The S-Cross has become Suzuki’s start again crossover. We’re impressed by its zesty new attitude, less so by the appearance.
For: Much improved powertrain, smartened cabin.
Against: That face.
ASSUMING you didn’t totally bunk sixth form history, chances are you might have heard of Thomas Carlyle or, at least, his two famous utterances.
Most particularly, this 19th century Scottish theoretician proposed that history can be largely explained by the impact of great men. A proposal I sincerely hope Donald Trump doesn’t take too much to heart, else we’ll be dead by Friday lunchtime.
Carlyle also struck quotation gold in reckoning the greatest of faults a person could have was to be conscious of none. As much as confidence is a great thing, he argued, it demands to be leavened by clear-eyed humility else risk narcissism keeping us from seeing, and correcting, our shortcomings.
All a bit heavy for a new car assessment story, right? Well, maybe, but I suspect the person who took charge of remedying the S-Cross for Suzuki was a student of Carlyle.
The initial version launched in 2013, though fundamentally better than the SX4 it replaced and a good call for the time, was nonetheless something of a stuff-up. I suspect that’s why, when the crossover scene boomed, it sat quietly, watching others take its share.
Now it has undergone a refresh so extensive you might as well call it a fresh start. Beyond the mandatory – and not so nice – new look comes a new drivetrain and, with that alone, a new attitude.
The refit supports what I’ve come to understand about Japanese logic toward problem-solving; namely, whereas we perceive intelligence to be largely innate, the Japanese see it as a function of effort. This affects our view of how to cope with mistakes. We can cover up and go or see simply part of the learning process or work through and improve.
In original format, this car came out of Hungary with a dated normally aspirated 1.6-petrol shared with the Swift but detuned, in front and Allgrip four-wheel-drive with the choice of a five-speed manual or stepped constantly variable transmission. And since the emphasis originally was on getting a grip in the crossover space, it made sense then to test the flagship Limited Allgrip CVT, which cost $35,990.
Now it comes out of Japan, maintains the drive formats but has picked up the brand’s latest engine, that though diminishing in capacity by 200cc is turbocharged so has a lot more pep. The CVT has been divested for a six-speed automatic and it has gained a lot more gear. Like I say: Reborn.
The primary marketing push has also taken a new direction. With a new Vitara out and about, and with rising interest in pseudo crossovers, Suzuki reckons it’s more logical to seek S-Cross business primarily from people who want something of the look, but don’t require the ability. Ergo, this test is of the most expensive front-drive offer, fitting called the Premium. It costs $33,990.
Of all the changes, there’s one other that captivates most initial interest and comment. For Suzuki, a facelift is exactly that. Which is a shame, really.
In fact, in one respect it’s a poor decision. This make’s styling ethos seems to follow two roads. There's the one taken by its best seller Swift, which for two generations has hit the nail bang on. Then there's the route taken by everything else, which seems to have lots of little side tracks that occasionally led to odd destinations.
The S-Cross in original form was a bit weird yet, overall, played safe. It looked different enough to be noticed but innocuous enough to avoid causing division.
Not so much now, thanks entirely to adoption of a sizeable chrome grille that’s so big that on this car – and this isn’t just me, but general consensus – it’s nothing less than jarringly awkward. It’s as though the S-Cross has been invited to a Happy Days theme party and decided to come along as a 1950s' Cadillac.
Okay, so I know some people will respond to this by saying stuff like ‘ it hardly matters when you’re in the car’. But thing is, whenever you’re out of the car it seems this is all people want to talk about. I couldn’t be bothered. Iit’s just too hard to defend the indefensible.
A colleague points out that one thing the new front does achieve is more of an SUV-look insofar that, even though it's actually no taller overall than the previous model, it looks as though it might be. Yeah … but, nah. They should have stopped with the new LED lights and polished alloys.
The interior refit is successful. Though the "leather-type" upholstery and the acres of hard plastics are not hugely appealing, the seats are comfortable enough and the step up to automatic lights/wipers and privacy glass is nice.
Given that Suzuki admits most S-Cross buyers are aged 60 or over, the provision of Apple and Android phone projection on the new 7.0-inch centre-console touch screen might seem to jar with the whims of the buyer demographic, but they shouldn’t be upset. It’s a simple, nicely rendered interface that makes for safer driving with cellphones. The screen also acts as a viewer for the reversing camera; you appreciate the crisp resolution and unlike the same setup in the Ignis it was foible-free, snapping into action as soon as reverse was selected.
The steering wheel is nicely trimmed in leather and feels good in the hand, while the driver's instrument cluster is neatly done, with a small TFT display for trip computer information.
