The old Suzuki Splash, a cute five-door mini-MPV-cum-city car, was a huge leap forward for the niche car specialist over the bland and boxy Wagon R when it was launched three years ago, both dynamically and aesthetically. The latest incarnation of the model benefits from improvements aimed at maintaining that appeal.
Chief among those developments is the 1.2-litre petrol engine which first saw service in the Swift. The 93bhp unit with Dual VVT boosts economy over the outgoing 1.2 engine from 51.4mpg to 55.4mpg, while CO2 emissions are also cut from 129g/km to a more tax-friendly 119g/km. Elsewhere there are new alloy wheel designs and seat trims, plus the addition of keyless start. There’s also a 1.0-litre version available which produces 67bhp and 66lb ft of torque, but its combined mpg figure and CO2 emissions are the same as the 1.2’s, so we’d avoid it, especially given that you only pay an extra £500 for the significantly more peppy larger-capacity engine.
The gearbox with either engine is a five-speed manual or, with the 1.2 only, there’s the option of a four-speed automatic. This, however, drops the combined economy figure to 49.6mpg and raises CO2 output to 133g/km.
The Splash is a smart, well-proportioned car, with plenty of cheekiness about it but nothing overtly wacky or weird like some other Japanese runabouts we could mention. Get behind the wheel and its overall appeal is undiminished. There are one or two areas of cheap-looking plastic but for the most part the interior design is simple and intuitive, the seats are comfortable and the driving position and all-round visibility are excellent for commanding a full view of the road.
The high roofline makes the cabin feel more spacious than it actually is. You can even cram two adults into the rear quarters, but you won’t get their luggage in; in fact, the boot is only just adequate for the weekly supermarket shop.
One small niggle is the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel, but you can still find a good driving position. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold for a maximum load capacity of 573 litres, impressive for a car that’s just 3715mm long.
The engine performance is pleasing, too. It needs some revving to ever be described as being brisk, but once you’re near peak power and torque the Splash can be driven comfortably at motorway speeds. It is noisy at high speeds however, and the five-speed manual gearbox isn’t as crisp as we’d like, especially in a class that means it’s compared to the excellent Hyundai i10 and fresh-looking Kia Picanto.
Elsewhere, the Splash handles and steers well, but its low-speed ride is too harsh for a car that will spend most of its time in urban areas, although it is more compliant at higher speeds. There’s a fair amount of body roll through the twisties but this is to be expected of a tall monobox such as the Suzuki.
There’s much to admire about the Splash’s simple, fun motoring. So what holds it back from a full recommendation is its overly ambitious pricing. Although the Splash is more spacious than budget rivals, its price puts it far to close to the Fiesta and Polo class - too close for comfort for us.