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Suzuki's dinky SUV is good value, versatile, capable and spacious - enough to forgive its cheap-feeling materials and unsophisticated ride

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Is the Suzuki Ignis a city car or a compact SUV? At just 3700mm long and 1690mm wide, it’s significantly smaller than even a typical supermini - but it offers optional four-wheel drive, reasonable ground clearance, and has the kind of bulldog stance that makes it look fit for flinging mud.

Indeed, Suzuki refers to the Ignis as “the only ultra-compact SUV on the market”, and attempted to emphasise this side of its character through the car’s last major facelift (which came along in 2020), introducing a new grille and bumpers, plus some more countryside-appropriate paint colours, which it has since added to for 2023.

Though it’s small on the outside, however, the Ignis offers very impressive interior space and versatility. So whether you need something small and affordable that’ll get you across slippery tracks and through the winter months, or just a well-packaged, spacious, efficient and clever small car for everyday urban motoring, this cheery Suzuki has a lot to offer.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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The Ignis is based on the same steel chassis and Heartect platform on which the more conventional Suzuki Swift superminis is founded, but the Ignis's smaller dimensions make for a remarkable kerb weight figure of well under a tonne, even for four-wheel drive models.

Buy a simpler front-wheel drive model and you’ll get a front transverse-mounted 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a five-speed manual gearbox as standard; or a two-pedal CVT auto if you prefer. Suspension is via fixed-height coil springs, and MacPherson struts up front with a torsion beam at the rear.

Here's one for the cars round of the local pub quiz: it's the Ignis's live rear axle that Caterham adopts for its most affordable Seven sports cars

‘Allgrip’ four-wheel drive models substitute the beam at the rear for a live rear axle, with drive delivered to it permanently via a viscous coupling that diverts more torque rearwards as the front wheels slip.

Suzuki made some significant mechanical changes to the Ignis in mid life. Ride and refinement were far from strong points, and to these ends Suzuki brought in new insulation materials to cut vibration and noise on the move, plus extra body reinforcements in the tailgate, roof, floor and suspension mounts.

Even more significant was the arrival of a revised engine. The latest evolution of Suzuki’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder Dualjet petrol unit, the ‘K12D’ came in for 2020, and benefitted from a series of design changes to give it even better efficiency. It remains available exclusively with 12-volt hybrid assistance, which itself received a bigger drive battery for 2020 (up from 3Ah to 10-).

INTERIOR

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The Ignis seats four adults in surprising comfort; in the back, we're talking knees free from backrests and heads well clear of the ceiling here. The driver also gets a decent amount of adjustability behind the wheel, and behind you is an impressive 260-litre boot (204 litres if you get an Allgrip). The rear seatbacks adjust, too, and the seats themselves fold flat and slide back and forth in a 50/50 configuration.

So clever and spacious is the Ignis, in fact, that its cheap-looking interior materials seem to matter much less. Suzuki has at least experimented with a convincing two-tone dash; and t’s an interior that generally feels built to last, although the metallic-coloured plastic centre console sides are quite flexible.

Boots in city cars are usually pretty tiny, but the Ignis's sliding rear seats give it a carrying versatility you just don't expect of something so small.

There are chunky physical dials and buttons for controlling the air conditioning – no longer a given – as well as for the hill descent control, Grip Control, and for turning off the car’s ADAS systems.

The touchscreen infotainment is a bit of a disappointment, because it’s not a particularly easy system to use, nor is it quick to respond to your prods. Thankfully, there are controls on the steering wheel for the stereo instead; and wired smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android devices is provided.

The driving position is particularly upright, even compared with a conventional city car, such as the Volkswagen Up. The seat could do with better lumbar support, but the steering wheel adjusts up and down, so most should be able to find a posture that suits them. The Ignis’s tall boxy shape means the interior feels airy, too.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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The Ignis adopts what you might consider a pretty typical performance level for a modern city car; it isn’t a fast car, and nor need it be. 0-62mph sprinting is claimed for something between 11- and 12sec, depending on your chosen specification. 

Whichever version you choose, getting up to motorway speed down a slip road never makes you sweat; though it’s done gently enough to remind you that motorway cruising wasn’t really intended to be one of this car’s core strengths.

Suzuki’s Dualjet engine revs with less freedom than some atmospheric petrols; but the 37lb ft of extra torque that the hybrid system can provide when the car’s picking up at lower revs is just enough to feel the benefit of, and means you don’t have to work the motor hard to maintain a decent give-and-take pace in traffic.

The car’s manual gearbox is light, short-of-throw, and pleasant to use; and its brake pedal isn’t a ‘blended’ style hybrid one, the car’s hybrid system scavenging instead on a trailing throttle - so it’s easy to bring the car to a stop smoothly.

As regards real-world economy, besting 50mpg comes easily, even if you’re driving the car fairly fast and hard; but better is possible. In fact, 65mpg shouldn’t be impossible if you drive sympathetically in a front-drive model.

RIDE & HANDLING

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The Ignis was quite a rough-riding, coarse-edged kind of small car when first introduced in 2017, and while the latest model certainly improved when revised in 2020, it retains a slightly fidgety chassis that communicates its readiness to go offroad even when it’s on smooth urban Tarmac; especially in the case of the live-axle, four-wheel drive model.

The car bumps a little over broken asphalt, particularly at low speeds, and moreso in the case of the four-wheel drive model (because of the nature of that rear axle) than the front-driven one - but it’s without doubt more comfortable than when the Ignis first arrived. Cabin isolation is a little noisy at motorway speeds, but only as much as you’d probably expect of a car this size and price.

The Ignis isn’t really a car for sophisticated on-road handling, either. Steering it on country lanes feels like you’re having a relaxed conversation in which it amiably agrees to follow your inputs, rather than an exchange between a soldier and sergeant major; but what else would you expect from what is essentially a city car with rare dual-purpose remit? Grips levels are perfectly respectable in any case, and body control is contained enough to feel like you can benefit from the basic agility and wieldiness of a small car.

In the case of the Allgrip model, offroading capability is limited mostly by the car’s standard-fit road-intended tyres; but, with a set of mud and snow tyres fitted, the Ignis would likely surprise almost anyone with how far and well it’ll climb, scrabble, ford and descend. It’s not a car that rockets up slippery slopes, but a short first gear does a passable impression of low-range gearing, and makes the most of the car’s 82bhp. Those diminutive proportions also open up narrower green lanes; ground clearance is a decent 180mm; the car’s wheelbase and overhangs are short; and there’s electronic hill descent control included.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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The European market for sub-B-segment hatchbacks is much smaller than it was when the Ignis was introduced in 2017, and prices are higher than they were, with safety and emissions rules biting hard. That’s what used to be a sub-£13,000 option in 2017 now starts just under £18,000.

Suzuki has deleted the car’s slower-selling entry-level equipment trim (SZ3), so now buyers choose between SZ-T and SZ5 models. Even on the former, though, you get plenty of equipment and active safety kit (Dual Camera Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning and Weaving Alert, air conditioning, LED headlights, rear privacy glass, sliding rear seats, rear view camera, 16-inch alloy wheels and Smartphone Link Display with Apple Carplay). SZ5 models also get air satellite navigation, cruise control and door-mirror-mounted indicators.

VERDICT

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The Suzuki Ignis is no replacement for the sadly departed (at least in passenger-car form) Suzuki Jimny as a proper off-roader, but it is the only real option for rural dwellers who want a small runabout with four-wheel drive for when the weather turns against them.

It doesn’t look like the bargain it once did; but even so, you won’t find a countryside-capable little car for less money now that the Fiat Panda 4x4 is long departed.

If your budget will stretch to a Dacia Duster 4x4, much as it’s a bigger car, it’s also also a more versatile one; and if, on the other hand, four-wheel drive isn’t such a motivator, other small superminis have more apparent dynamic and material sophistication for the money - though perhaps not as much character.

Versatility, capability, functionality and value are the Ignis’s main draws - and they remain potent ones today, just as they were in 2017. Few small cars will do so much, or could prove so useful - but also so likeable.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Suzuki Ignis First drives