This is Suzuki's new Splash, and please, no jokes about making waves. Suzuki claims the name represents the refreshing change the Splash brings to the mini-MPV market, or something. Whatever – it's catchy enough, and a damn sight better than Agila; the new one of those is from the same platform as the Splash, and manufactured for Vauxhall by Suzuki. But don't think for a minute think that GM had anything to do with the underlying engineering – this car is all Suzuki.
So just what is the Suzuki Splash then?
Despite what you might expect, the Splash is not the successor to the Wagon R+. At least, that's what everyone from Suzuki kept telling us. One mini-MPV replacing another might seem straightforward, but in fact the Splash was designed and engineered specifically for Europe. Rather than being a Japanese Domestic Market product hastily adapted like the old car.
And to be fair you only have to look at the thing to see the difference. Clever – baby A-class with an Audi grill – styling disguises any awkwardness about its MPV-typical 1.6 metre height. It looks good on the road – almost dashing, and even mildly sporty. Which seems to be exactly what Suzuki is aiming for, in an effort to attract young couples and small families to the brand.
A sporty mini-MPV? From Suzuki? That sounds a bit rich...
Perhaps, but the Splash borrows its basic platform from the Swift, which is a pretty decent car. Point it down a twisty bit of tarmac and the Splash gives its best. Inevitably the tall bodywork shows itself by earlier understeer and more lean than a regular hatchback – but the bodyroll is held in check by some firm damping. This feels fine on smooth French tarmac, but its composure will likely find UK roads a tougher test.
Isn't that unfortunate for a people carrier?
It could be, yes. And before we get to the redeeming features, we might as well hit you with the other bad news: engine choice is limited to 85bhp 1.2-litre petrol and 75bhp 1.3-litre diesel. We were only able to try the petrol version – the likely volume seller, with up to 90 percent of sales – and it needs plenty of encouragement from the gearbox to get it moving. Hardly world ending, given the usefully high-set lever and pleasant shift action, but the engine does become quite raucous towards the red end of the rev gauge.
On the motorway, however, the biggest distraction is wind noise, as the engine hums along nice and quietly. The 1.2 also manages a green-friendly 51.4mpg combined, and CO2 emissions of 131g/km. The diesel does even better – a Suzuki licence-built version of Fiat's award winning 1.3, it emits 120g/km CO2 and does 62.8mpg. Assuming Suzuki has managed the refinement, its extra torque - 140lb ft verses 84 – means it should prove the Splash of choice. But it will also be the most expensive.
You said something about remdeeming features on the Suzuki Splash?
Oh yes. The appealing design quality continues into the interior, with a neat dashboard and plenty of useful storage cubbies. There's even a waterproof underfloor compartment in the boot, suitable for muddy wellies, and such like. The rear seats are a little cramped for adults, and they fold easily to create virtually flat load area. Which makes up for the disappointingly small boot. Access and visibility is helped all round by tall seat squab height; your typical Wagon R+ customer should find themselves far more comfortable…
The trim levels are GLS, GLS+, and DDiS for the diesel (identical to GLS+). Equipment levels are decent, and safety impressive, with six airbags and ESP are standard throughout. Less good is the lack of reach adjustment in the steering wheel, a rather large A-pillar blind spot, and horrible hard scratchy plastics everywhere. The rev-counter pod looks like an afterthought, too.
We don't know the prices yet because Suzuki UK wants to tell its dealers first. But strong hints suggest the Splash will retail between £8500 and £10,500. That undercuts the larger Renault Modus, making the most obvious rivals Fiat's Panda, and its own cousin, the new Vauxhall Agila. Equipment, safety, functionality, and a certain amount of charisma all count in the Suzuki's favour, and it should convert existing Wagon R+ owners and other cost-minded mini-MPV buyers with relative ease. But as for the couples and young families Suzuki is trying to target, the Splash – and everything else in this budget – has one hell of a problem. And its name is the Fiat 500.