Second-generation soft-roader enters the family crossover fray at the affordable end of the segment, but marginally costlier rivals offer more refinement

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Where the crossover begins and the SUV ends are muddy waters, but there's absolutely no doubt that the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross – and the SX4 line – owes its existence to the range of small off-road vehicles that Suzuki has been building since 1968.

The latter-day variant, mostly forgotten, is known as the Jimny and has been with us since 1998. That's a rather staggering display of longevity in itself, but only an equal to the previous SJ-series, and still a junior compared with the original LJ ('light jeep') design, which soldiered on from 1969 to 1981.

The SX4 S-Cross takes on cars like the Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai

The previous SX4, a five-door, Giugiaro-penned hatchback, predated the original Nissan Qashqai, already traded under the correct name and sported that oh-so familiar 4x4 look now seemingly craved by an ever-growing number of buyers.

But Suzuki’s offering was too small, too feebly marketed and probably still too quirky for it to reach the tipping point that would be Nissan’s decade-defining automotive achievement.

Second time around, Suzuki now insists it has got the new model right. Dubbed the SX4 S-Cross, this second-generation incarnation shares nothing with its predecessor. It is now a proper C-segment contender, with one of the biggest boots in the class and offered with a choice of three highly economical four-cylinder engines. The range-topping Suzuki was given a facelift in October 2016, which saw the Japanese firm give its crossover a more distinctive front end, chrome grille, headlights and a taller ride height.

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Better still, Suzuki boasts that it has been engineered by the same team responsible for the Suzuki Swift – our preferred cut-price supermini. So in the S-Cross’s case, is bigger better?

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17in Suzuki S-Cross SZ4 alloys

Although it may have taken off in a somewhat different direction, the new S-Cross’s styling isn’t drastically different from that of the old model, although the 2016 facelift has given the S-Cross a more intimidating and muscular appearance. The front end is certainly reminiscent of the original compact’s kindly frown, and there’s a familiar high-shouldered profile to be found behind it.

But clearly Suzuki has used the S-Cross’s greater bulk to good advantage, creasing the lines that run along the flanks and broadening the two-part rear clusters to imply even greater size.

Without the 4x4 system, the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross is a relatively conventional bit of kit

Kerbside presence is crucial to a crossover’s appeal, and while this is not a design to trouble the likes of the Kia Sportage or Hyundai Tucson, it manages to faintly appeal while you’re in its company and stick in the memory banks long enough for you to log it as a satisfactory choice.

Under the unfussy body, the S-Cross is a typically conventional piece of kit. The suspension comes courtesy of MacPherson struts to the front and a torsion bar at the rear, and there’s an additional 100mm of length on the 2600mm wheelbase (whose measurement is fairly representative of the breed). There is also four-wheel drive available should you want it.

The engine choice is also pretty straightforward: there are two petrols and one diesel. The petrol units are both small displacement turbocharged units, with a 1.0-litre Boosterjet unit capable of 109bhp and 125lb ft of peak twist, while the 1.4-litre unit, is the same as found in the Vitara S, producing 138bhp and 162lb ft of torque, while the diesel offering is propped up by a sole 118bhp 1.6-litre oilburner.

As for gearboxes, the 1.0-litre unit is driven by  a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 1.4 Boosterjet and diesel are linked to a six-speed 'box, while there is a newly updated CVT automatic transmission on offer which is only available with a petrol engine.

The oil-burner is a Fiat-sourced unit and comes exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox. A variable-geometry turbocharger helps it supply the S-Cross with a healthy, if unremarkable, 236lb ft of torque, available from 1750rpm. Suzuki has seen fit to counter the diesel’s Italian chatter with a sound-deadening engine cover, insulated windscreen and a cowl top panel brace.

The company's history with four-wheel drive stretches back to the original Jimny, a model designed to fit off-road capabilities into Japan’s famous Kei car sector. The emphasis, therefore, has always been on a lightweight solution to driving all four wheels, and the S-Cross’s latest Allgrip solution is no exception.

Allgrip is a new development for Suzuki, also found on the Suzuki Vitara, and is lighter than the permanent set-up on the Grand Vitara. It is an on-demand system that uses an electronically controlled magnetic dry clutch with ball bearings in a run to manage torque distribution to the rear axle, and it's offered on both petrol and diesel versions.

When a signal is sent to the magnetic clutch, the balls move, forcing the clutch plates together. The action varies depending on conditions and the mode the system is set to. In the default Auto mode, it remains in fuel-sipping front-wheel drive unless significant slip is detected between the front and rear wheels.

