As with anything, I find it best to treat a new cure-all creation with a healthy degree of skepticism. A completely natural performance-enhancing supplement with no adverse side effects… yeah right. Low-fat chocolate that tastes just as good as the original but you never gain weight… tell me another one. And the mini SUV, a tiny urban runaround with a raised ride height and go-anywhere capability… hmm, I’ll be the judge of that thanks very much. Nevertheless, when it comes to busting-up niches, Suzuki has never been afraid of colouring outside the lines.
It requires only a cursory glance at the radical design before you realise the new Ignis is just as much about making a statement as it is about what it does. Look at the squared-off glasshouse, stocky stance and bulging wheelarches; it simply refuses to be ignored and demands an opinion from passers-by, some who think nothing of running across a busy street during our shoot, risking life a limb to deliver their verdict. And this is no R4million supercar but rather a R189 900 car from the subcontinent. There’s a playfulness to it, as if penned by a child who was let loose on the Toys R Us Toy Run. ‘Sixty seconds to draw as many lines on this thing as you can!’ I could do without the three diagonal wedges on the C-pillar, but the headlights situated within the grille giving it a face of sorts, that’s cool, that can stay. It’s certainly not conventionally handsome but you’ve got to admit it’s kind of bang on trend for mini-SUV-motoring circa 2017.
Then you step aboard, and would you believe it, things get better. In the past, Suzukis had about as much interior ambiance as a R5 Crazy Store, but the Ignis persists with the Christmas catalogue theme. Our test car’s cherry red exterior colour is repeated on the door pulls and transmission tunnel, something they borrowed from the Nissan Juke, while the central screen has a sort of ‘floating’ effect against the black and white two-tone dashboard. Below it a neat row of toggle switches like you get in a Ford Mustang handle the full climate control, yes, forget plain air-conditioning. It’s not at all gimmicky in its execution and then there’s the long list of standard specification: multi-function driver display, steering wheel controls, park distance control, MP3/Ipod/USB/Bluetooth audio and smart access with a starter button so you never need to fish the key out your pocket.
So the little mite has streaked ahead early but can it stay out in front with a competent drive? Well, it only makes do with Suzuki’s naturally aspirated 1.2-litre, producing 61kW/113Nm, and because it only needs haul around a lightweight 900-odd kg, the peaky power and torque delivery doesn’t hamper progress as much as you’d think. It’s only an issue out of the city on the motorway when the breathless four-pot feels like it has little to offer below 4000rpm, but in an urban environment it’s actually quite a little weapon. I’m all for a heady rev to redline, and you really can feel the absence of weight in its easy movement and overall agility, so it’s a busy little bee buzzing from A to B in the CBD. The five-speed gearbox has a decent shift, accurate without being too notchy; although I can’t help wonder how the firm’s downsized 1.0-litre turbo would’ve fared. Its extra torque would’ve upped sophistication and efficiency even further I bet… but no doubt the price as well.
The suspension is provided by a simple MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear and while it’s fairly firmly sprung, Suzuki has widened the track compared to the rest of its small hatchbacks so it’s pleasingly chuckable. Aside from being grippier than expected, if you’re a high school kerb-hopper or have a lot of speed bumps to deal with in your neighborhood, you’ll appreciate the 180mm ground clearance. The only gripe, as a consequence of its raised nose; is completely benign steering feel. It will go bizarrely light and heavy in your hands based on road camber and communicate almost no weight differentiation between a straight-ahead and corner position. It’s an issue the similarly tall yet small-wheeled Mahindra KUV has as well.
Nevertheless, the high driving position, distinctive styling, sporting nature (in an urban environ anyway) and attractive pricing should ensure its success. Especially when you factor in that it doesn’t even have a whole lot of competitors at the moment. The Mahindra KUV mentioned earlier also hails from the subcontinent but it’s seriously fugly so no, just no… and for the rest you’re looking at more adaptations of conventional type hatchbacks – Polos, Etios, Sandero Stepway and the like. Suzuki best make hay while the sun shines because cars as impressive as the Ignis are bound to be copied and soon I bet some of the really big players will adopt the mini SUV niche with powered-up, cheapened offerings.
In a nutshell
Proper little head turner, good power-to-weight ratio, raised driving position, and would you believe it from a Suzuki; a cool cabin.
Turbo downsized engine would’ve added yet more wow.
- Engine: 1197cc, 4-cylinder, petrol
- Power: 61kW@6000rpm, 113Nm@4200rpm
- Performance: 0-100km/h 11.6secs, top speed 165kph
- Tyres: 15-inch 175/65
- Economy: 5.1l/100km
- Transmission: 5-speed manual
- CO2 emissions: 119g/km
- Price: R189 900
Renault Sandero Stepway
Turbo blender three-pot engine has to work hard but torque and economy efficiencies are there for all to see. Better price and value, too. 0-100kph 11.1secs, top speed 169kph, power 66kW/135Nm, Price R174 900
Toyota Etios Sprint
Local is lekker with the spiritual successor to the Toyota Tazz. Good new and resale value offsets its lack of niche appeal. 0-100kph 11.3secs, top speed 165kph, power 66kW/132Nm, Price R172 600