Suzuki Ignis: Small charmer

The less than smashing crash test result for an American icon has provided impetus for Suzuki to sharpen up a just-launched baby.


ALL-wheel-drive and automatic emergency braking technology are already cited as must-have enhancements for a just-launched light crossover.

Suzuki New Zealand reckons their latest baby, the 1.2-litre Ignis hatch, will be well-accepted because of its pricing, specification and a chic, chirpy styling plus a touch of the “x-factor” that has made the next-size-up Swift such a success.

However, they are already pitching Japan for two additional ingredients that would further enhance the recipe.

All-wheel-drive is sought because Ignis is being touted as a kind of sports utility. There’s a feeling some customers might actually want some degree of off-road ability to match its nuggety air and elevated stance.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is also sought because the NZ Government funded and supported Australasian New Car Assessment Programme’s has expressed intention to start testing for its inclusion, starting at the end of 2018, on grounds that research has shown the technology could prevent one in five fatal pedestrian collisions.

Suzuki’s AEB is called Dual Camera Brake Support, a stereo camera-driven system that appears to be similar to Subaru’s EyeSight.

What difference does it make? ANCAP’s sister organisation, the European NCAP, has already given a determination. Unusually, it has tested the Ignis in two versions, one with AEB and one without. The first got five stars – the other got three.

Suzuki NZ reckons ANCAP, which already recommends that Kiwis should restrict their buying choice to cars that earn the maximum of five stars, will want to test the Ignis as well.

Suzuki marketing manager Gary Collins says with six airbags, ABS, ESP, hill hold assist and seatbelt pretensioners, Ignis is as safe as any other small car.

“(Yet) we know the car cannot win the maximum score of five stars without AEB,” Collins has told MotoringNetwork.

“So we’re talking to Japan about including it in our specification.” Hope is that it will upgrade before the end of the year.

Ignis is set to do good things for Suzuki in New Zealand, though the Whanganui distributor is hardly in poor shape now.

It did really well in 2016 with year-on-year growth of 18 percent, almost twice the national average. While Suzuki’s overall passenger tally of 5311 units was just a tiny percentage of the total passenger count of 147,000 units, it was still the second-highest annual count recorded by the brand in the 43 years it has been here.

Satisfied? Not quite. Brand boss Tom Peck is looking for more success in 2017; another 1000 units.

Suzuki’s big star is Swift, such an evergreen champ it’s been in-house top dog for all but one of the 12 years. Yet even though June’s transition to a new generation, if only in mainstream form (the hot Swift Sport is a 2018 entry), will very likely keep it on pole as the chief family bread-winner, it’s not cited as the model that is likely to bring in that additional growth.

That challenge is going to be met by the Ignis. Like the just-facelifted S-Cross, it aims at the sports utility vehicle sector.

Notes Collins: “Given the SUV market has (in 2016) surpassed traditional passenger vehicle sales for the first time, the introduction of two variants in the SUV space is very timely.

Ignis is especially valid, he suggests, being something new – a so-called “super compact” SUV.

“The small SUV segment is one of the fastest growing segments in the world, and the Ignis is set to fill one of the last remaining gaps in our highly competitive market,” Collins contends.

Don’t be misled into thinking it’s some kind of alternate to their proper off-road fare. Not even the all-paw edition, if it arrives, is engineered to go where the Vitara and evergreen Jimny will confidently explore. No, when Suzuki says SUV they mean of the urban variety.

Even though it doesn’t quite walk the talk in that respect, it certainly has the look. It is quite truncated (just 3.7 metres snout to tail) yet it has 180mm of ground clearance. That’s more than a Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.

The styling also draws on Suzuki’s automotive heritage. The most obvious take-me-back cue is the triple indents in the C-pillar. These pay homage to the first car Suzuki NZ assembled and sold here, the Fronte. The strakes represent the air intakes the shoe shaped two seater required to cool its rear-set two stroke. The A pillar shape borrows from the Swift and the bonnet from the Vitara. 

The GLX, which at $18,900 in manual form is the same money as a Swift GL, has air con, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, leather steering wheel, Bluetooth, tilt adjustable steering, 60/40 split folding rear seats, luggage cover, 15 inch steel wheels, and fog lamps.

The Limited gains climate control, push button start, the touchscreen with reverse camera, auto leveling and auto on headlamps, Guide me home headlight function, sliding rear seats, LED driving lamps, fog lamps, 16 inch alloys, and chrome exterior detailing. It costs $22,500, with an additional $490 adding a factory-applied two-tone paintjob.

What’s it like? Chirpy and fun in the main.

The compact proportions prepare you for a tightly-confined interior. It’s not so bad as to suggest that this small car specialist measures to small person preference, because front seat roominess (and comfort) is okay. Yet the quirk of the high-end car being a four-seater (because the backseat slides and reclines) while the base provisions for one less (because the bench is rigid) is meaningless, so modest is the body width. The only occupants who would be comfy sitting three abreast won’t be legally able to, because they should be in child booster chairs to start with.

What’s really noticeable when sitting inside the Ignis however is the ample headroom and also that the materials used don’t feel as cheap as the price may suggest. The seats are okay, but our short drive left me wondering how they might be on long journeys. The hip-point is quite high, which will appeal to older buyers.

The car’s lightweight construction – in lightest form, it tallies just 820kg on the scales - is obvious from the way the doors clang a bit when closed, but being in the featherweight division helps it get along pretty well.

Impression gained from an all-too short and far too tame test route was that although it’s less than ground-breaking to drive, it should be a good urban commuter and reasonable for open road driving, though perhaps the latter in moderation. 

Because it sits a little high it can feel top heavy when cornering and the suspension is bouncy over speed humps, but it has pretty decent attitude. The steering is light, of course, but the brakes have a meaty feel. You’ll love it in the city because vision from the driver’s seat is good and the reversing camera makes parking a cinch, which is also helped by a pretty tight turning circle.

While its on-paper output is no more than fair, the engine lends impression it’s keen to give up every kilowatt.

It’s also useful that the CVT transmission that Suzuki believes at least eight out every 10 buyers will go for is able to keep the ‘gearing’ around the engine’s peak torque on acceleration. As CVTs go, it’s sufficient: Not engaged enough to allow outright sporty driving – for that the manual is far better – but not too noisy. You’d think it sufficient for the open road, better-suited for urban adventures. Basically, then, suited to the car’s overall persona