Suzuki claims Sport mode automatically diverts 20 percent more torque to the rear in response to sharper throttle inputs. Snow mode is actually intended for all unpaved surfaces, and, along with a recoded ESP, it defaults to 4WD, while Lock mode is intended to replicate a locking diff by sending an equal amount of torque to each wheel.

The running-cost penalty of adding Allgrip is ranges from 5-8g/km of CO2 and 3-4mpg on the combined cycle.



Suzuki S-Cross dashboard

Trim levels comprise of SZ4, SZ-T and range-topping SZ5 models. The entry-level models come equipped with 16in alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, heated wing mirrors, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard.

Upgrade to SZ-T and you'll find the SX4 S-Cross adorned with sat nav, a reversing camera, parking sensors, LED headlights, automatic lights and wipers, 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, and keyless entry and start, while the range-topping SZ5 models gain a leather upholstery, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control and radar braking system.

The ergonomics of the standard stereo system aren't great, so you may want to consider an upgrade

If the Suzuki name registers with UK car buyers at all, it is likely to be filed under the ‘cheap and cheerful’ bracket. That description would not be inaccurate, either, as the Japanese firm has become a past master at delivering both of those attributes without ever overstepping the boundaries of good taste.

The S-Cross is another worthy example of that approach. On the admittedly decently equipped, entry-level SZ4 we originally tested, there was more matt plastic on and around the functional dashboard than you’d find on a 20-year-old Bush CRT television, but Suzuki’s first-rate fit and finish means that it never feels offensive to the touch.

Savvy buyers touring the car’s legion of rivals will notice the difference in materials elsewhere, too, particularly on items such as the seats and gear knob – although the difference in price between the S-Cross and its competition ought to make up for it. The Dacia Duster has already shown us this year that there’s plenty of room in the crossover segment for precisely this kind of compromise.

Question marks over the physical size of the Suzuki will likely be more pertinent. C-segment crossovers are frequently guilty of not offering quite as much capacity as their exteriors suggest, and taller occupants will certainly feel they have cause to complain on encountering another perilously close roofline above the car’s back seats – especially if the rather clever and particularly large sliding panoramic sunroof has been selected.

Those only interested in housing children in the back will probably find their needs well catered for, although it’s also worth pointing out that there are cars in this class with considerably larger boots than the Suzuki’s 430-litre offering.

Drivers, however, generally do well out of Suzuki’s cabins. Even though this car is not a particularly tall crossover, those in favour of the typical ‘command’ position will find plenty of adjustment laid on to reach it.

Overall, the Suzuki feels cheap and cheerful. But it's convenient and credible, too.


Suzuki S-Cross rear quarter

What’s notable about the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross’s performance is not what it does but how remarkably parsimonious it is while it’s doing it.

On the face of it, the diesel version is a pretty ordinary performer. A power output of 118bhp is a pretty middling delivery for a 1.6-litre diesel, so it’s no surprise that it’s moderately quiet and quite responsive. It’s not overly boosted, and although its respectable 236lb ft of torque is developed from 1750rpm, it’s keen enough to pull from 1500rpm.

The transversely mounted engine drives the front wheels, or all four via an all-wheel-drive system

Driving the front wheels only through a six-speed manual gearbox isn’t the best combination for a brisk getaway, so don’t fret too much over a 0-60mph time of 10.0sec (although it is a touch quicker than a Kia Sportage equipped with a 1.7-litre diesel).

The bigger difference is in flexibility. While a Kia Sportage wants 11.3sec to stretch from 30-70mph, the S-Cross asks only 10.1sec. But better still, leave the cars in fourth gear over the same yardstick, as you well might, and while the Sportage wants some time to wind up, eventually hitting 70mph in 14.7sec, the S-Cross gets going more quickly and takes just 11.8sec to get there.

Granted, that degree of flexibility is nothing too outstanding, until you come to refuel it. Even during our intensive, flat-out performance figuring and track tests, the S-Cross couldn’t be coaxed to deliver less than 30mpg, and on a steady motorway cruise it returned a remarkable 67.5mpg.

Overall we recorded 56.7mpg – and given that most owners will do even better than us, that’s quite some achievement. The Suzuki brakes well, too, pulling up briskly and consistently in both wet and dry conditions.

