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Suzuki’s crossover hatchback soldiers on with a new face but all-too-familiar underpinnings

Smaller manufacturers bring some welcome variety to the automotive landscape.

Unable to compete with the big players, they find their niches and fill them, often in creative ways. Think of the quirky Daihatsu Copen, Subaru’s rally homologation boom of the 1990s, Morgan persisting with ash wood frames, or Mazda’s compression ignition petrol engine. Even if they are not objectively the best solution, they’re often something to grab your attention.

However, as evidenced by two of those examples being from more than 10 years ago, that sort of independence is getting harder and harder to maintain while also complying with emissions and safety regulations, catering for the connectivity demands of modern drivers and simply competing in the modern global car market.

Daihatsu may be gone from Europe, but Suzuki is still clinging on. But other than with the Suzuki Jimny (which is practically in a class of one as a go-anywhere off-roader in miniature) and the likable Suzuki Ignis, none of the firm's models are anywhere near the top of our class rankings. When even the marketing people say that Suzuki is not trying to be the best – instead, its unique selling point is the personal service from its dealers and the trust that fosters in customers – it’s clear things are difficult.

So it’s a happy occasion when it announces an all-new generation of one of its cars.

In this instance, it’s the S-Cross, the brand’s compact crossover hatchback that slots just below the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson, but at a much lower price. The outgoing model – née SX4 S-Cross – had been around since 2013 with a fairly comprehensive facelift in 2016, so a new generation was certainly due.

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However, all is not as it seems. At first glance, this S-Cross does look all-new, but dig a little deeper and it turns out that this is another thorough restyle of the existing model. Times may be tough, but that might be a difficult sell in today’s competitive market.

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Suzuki S Cross 2022 road test review side pan

The original Suzuki SX4 was quite a funky-looking alternative back in 2006. It came out at a time when the compact crossover was still a very new concept. We like to think the Nissan Qashqai was the original crossover hatchback, which abandoned any off-roading pretence in favour of fuel economy and family friendliness, but the SX4 came out in the same year.

The second generation, which became the SX4 S-Cross, had a bit of a looks problem, however. It was longer, less quirky and, crucially, looked less like an SUV. With the 2016 facelift, it lost the SX4 prefix in its name but not its awkward looks.

This 2022 restyle is a very thorough job, however. The bluffer front end with squarer LED headlights looks far more confident and bold. The rear is all but unrecognisable too, incorporating an oh-so-fashionable light bar. Suzuki has even gone to the trouble of restyling the glasshouse, with a different shape to the rear quarter windows. On the outside it’s all-change, then, but the interior has sadly had a lot less attention lavished on it, as we’ll come to.

Under the skin, not much has changed either, but then the whole Suzuki range got a mechanical overhaul only last year, with most models becoming ‘hybrids’. They’re only mild hybrids, but at least in the case of the S-Cross, Suzuki does use a 48V system, so the starter-generator can add some meaningful power to the crankshaft under initial acceleration, unlike the cheaper 12V systems found in cars like the Nissan Qashqai. A full hybrid version is reportedly in development.

As such, the only engine available in the S-Cross is the excellently named 1.4-litre ‘Boosterjet’ turbocharged four-cylinder with 127bhp and 173lb ft. The integrated starter-generator contributes up to 13bhp and 39lb ft, but does so at lower rpm while the petrol engine is still building power to make the power delivery feel more immediate, rather than adding to peak power or torque.

As before, there is a choice of either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. The automatic is a torque-converter unit rather than a dual-clutch transmission as one might expect in a car like this.

Suzuki is also fairly unique in that it offers four-wheel drive on all of its cars with the exception of the Swace (which is a rebadged Toyota Corolla Touring Sports). Yes, even the titchy Suzuki Swift and Ignis can be had with four driven wheels. In larger cars like the S-Cross, four-wheel drive is less unusual, but it’s often not available on the cheaper and lower-powered models.

In the S-Cross, four-wheel drive is linked to the upper trim level of two: Ultra, with a Motion version offered underneath it. That does also mean that if you want richer equipment such as Suzuki’s bigger infotainment system, you’re forced into a much more expensive all-wheel-drive car.

INTERIOR

7 Suzuki S Cross 2022 road test review cabin

On the outside, the new S-Cross may look dramatically different from before, but save for the more modern infotainment system and a little bit of rubberised material on the dashboard, the interior looks largely as it did in 2013. Back then, we described it as “cheap and cheerful, but convenient and credible, too”.

About 75% of that still applies. It still feels cheap – very much so – and it’s still convenient and credible, but in the context of other cars available in 2022, it’s about as cheerful as a funeral march. Ten years ago, that may have been the norm outside the premium manufacturers, but today even at the cheaper end of the market, Dacia shows it’s possible to delight with modern design and the odd interesting material texture or colour without compromising usability or inflating the price.

