What is it?
First launched in 2013, the S-Cross was Suzuki’s answer to the ever dominant Nissan Qashqai. On paper, it had all the right ingredients to be a success: impressive ergonomics, plenty of standard kit and a decent chassis. However, the company’s clever crossover never sold in high numbers, despite the fact that the market for such vehicles grew rapidly over the next three years.
So why was it not successful? Well, according to Suzuki, a great deal came down to aesthetics. Put simply, it didn’t look like an SUV - a conclusion that clearly influenced the decision to give the S-Cross a "major" mid-life facelift.
Instead of simply giving the S-Cross a little nip here and a tuck there, the design team went back to the drawing board and have treated the car to a whole new front end. A clamshell bonnet, steep nose, aggressive air intake and new design headlamps help endow the Suzuki with a somewhat predictable compact pseudo-SUV look. Ground clearance is also slightly higher (raised by 15mm) to give an air of off-road capability.
However, an aesthetic update is not necessarily enough to keep a three-year-old design competitive in an increasingly saturated crossover sector. As a result, Suzuki has joined the downsizing bandwagon, ditching its naturally aspirated petrol 1.6 for two smaller capacity Boosterjet engines – namely the turbocharged 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre motors seen previously in the Baleno and Vitara S.
We’ve already experienced Suzuki’s 1.0-litre unit in the lightweight Baleno and, in that application, we were impressed with its refinement, frugality and flexibility. However, the prospect of putting the same three-cylinder motor in a car that weighs 210kg more is something else entirely.
Thankfully, this wasn’t lost on the development team, who benchmarked the turbocharged unit against the old naturally aspirated 1.6 engine. The results on paper are mixed: power is down at the top end by 7bhp but torque is up by 9%.
What's it like?
First impressions are rather disappointing. Press the starter button on the dashboard and the three-cylinder engine wakes in a gruff manner, introducing a slight vibration into the cabin. It’s not offensive by any means, but it’s simply not as refined as Skoda's or Ford's equivalent 1.0-litre units.
However, first impressions don’t always tell the whole story, and so it is with the S-Cross. Once underway, the engine smoothes out and settles down into an almost imperceptible three-cylinder thrum. Around town its hushed tones make it a far more relaxing drive than the gruff sounding 1.6-litre diesel we tested previously.
Push the engine harder and it will emit a distinctive growl, but this is backed up with impressive performance. And unlike some of the other downsized triples, Suzuki’s motor doesn’t have a noticeable step in its power delivery. It’s happy to pull from below 2000rpm and continues to do so until it hits its soft limiter at around 5500rpm. Granted, a 0-62mph time of 11.0sec doesn’t sound particularly quick, but impressive roll-on performance helps the S-Cross feel rather sprightly in the real world.
Chassis wise, aside from the added ride height and revised damper settings, the latest car remains virtually identical to the model it replaces. However, this is no bad thing as we’ve always been rather fond of the Suzuki’s dynamics. The steering is direct, albeit lacking in feel and the body control is on a par with the Qashqai. Push harder and predictably there is some body roll, but it’s well controlled, and the S-Cross never feels out of its depth on demanding B-roads.
However, the car is still let down somewhat by its low-speed ride quality. The revised damping has certainly improved the S-Cross’s primary ride - large compressions are handled with aplomb - but around town the Suzuki still feels a little too fidgety and harsh. For day-to-day comfort, Nissan still has the edge.
Inside, the S-Cross is also relatively unchanged from the previous model. Minor updates include a new soft-touch dashboard pad, a piano black finish for the centre panel that surrounds the infotainment unit and newly designed seat fabric for SZ4 and SZ-T models. The changes add to what is already a pleasant enough interior design, but as we found with the previous generation, the quality of the materials could be better.
That said, everything feels well screwed together, and given the generous amount of standard equipment, we predict that most buyers will be able to forgive Suzuki for the smattering of hard-touch plastics. For example, our test car, the mid-level SZ-T, came with satellite navigation, a rear parking camera, front and rear parking proximity sensors, climate control, and rear privacy glass as standard.
Ergonomically, the Suzuki is still a mixed bag. Forward visibility is good, the driving position is high and commanding and the front cabin provides plenty of space for tall adults. However, rear head room is compromised due to the design of the C-pillars and sloping roofline, as is rearward visibility.
At the rear, the boot is bigger than a Skoda Yeti’s and on a par with Nissan Qashqai’s, which somewhat makes up for poor aforementioned passenger space.
Should I buy one?
If you are looking for a practical and economical crossover that’s packed with standard kit, then the S-Cross is a cost-effective alternative to the Nissan Qashqai or Seat Ateca.
Starting at just £14,999 for the 1.0 Boosterjet SZ4, the Suzuki is a lot of car for the money, although we’d opt for the slightly more expensive £19,499 SZ-T because it comes with essentials like automatic air conditioning, a parking camera and satellite navigation.
However, despite the updates, the S-Cross still isn’t perfect. The interior feels cheaper than its rivals’, its low-speed ride is average at best and the lack of rear head room is a real limitation. Ultimately, if you want a slightly classier cabin, we’d still suggest a similarly priced Skoda Yeti, and if it’s all-round refinement you’re looking for, the answer is still the slightly pricier Qashqai.
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.0 Boosterjet SZ-T
Location North Wales; On sale Now; Price £19,499; Engine 3 cyls, 988cc, petrol; Power 109bhp; Torque 125lb ft; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1160kg; 0-62mph 11sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 56.4mpg (combined); CO2 rating/BIK tax band 113g/km, 19% Rivals Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti