JOHANNESBURG - There is cheap and nasty, and then there is cheap and cheerful. Given that the Suzuki S-Presso is South Africa’s least expensive new car, one might expect it to fall into the former camp, but after spending a week with one recently I have no doubt that it falls onto the cheerful side of the spectrum.
But don’t get me wrong, this car has its fair share of foibles. But compared to some of its rivals, such as the Renault Kwid, the S-Presso is still a fairly decent car for the money.
But if you’re buying one, then it’s important to know the pros and cons are, so without further ado here’s what we liked (and didn’t) about the S-Presso.
Design and packaging
On the design front it’s a mixed bag. I quite like its chunky exterior look. It’s got this pluckiness about it, as if it wants to be a Jimny when it grows up. But many people don’t like how the S-Presso looks, so I guess it’s just a matter of personal taste.
But regardless of what you think of the styling, you’ll have to admit that the packaging is impressive, and this is what we’ve come to expect from modern Suzukis built on the Heartect platform.
It’s a tiny car, measuring just 3565mm in length, but the amount of interior space on offer is actually quite impressive. Look, it’s too narrow to comfortably seat three abreast, but four up this car should be comfortable enough and rear legroom is decent for a car of its size. Same goes for the boot - at 239 litres it’s not huge, but it’s more than acceptable for an entry level hatch.
Interior comfort and ergonomics
Not only does it offer decent space for its size, but the S Presso is rather well appointed too, particularly in S-Edition guise as per our test car. All but the base S-Presso model are fitted with Suzuki’s touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There’s a reverse camera too, but unfortunately many of the other ergonomic aspects of this car are iffy at best. The infotainment system doesn't have a conventional volume knob, which wouldn’t normally be a big problem in today’s world where steering wheels are usually filled with buttons and switches, except that the S-Presso’s wheel doesn’t have any controls on it. This means you have to use the touchscreen to change the volume, and this is a slow and cumbersome process.
As for the driving position, you sit high up in the car and there is no adjustment for the driver’s seat or for the steering wheel. This could make it tricky for taller folk to get comfortable behind the wheel, although as an average sized individual I felt relatively comfortable in the default position.
What’s it like to drive
This is the one area where the Suzuki S-Presso surprised the most.
It’s a car that, despite some obvious faults, actually felt quite enjoyable to drive.
The performance, for starters, is actually very decent. While its outputs of 50kW and 90Nm are par for the course for a 1-litre three-cylinder unit, the 770kg kerb weight ensures that it actually has a pretty decent power to weight ratio.
This car will cruise fairly happily at 120km/h, although there is a fair bit of wind noise at such cruising speeds and the top heavy stance could lead to a few nervous moments when you encounter cross winds.
In town, it’s got more than enough perk to keep up with brisk traffic, and that three-cylinder soundtrack is actually quite enticing. It’s the kind of car that you can really enjoy winding through the gears.
I found myself really enjoying my time behind the wheel of this car, and this is in spite of the vague and lifeless steering, and the body roll.
I also found the ride to be fairly comfortable, maybe not exceptionally so, but certainly well within expectation at the car’s price level.
Fuel economy was impressive too, with our car registering around 5.6 litres per 100km in mixed conditions.
Model range and pricing
At the time of writing (December 2020), the S-Presso range kicked off at R145 900 for the base 1.0 GL, moving up to R150 900 for the GL+ and R159 900 for the S-Edition. The latter two models can also be had with automated manual transmission for R14 000 extra.
The GL base model comes with all the safety and comfort essentials such as air conditioning, front electric windows, remote central locking, rear park distance control, trip computer, dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
This GL+ adds the aforementioned touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
The S-Edition adds some cosmetic extras in the form of a silver grille, cladding for the wheel arches and lower doors, front and rear skid plates and silver garnishes in the cabin.
Is it safe?
This is the elephant in the room, with the S-Presso having received some bad press lately after failing to achieve a single star in the Global NCAP crash tests.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that despite the fact that our car is sourced from the same Indian factory as the one tested, the South African spec export model has yet to be evaluated by Global NCAP, and it does feature some extra safety features not found on the Indian model, such as a passenger airbag and seatbelt pre-tensioners.
But does this mean it would get a much better result? It’s impossible to say until the local model has been tested (and Global NCAP did have a few concerns about the car’s structure), but I personally wouldn’t hedge my bets on more than two stars.
As I said at the beginning of this review, the S-Presso is more cheap and cheerful than cheap and nasty. Personally I’d go second hand at this price level but if you must have that new car experience, then I would recommend the S-Presso over rivals such as the Renault Kwid. The little Suzuki is far from perfect, but it’s also not too far from being nice.