It all looks very drab inside the S-Cross, but at least the ergonomics are sound. The seats are decent enough. You sit high, with a commanding driving position that will be comfortable for most people thanks to plenty of adjustment in the steering column and seat. There is no adjustable lumbar support, but that didn’t pose an issue for most testers even on long drives.

Adults on the back seat will have reasonable leg room, as the S-Cross is slightly more generously spacious here than even a Nissan Qashqai, but head room is tight with the panoramic sunroof that comes as standard on Ultra models. The backrest is adjustable, but the difference is so slight that it’s barely apparent in the photos.

The rear-seat environment of the S-Cross also feels very barren. There are no ventilation openings and no USB ports, which is quite a major omission in a family car in 2022. The boot is also adequate, but no more. It’s smaller than the Qashqai’s, and other than a movable boot floor and a 12V power port, has no special features like hooks or dividers.

Suzuki S-Cross infotainment and sat-nav

The infotainment systems on recent Suzukis have been pretty dire: neither very capable or feature-rich, nor very simple to use. The new S-Cross has a completely new system that is still far from brilliant – it’s not the quickest to respond, and looks a little sparse and simplistic.

However, the built-in functions are actually quite logical to operate, and the navigation is better than on some much more expensive cars, with clear directions and an easy way to select alternative routes.

And as you would expect in any modern car (but something that hasn’t been the case for most Suzukis), there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and both are wireless as standard. Frustratingly, there is no option of a wireless charger, so you’ll still have to plug in your device to stop it from dying on a longer journey. Even wired charging ports are less than abundant, with just one USB-A port and one 12V port in the cabin.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

One area where the S-Cross surprises in a positive sense is the performance. With just 127bhp and an official 0-62 time of 10.2sec, it sounds, frankly, slow. However, even though our test car had less than 200 miles on the clock, it managed 9.6sec from rest to 62mph.

That’s still hardly electrifying, but it generally feels more than adequate, and it’s the result of a kerb weight of only 1.3 tonnes and mild-hybrid assistance that lends useful muscle in the low range. Up to fourth gear, the S-Cross is also quicker in-gear than the Nissan Qashqai we tested in 2021, which had considerably more power, at 156bhp, but only a 12V mild-hybrid system.

That’s reflected in our subjective impressions of an engine that’s always willing and torquey. It doesn’t sound particularly happy to be revved out, becoming quite coarse at high revs, but as our test car had not been properly run-in, that issue might very well resolve itself with some miles.

Although the car in the photos is the automatic version, we spent most of the test with the manual gearbox, and the three-pedal version is the one we’d recommend for its light but precise and positive action – an unexpected delight. The clutch feels slightly spongy with a short travel but is easy to use, and the pedals are perfectly set-up for heel-toe rev-matching.

The automatic, meanwhile, is a fairly old-fashioned six-speed torque converter. It slushes through the gears inoffensively and tends to keep the RPMs a touch too high for utmost cruising comfort, but that’s still preferable to a lot of modern autos’ tendency to shift early and make the engine bog down. There are shift paddles, but there’s little need for them. What is quite annoying is that the old-school lever, aside from being unpleasant to hold, is easy to accidentally knock into manual mode: not a bugbear if you choose the better manual version.

The brakes are only adequate. Pedal progression in normal driving is excellent and always inspires confidence, but the ultimate stopping distances during testing were lagging slightly behind rivals.

RIDE & HANDLING

18 Suzuki S Cross 2022 road test review cornering front

Few people will buy a family-friendly, value-segment crossover hatchback for its handling prowess, yet a lot of rivals come with a remarkably stiff suspension set-up, ending up with neither convincing ride comfort nor particularly engaging handling. The Suzuki S-Cross bucks that trend with surprisingly supple suspension.

Sadly, handling is nothing to write home about. Roadholding is adequate at best, and the steering can be disconcertingly light and mute. When you row the car along a bit harder, the steering does weight up, but there’s no hidden dynamic allure to be found here.

As expected with the soft suspension, there is plenty of body roll for a modern car, but that does allow the chassis to remain largely unperturbed by bumpy roads. Ultimately, it’s reasonably well damped and doesn’t get floaty, so it’s no real cause for complaint.

One of the S-Cross’s distinguishing features is its ‘Allgrip’ four-wheel drive. Suzuki is proud of the fact that it’s offering four-wheel drive in combination with both manual and automatic gearboxes. Indeed, all-wheel drive is a rarity among similarly priced cars, and is usually only available with one transmission option.

Suzuki projects that about 35% of S-Crosses will be specified with Allgrip, but it clearly won’t be a necessity for most people. But if you live in an area that sees a decent amount of snow in the winter, or if you plan light off-roading on unsealed tracks or grass, it’s good that Suzuki is offering a relatively affordable all-wheel-drive car.

