total six), LED headlights, and roof rails among others.

The automatic version comes in GLX trim only, at a R15 000 premium.

VERDICT

It’s deceptively small, but cleverly packaged. Space is only an issue when fully loaded with people and gear, and its butch looks and generous ground clearance will go down well with SUV fans on micro-hatch budgets. The Ignis is extremely easy to drive and quite light on fuel.

FACTS

Suzuki Ignis 1.2 GLX

Engine: 1.2-litre, 4-cyl, petrol
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Power: 61kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 113Nm @ 4200rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):11.6 seconds
Top speed (claimed):165km/h
Price: R189 900
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 2-year/30 000km

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