The interior dimension is on the cosy side of comfortable, but it will genuinely cope with four adults and the rear occupants will appreciate the knee room. A high hip point eases access, too. Even with rake/reach adjust on the steering column, there’s still a hint of rock ape to the high driving position, however.
Also beneficial is that the boot has almost doubled in size, from 270 litres before to 430 litres now, with a nice cover to keep your groceries hidden. The rear seats split and fold 60:40, and when these are folded down the load area increases to 875 litres.
The S-Cross has seven airbags, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, stability control, traction control, hill hold assist, hill descent control and Isofix child seat mounts for the two outer rear seats. It doesn’t shape up well against some rivals with non-availability of more advanced safety systems like autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert or adaptive cruise control.
From dire to dynamite? Well, perhaps the transition isn’t quite THAT pronounced, yet assuredly the S-Cross with this new Boosterjet turbopetrol 1.4 and six-speed automatic – a drivetrain plucked from the latest Vitara, by the way – is far, far more enjoyable than the old 1.6 CVT.
A car that felt underdone and insipid with 86kW and 156Nm is obviously going to feel zippier packing 103kW and 220Nm, but it’s more than that: Not only does the new drivetrain as a whole feel more energetic but it also evidences as being a whole lot more engaging and up to date.
Those who remember the old unit as being hoarse, lacking in verve and blighted by seriously annoying CVT whine will delight, now, in a setup that is smoother, much quieter, more reactive and simply a lot more flexible.
For sure, this liveliness only goes so far. While the front wheels can struggle for traction under firm acceleration, it’s not so feisty as to threaten to seriously smoke up the tyres.
Nonetheless, is feels far more grown up and on message now. The old CVT was the worst kind: Tuned purely for casual driving and just completely going to (buzzy and loud) pieces whenever given anything more than a light throttle touch.
Even so, given that gearless transmissions are now considered the future by almost all of Japan’s car brands – save Mazda – for Suzuki to determine to drop their one for a six-speed automatic is quite remarkable. It obviously helps that the Vitara, built on the same platform, also has the trad auto, but even so. A brave move.
But a good one. This new box just interacts superbly with an engine that abets argument for downsizing and turbocharging. You do need to be firm with your right foot but I was pleasantly surprised at the engine’s ability to haul the S-Cross at not only a decent pace but a confident one. There’s an appealing thrummy note to this powerplant, too, that enhances the sense of involvement, and what also helps is that the torque maxes in a real sweet spot, from just 1500 to 4000rpm, making it feel very spritely.
Impression this drivetrain is just so much more willing than the one it supplants does encourage you to drive it just that little bit harder, I’ll admit. It’s hard to resist a turbocharged engine with an eagerness to provide power out of corners, or a transmission's manual mode that holds gears all the way to the red line.
All the same, when driven this way it remains pretty good on fuel. For the overall duration of test the trip computer indicated 7.8L/100km; not exactly a threat to Suzuki's claim of 5.9L/100km but okay by my book. Those seeking ultimate frugality might frown that the Boosterjet demands 95 RON or higher fuel, which will cost you that little bit extra at the pump, but I wouldn’t personally sweat it.
In terms of ride and comfort, the S-Cross is no particular threat to the best from Europe, but it certainly holds its own against general issue Japan Inc competing product. ‘Honest’ is the adjective you will hear a lot about this kind of chassis; it’s competent but a bit plain-hearted to be considered characterful. There’s also quite a bit of tyre roar on coarse chip, though it’s far from being alone in being caught out there.
Yet bit still feels agreeable enough and there’s no obvious issue with anything about it, save that the ride quality is a bit ripply at low speed and the steering is so light as to lack prenatural intuitiveness, though you always know which way it is pointing. Speaking of lightness, the car checks out at just 1170kg on the scales, which explains not only why it is moved about a bit by cross winds but also why it feel like a smaller car than it actually is.
The S-Cross doesn’t go hugely big on space and storage, but what it has is pretty well sorted. The back seat is roomy enough for adults and the boot big enough to swallow much more than a week’s shopping. It lends impression it can cope with the tedious regularity of the daily commute and the unpredictable challenges of family life.
A change of heart has delivered a far more heartening experience; the 1.4-litre is a much better engine than the preceding 1.6 and its marriage to a proper gearbox is brilliant; you now get a transmission that now steps from one ratio to the next instead of wandering aimlessly all over the rev range.
The one challenge come from this model being the same money as a front-drive Vitara with the self-same engine. Choosing between a proper SUV with slightly less room but better looks versus a more usefully-sized crossover hit in the face by the ugly stick will require careful consideration.