On the road, you’d be hard-pressed to feel the system working. This is still a predominantly front-driven car and doesn’t have the power to encounter traction issues on normal asphalt. There is a selector button on the centre console to switch between Sport and Automatic 4x4 modes, or to lock it in 4WD, but the difference between auto and Sport is hard to detect.

Comfort and isolation

The other effect of the compliant suspension is that the S-Cross is one of the best-riding cars you can buy at this price point. As well as soft springs, all S-Crosses come on 17in wheels. At low speed, some sharp road imperfections can be felt; but once you pick up the pace, the S-Cross glides along very serenely.

That’s true as far as ride compliance goes. The S-Cross is a value-segment family car, of course, and one of the areas where you notice this is with some intrusive road noise. It’s particularly apparent on the motorway.

It’s certainly not engine noise that’s the issue here; the S-Cross is fairly long-geared and cruises at 2300rpm at 70mph in top gear, but there is considerable road noise while it does so, and a little bit more wind noise than in more expensive competitors. This is borne out by our measurements, which show that the S-Cross is a few decibels above the Nissan Nissan Qashqai at any speed.

Assisted driving notes

Where Dacia keeps costs down by simply not offering advanced driver assistance systems, Suzuki fits all of them as standard. Dacia does have a point that particularly in a cheap, simple car, drivers are likely to be turned off by intrusive systems, but that, too, is not an issue in the Suzuki.

In fact, the lane keeping assistance doesn’t always seem to work on country roads, but we also never had it intervene unnecessarily. Meanwhile, on the motorway, the lane following is very competent at centring the car. The adaptive cruise control works reasonably well, too. And if none of these systems is to your liking, they are easily turned off using physical buttons on or to the right of the steering wheel. Although there is speed limit recognition, it is not linked to the cruise control.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Suzuki SX4 S Cross 2021 UK first drive review hero

The Suzuki S-Cross may fall short of many rivals with its handling and interior quality, but then it’s also a good deal cheaper than most. The model range is exceedingly simple. There is only one engine (although a full hybrid version is on the way), and you choose between two trim levels, Motion and Ultra. Other than fancier paint (£550) and an automatic gearbox (£1350), there are no separate options.

At £24,999, Motion has most of what you might need, with LED headlights, a 7.0in infotainment screen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, keyless entry, adaptive cruise and a full suite of active safety features. For £5000 extra, Ultra adds all-wheel drive, a 360deg camera, part-leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and a 9.0in centre screen with navigation. To get a similar level of equipment to Motion trim on a Nissan Qashqai, you have to go for one of the top specs, which are over £29,000. The gap closes when comparing an automatic Ultra (which is always four-wheel drive). 

Suzuki also claims its big strength is its dealer network, the trust its customers have in the brand and the cars’ reliability. For a brand that confident in its cars’ dependability, you might expect more than a three-year warranty, but it did place joint third in both the latest What Car? Reliability Survey and the Institute of Customer Service’s Satisfaction index. In other words, there’s every chance an S-Cross will be largely painless to own.

It should also be pretty cheap to run. Suzuki claims some rather ambitious fuel consumption figures – 53.2mpg for a manual front-wheel-drive car, or 47.8mpg for an Allgrip like our test car. Those sound unrealistic in the real world, but during mixed driving we actually averaged 45.2mpg. An economy run yielded over 50mpg and even when thrashing it for the acceleration figures, it refused to return less than 27mpg. That’s better than all of its pure-petrol competitors and even embarrasses some full hybrids. A strong case for mild-hybrid tech.

VERDICT

20 Suzuki S Cross 2022 road test review static

The Suzuki S-Cross is not the best family-sized crossover hatchback you can buy. In fact, it lags behind rivals in most of the ways that will give you a good first impression of a car. The interior is conspicuously cheap and antiquated and it doesn’t offer much in the way of connectivity; the car’s not particularly engaging to drive, and even the space on offer is only worth qualified praise.

However, when you live with the car for a while, you start to see why people are very satisfied with Suzuki ownership and keep coming back to the brand. Everything you need is provided, and that provision even extends to a comfortable and unpretentious ride. The S-Cross manages to combine relatively peppy performance and good drivability with very creditable economy and a low purchase price; so it covers the basics rather well.

Spec advice? There’s not much to choose with the S-Cross. We’d have the manual, and stick with Motion trim, unless you have a specific reason for needing four-wheel drive

It’s easy to sniff at the S-Cross. It has little to offer either the car enthusiast (other than easy heel-toe gearchanges) or the aspirational car buyer. But that leaves a fair few people who are after functional, dependable, keenly priced transport that has all the safety features you might expect from a modern car, and the S-Cross aces that brief.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.