Allgrip versions drive in a very similar fashion to their two-wheel-drive counterparts, although predictably they offer up improved traction. For those looking to occasionally venture down rougher roads, or who'll be routinely driving in poor conditions, they're worth considering. The efficiency impact is relatively small, too, so opting for an Allgrip model shouldn't overly affect running costs unless you're driving considerable distances each year.


Suzuki S-Cross cornering

Suzukis have a ‘feel’ to the way they ride and handle that is as distinctive as that of any Ford, Mercedes-Benz or BMW. Whether it’s a Swift Sport or a Suzuki Vitara, there are consistencies that mean you almost know what to expect before you get inside.

The S-Cross is no exception. It steers with a pleasingly light but consistent weight and is moderately geared at 2.9 turns lock to lock. The pedal weights are nicely judged – light but with good responses and feel. The gearshift is positive and accurate, too. So far, so Suzuki.

Two-wheel-drive models lack traction out of some corners; owners should consider winter tyres for colder months

What matters with the S-Cross is not whether it corners keenly or crisply, but that it’s predictable and stable. It is. This is a crossover, so there is some dive under braking, respectably contained though it is. Our tests show the S-Cross pulling up from 70mph in the dry in 46.8m, which is respectable, and in 52.5m in the wet, which is equally reasonable.

Initial turn-in is moderately quick as the S-Cross leans on its outer springs and dampers. At 0.81g, it can only hold modest lateral grip, but introducing mid-corner lumps doesn’t upset the handling balance too much. The S-Cross just remains a stable, stolid, understeer-biased front-driver.

Show the S-Cross a more challenging set of roads and it copes with admirable capacity. There’s evidently some deft wheel control at work, and the ride resists becoming choppy right up until you start throwing combinations of cambers and forces at it all at the same time.

Control of body movements is pretty good, too, although if you’re pressing on you’re always aware that this car is a crossover first and foremost. If it were lower and had less suspension travel, it could be made to corner more keenly, but as it is, Suzuki has steered its way to a pretty successful compromise.

Switch off its stability control in the wet and there’s more bias towards the rear, where the extra agility could help on, say, slippery farm tracks. But generally this is a straightforward and predictable handler.

Is there some fun with it? A little. Good precision and control weights and decent body control see that it’s one of the better steers in the class.

The positives continue with the ride, which strikes a decent balance between handling and, importantly, comfort. Being a crossover, you’d hope for and expect as much. There’s a general compliance around town, aided by the 50-profile tyres on 17-inch rims, but you wouldn’t call the set-up soft.

It’s simply good enough to be unremarkable, which is no bad thing. Under general driving conditions it barely registers in your mind, which is kind of how things should be.


Suzuki SX4 S-Cross

The Suzuki SX4 S-Cross range begins at a palatable £14,999, but we suspect that the 1.0-litre petrol SZ4 at that price point will go all but ignored except on advertisements.

The meat of the range begins at £18,500k, for a 1.0-litre petrol engine in SZ-T specification. Diesel versions command a £2k premium, which brings around a bit of a dilemma.

Ideally you want to opt for an SZ4 model, as it offers a sensible level of kit with an acceptable price tag

Even with the diesel’s remarkable lack of thirst and lower CO2 output of 110g/km (as opposed to 127g/km), it’ll take a while to make up that cost difference.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the 1.6 diesel with front-wheel drive sits in insurance group 20 rather than the petrol’s 13 (the four-wheel-drive diesel goes into group 18, strangely), although both have the same 12,500-mile service intervals. All versions should prove very reliable, however.

Residual values should compare well with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, but the Kia Sportage holds its value better in the long run.

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3.5 star Suzuki S-Cross

We all know someone like the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross. Someone who just goes quietly about their business, doing their best to attract very little in the way of attention while rubbing along easily with everybody.

Remarkable in no way at all, until one day you notice they’re extraordinarily skilled at something.

The Suzuki's price tag, among other things, should earn it a spot on buyer's wish lists

That’s what life with the S-Cross is like. Simple. Unremarkable. And then you go to fill its tank, fail to understand why you can fit no more fuel in it, and then realise it has averaged more than 65mpg over a lengthy motorway jaunt.

Is that enough to push a car that’s otherwise just quietly capable into the class lead? No, not when there are vehicles as attractive and distinctive as the Kia Sportage around.

But given the strength of the competition, which also includes the likes of Skoda's Yeti, being rated so highly is quite some achievement.

Like most Suzukis, the S-Cross warrants more attention than most buyers in this segment will show it.

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Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross First drives