The clumsily named Suzuki SX4 S-Cross shamelessly goes after the Nissan Qashqai – and with good reason. Nissan’s decision to jack up the traditional family hatchback a few inches has resulted in one of its best-selling cars, and it’s a market Suzuki (and everybody else) fancies a slice of. We’ve driven the range-topping SZ5 diesel model to see if it’s on the money.
What’s under the S-Cross’s bonnet?
The S-Cross can be had in front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive, but either way there’ll be a 1.6-litre four-cylinder under the bonnet. The choice comes down to petrol or diesel, and while you’d hardly salivate over our front-drive test car’s 1.6-litre diesel, it’s something of a hidden gem. Forget the piffling 120bhp at 3750rpm – it’s the torque that’s key here: 236lb ft of it, pulling its weight from 1750rpm. It’s enough to have the SX4 pulling strongly in lower gears, and it wont run out of puff even when you mash the throttle in sixth gear. The claimed 67.2mpg figure is likely to be as attainable as one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, but the go is satisfying enough to make up for that expected caveat. It’ll certainly see off a comparable 1.6-litre Qashqai – which weighs 120kg more, and musters a whole 59lb ft less at 1750rpm. Strike one to Suzuki…
What about the rest of the powertrain?
The six-speed manual isn’t as slick as the engine – a disappointment given the precision and fluidity of the gearbox in Suzuki’s own Swift Sport – but we’d still prefer its notchy shift to the optional CVT.
Meanwhile, the Suzuki never struggles for traction in its standard front-wheel drive guise. Should you go for the four-wheel drive? Save yourself a couple of grand on the purchase price and yet more in running costs and leave the ‘AllGrip’ version alone. Going off-piste in an S-Cross – who are you kidding?
We wouldn’t expect the SX4 to offer an outright entertaining driving experience, but it’s not a bad steer by a long shot. The steering is light (although mired in a sticky patch on centre) and the chassis feels fairly nimble: the S-Cross is a regular family car that handles just a little bit better than it actually needs to.
Good job looks aren’t everything then…
Quite. You can’t blame Suzuki for trying an Audi-style XXL-front grille and extremely Qashqai-like rear lights, but it’s far from the most stylish family car £15-23k will buy right now. The dinky 16in alloys don’t help the profile either, as they’re swamped by the slab-sided body like a sofa on castors. Still, sensible boots make for a well-judged, comfort-orientated ride, and the awkwardly boxy proportions should pay dividends inside…
But do they?
In terms of space and versatility, it’s hard to fault the SX4. The good news is there’s space aplenty front and rear, the 430-litre boot rubs the Qashqai’s space in the dirt to the tune of 20 litres, and it boasts a handy flat loading sill. It gets better too – the top-spec SZ5 version comes stacked with toys including cruise control, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, Bluetooth, heated leather seats and a panoramic glass sunroof all as standard. The only optional extra enjoyed by our test car is £430-worth of metallic paint, bringing its total price up to a still reasonable £22,179.
But not even bathing the cabin in light can turn it into a welcoming environment. Granted, a Qashqai is dated and unappealing inside too – but the Nissan is due for replacement in 2014. The SX4 S-Cross’s grey cockpit already feels behind the times inside, prioritising practicality and durability over style and desire. And the aftermarket infotainment screen marooned centrally in the main console looks plain ugly.
While the S-Cross’s engine exceeds expectation, punching above its weight, the staid interior is a disappointment, particularly in a class that’s bursting with sassy design touches to grab potential buyers’ attention. It’s another solid Suzuki: easy to recommend, but nigh-on impossible to crave.