► All-wheel-drive version of the new Suzuki mini-crossover
► Range-topping model for 14 grand
► Electronic extras include near-useless ‘mild hybrid’ system
The Ignis name has been around since 2000, with a break from 2008, and now it’s back in an entirely new car. Like its predecessor, it doesn’t quite fit into any category. It’s tall for a mini, but without the rugged chunkiness of a crossover like the Nissan Juke or Mitsubishi ASX. It sits smack in the middle of Suzuki’s line-up: shorter than the Swift, longer than the Celerio, less off-roady than the Jimny and cheaper than the Vitara.
This version blurs matters further by having all-wheel drive. It’s front-drive most of the time but through some viscous coupling technology it brings the rear wheels into play when needed.
The SZ5 manual versions (this one and the front-driver) also come with SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki), a system that stores surplus energy in an extra battery and uses it in stop-start traffic, and to provide a helping hand in hard acceleration.
What’s under that quirky exterior?
Your £13,999 gets you an Ignis 1.2 SHVS SZ5 4W that, for all its neat styling inside and out, is ultimately a simple, light, basic and in places cheap-feeling car.
The body is five-door only. The C-pillar styling is a neat touch, and for those who like a knowing retro nod it alludes to the SC100, from the late ’70s.
There’s just the one engine in the 2017 Ignis line-up, the 1.2 Dualjet petrol four first used in the Swift in 2014, and more recently the Baleno. It’s not big or clever, but when it’s fitted in a car that weighs just 870kg ready to drive it’s capable of providing some fun. The suspension and brakes are similarly lacking in sophistication but do a decent job.
The twin-injector, four-cylinder petrol engine drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox, with the rears joining in when the sensors detect the need.
SHVS is technology that Suzuki claims makes this Ignis a mild hybrid, although we say that’s stretching a point. The idea is familiar from BMW’s Efficient Dynamics project of more than a decade ago; instead of letting electricity generated from deceleration go to waste, it’s stored and deployed when needed.
The system’s key component is the ISG (Integrated Starter Generator), essentially a combined generator and starter motor, using a belt rather than a gear chain, and it’s linked to the compact lithium-ion battery under the front passenger seat where that surplus charge is stored.
The conventional starter is used only to fire the engine up from cold. For the rest of the day, it’s the smooth, quiet ISG that restarts the engine. The ISG can also provide an energy boost during hard acceleration.
Cabin built down to a price
This is where the whole Ignis range lets itself down. Too many of the plastics your hands come into regular contact with feel brittle and unwelcoming. Cost is doubtless the root of the problem.
The seats are shaped to offer little lateral support and are thinly padded. The audio equipment is fiddly and unintuitive to operate, with speakers that struggle to cope with even a modest volume. The cabin is a relatively noisy place, so you soon give up even trying to listen to talk radio.
The boot is small, but headroom is good, and most drivers won’t find their elbows or knees short of space unless they’ve had to slide forward to make room for an adult rear passenger.
The 'Allgrip' all-wheel-drive system decreases the seats-up luggage space from 267 to 204 litres; with the rear seats down, it can cope with 490 litres (versus 514 with no rear axle) and when stacked to the roof it’s 1086 litres (vs 1100). It also adds 50kg to the car’s weight. Allgrip comes with Hill Descent Control (which works below 15mph in first and second gear, to give steady downhill progress in slimy conditions) and Grip Control (which detects low-speed slip and directs torque to the wheels that have grip).
They got the most important thing right
The Ignis extends a fine – if often unacknowledged – tradition of sweet-handling small Suzuki road cars. Like several generations of Swift, it’s easy to enjoy driving the Ignis. The ride quality is OK. The steering is natural. It responds readily and accurately, cornering with poise and agility, and it feels as though it enjoys being revved hard through the gears.
Like a lot of low-powered small cars, it requires the driver to be on the case, keeping the engine in its powerband and maintaining momentum through the bends.
This isn’t to everyone’s taste. You might feel that the lack of grunt below about 3500rpm is a significant shortcoming, and what can be an enjoyably buzzy, engaging way of driving in short bursts can become annoying after a while.
The SHVS technology, frankly, seems to be a waste of time. It adds weight, but rarely has much charge stored away in that extra battery, so the auto stop-start system doesn’t often get called into action.
This Suzuki’s bigger than the previous Ignis, but remains essentially a compact car. That extends to its fuel tank: a very modest 30 litres in the all-wheel drive car (and only 32 in the front-drive versions), giving a safe range of not much more than 250 miles.
Which is the best version?
Prices for the 2017 Ignis start at £9999 for the few-frills SZ3. The next step up is the SZ-T, which adds sliding rear seats (165mm fore and aft), sat-nav, a parking camera, wheel arch extensions, side mouldings, roof rails and 16in alloys (up from 15in). The SZ5 adds automatic air-con, LED headlights, Dual Camera Brake Support (two forward-facing cameras on the back of the in-cab rear-view mirror), which makes possible Brake Assist (which increases the force applied during emergency braking), lane departure warning, weaving alert and automatic emergency braking.
It’s only the SZ5 that’s available with Allgrip automatic all-wheel drive.
There’s an optional five-speed automatic transmission (available only in front-drive and SZ5 trim), which has a manual mode and a 5mph creep mode.
Kept within its limits the Ignis is a good mix of useful and enjoyable. It’s no fuss in town, and punches slightly above its weight when you feel like hustling it along a B-road. But on longer trips it falls foul of its lack of power and refinement.
The all-wheel-drive version brings only marginal technical advances – it certainly doesn’t make it a serious dual-purpose car – and has the disadvantages of extra weight, extra cost, and reduced luggage and fuel capacity.