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Punching above its weight

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Suzuki’s Ignis is a small car with a big heart – solidly confident on the road and far more spacious and appealing than its diminutive dimensions dictate. Wynter Murdoch reports

While Suzuki’s new Ignis conforms to latest market trends in the sub-compact SUV segment – small engine, truncated dimensions, high seating position, raised ground clearance – it tends not to follow all conventions.

First off, its Italian-inspired styling – it takes many of its cues from one of its forbearers, the Fronte Coupé of the 1970s, a car designed by Giorgetto Giugaro – endows the model with an authoritatively superior air that many of its counterparts lack. Whether on the road or parked, it looks solidly confident, appearing far bigger than its condensed measurements dictate.

Second, its 1,2-litre engine – which is normally aspirated rather than turbocharged, unusual in a segment where force-feeding tends to set the down-sized standard – offers a power-to-weight ratio of about 72kW per ton, similar to what you’d expect from a 2,0-litre Hyundai Tucson.

While these factors are among many that help to make the little Suzuki a much bigger deal than it might at first seem, it’s the detail in the vehicle’s overall packaging – down to the shark-like gills on the C pillar and the two-tone, black and white colour scheme in the cabin – that’s equally appealing.

The Japanese manufacturer has vast experience in building small cars and, in the Ignis, it has produced a model that punches well above its weight.

In terms of footprint, the vehicle is 3,7 metres long, 1,69 metres wide and 1,6 metres tall – so it’s equivalent in size to a city runabout. Based on a Baleno platform with a high tensile steel chassis, it tips the scales at just 850kg – the secret of its formidable power-to-weight-ratio – with body styling bolstered by flared wheel arches, a cute but forthright nose and a jacked-up stance.

Drive is to the front wheels only, but the raised ground clearance makes the car suitable for dirt road excursions, while even moderately high middelmannetjies – of the type characteristic of Southern Africa’s dirt tracks – can be cleared reasonably easily.

Performance is acceptable. The engine enjoys being revved and makes some pleasant-sounding induction noises when it nears the top of its rev range, the red line marked at 6 200 rpm.

While the car will cover the zero to 100km/h sprint in 11,6 seconds, it’s much more fun to drive than the time suggests, the five-speed manual shift gearbox slotting home accurately and the front wheels spinning off the line under strong acceleration.

Economy is a strong point, Suzuki claiming a combined cycle figure of 5,1 litres per 100km for the manual shift version, and 4,9 litres per 100km for the top of the range auto derivative. CO2 emissions are pegged at 119g/km and 114g/km respectively. Though the fuel tank is small – it holds just 32 litres – a real world range of about 600km is likely in each of the versions in open road driving.

A word on Suzuki’s auto transmission: It’s of the automated manual type, which means it’s basically a clutch-less manual gearbox rather than a conventional self-shifter. It pushes the weight of the car up by 10kg, drops top speed from 165km/h to 155km/h and adds about 1,5 seconds to the vehicle’s zero to 100km/h time. Further, it adds R15 000 to the price tag.  

That bit of information out of the way, let’s get back to the manual shifter driven at the launch. On the road the car feels agile and responsive. Steering is light but accurate and, while body roll is apparent in hard cornering, grip levels remain high. At the speed limit on the highway the vehicle cruises easily on flat sections – holding power in reserve – though steep gradients sometimes necessitate a downshift to maintain momentum.

With underpinnings designed to promote comfort rather than sportiness, the ride is far more sumptuous than one would expect from a short wheelbase model, the MacPherson strut set-up at the front – complemented by a torsion beam rear axle – providing a pleasantly controlled long-wave cushion over bumps and hollows.

Doors open wide, pivoting to 67˚ at the front and to 77˚ at the rear, making ingress and egress easy. The cabin is spacious, accommodating four adults without a squeeze and, in the rear, offering good head-, knee- and legroom.

The boot holds 260 litres of luggage – about five litres more than the average for the segment, according to a Suzuki spokesman – and expands to 469 litres if the 60:40 split rear seats are folded flat.

Standard equipment across all models includes remote central locking, air-conditioning, electrically assisted power steering, electrically powered windows, an MP3-compatible CD sound system with a USB port and a12-volt power socket.

GLX versions get Bluetooth, multi-function controls on the steering wheel, climate control for the air-con system, a rev counter, a multi-information display in the instrument binnacle and rear park distance control.

Further, projector-type LED headlights – which incorporate daytime running lights – replace the GL’s halogen versions, and front fog lamps are added, too. Fifteen inch alloy wheels replace similarly sized steel equivalents. Other embellishments include chrome highlights inside and outside, for the most part replacing polished black plastic.

In the safety department, dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes, side impact protection beams, Isofix child seat anchors and child-proof rear door locks have been installed across the range.

Adding allure to the Ignis’s numerous attractions are a selection of options and accessories available for personalisation purposes, among them a touch screen infotainment system – which costs an extra R6 500 – choice of exterior colour combinations, wider wheels, body cladding and aero spoilers.

The Ignis line-up starts at R169 900 for the baseline GL model, adds R20 000 for the higher specced GLX version and tops out at R204 900 for the manual-auto derivative.

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