In an ideal world, our general motoring needs would entail nothing more strenuous than zooming down an open freeway, or zipping through town on smooth, uncongested roads. But alas, we tend to spend most of our time stuck in never-ending traffic jams, negotiating suburban potholes and speed bumps, or inching along that giant parkade we know as the N1. Traffic is the great equalizer, then: big, high-powered machines progress just as slowly as humble little econoboxes, and comfort and convenience soon become much more important than power and sporty driving dynamics.
Seen in this context, it’s no wonder that SUVs are so popular nowadays. If you’re bound to get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic anyway, you might as well enjoy an elevated ride height and imperviousness to road imperfections, all while at least appearing to lead an active, outdoorsy lifestyle outside office hours, right? But what if your heart longs for these SUV advantages, but your bank balance doesn’t allow for the considerable outlay to acquire one? Or maybe the idea of driving a gas-guzzling off-roader clashes with your environmental sensibilities, yet you feel intimidated by the proliferation of these high-riding monsters. How would you reconcile all these conflicting requirements?
There’s a simple solution to your problems. It’s called the compact cross-over SUV, and there’s a wide variety to satisfy almost every need, with more manufacturers hopping on this bandwagon every day. Suzuki’s brand-new Ignis is the latest offering in this burgeoning market segment, and aims to take the fight to the lower-spec Renault Captur, Mahindra KUV, Toyota Etios Cross, and VW Polo Vivo Maxx. Imagine a small hatchback on stilts with some suitably off-roaderish styling bits, and you’ll see most of the picture.
But, more than just being a somewhat taller city car, the Ignis also fires the next salvo in Suzuki’s small car rejuvenation program. Built on the same high-tech platform which underpins the new Baleno, the Ignis is a thoroughly modern interpretation of intelligent small-car design. Stretching only 3.7m in length, and a smidgeon under 1.7m in width, it makes full use of its upright proportions to create a cabin with ample space for a quartet of 6-footers, with a handy 260 litres of luggage space behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seat. Just like the car itself, the luggage space is pretty square in shape, so while the total absolute volume isn’t massive, it’s very easy to stack a bunch of overnight cases and backpacks in the short-but-tall cargo bay.
By using their latest small-car platform (which we’ll also soon see in the next-generation Swift), Suzuki’s engineers managed to trim down its weight through the extensive use of high-strength steel. But while the Ignis only stresses the scales to the tune of 850 kg, it’s impressively rigid and crash-worthy as well – it carries a 4-star NCAP safety rating, augmented by the standard fitment of two airbags and ABS across the range.
Traction control is conspicuous by its absence, but then the Ignis is highly unlikely to ever experience anything as unruly as wheelspin, because it isn’t exactly over-endowed in the engine compartment. The sole engine option is a 1.2-litre four-pot without a turbo charger (albeit with variable camshaft timing), so power outputs err towards the humble side. 61 kW is pretty impressive for an engine so small, but with only 113 Nm on tap (at a lofty 4200 r/min), frequent gear changes are necessary to keep the little mill on the boil. Fortunately, stirring the gear lever is no hardship, thanks to the 5-speed manual’s slick shift action and light clutch pedal. For those who prefer not to change their own gears, there’s the option of an automated manual transmission (called AMT, which is basically the same 5-speed unit, but with automated control of the clutch and gear selection), but that one is bound to be even slower (albeit more fuel efficient).
Predictably, performance is rather leisurely, with the little Ignis ambling from standstill to 100 km/h in 11.6 seconds on the way to its eventual top speed of 165 km/h. The upside of this relaxed performance is exemplary fuel efficiency, with a claimed average consumption figure of only 5.1 ℓ/100 km – and going on Suzuki’s track record in this regard, many drivers are likely to achieve even better economy. When fitted with the AMT, the 0-100 km/h stroll stretches to 13 seconds, but consumption drops to a claimed 4.9 ℓ/100 km.
Bland numbers only tell part of the story, though. Out on the road, the Ignis impresses with its grown-up manners and all-round capability. Sure, it’s not quick by any measure, but the engine only feels breathless when faced with steep inclines or when attempting to venture too far past the national speed limit. In general use, it’s more than capable of keeping up with traffic, with the odd (well-planned) overtaking maneuver well within its capabilities. Cabin noise is well contained, and while the little engine has to be worked hard to achieve noticeable acceleration, it’s generally smooth, free-revving and refined. The ride quality is also commendable, thanks to compliant springs, lots of wheel travel and a relatively long wheelbase (for its overall size). This results in the Ignis taking speed bumps in its stride, soaking up sudden undulations in the tarmac, and smothering all but the worst potholes.
More than this, it’s also genuinely fun to drive. Overall road grip may not be in the sports car category, but it turns keenly into corners, resists understeer up to very high speeds, and feels eager to change direction. This applies equally on unpaved roads, where the fine handling balance and ample ground clearance (180mm) means that enthusiastic drivers could cover ground much quicker than the Ignis’s tall, narrow stature would suggest – in fact, this might just be the best-handling of all the small crossovers out there.
It’s not just fun to drive either, for the styling is pretty endearing as well. There’s a bluff, blunt nose defined by a pair of oversized headlamps, leading into flanks with just enough creases to keep it from looking slab-sided and capped by blacked-out A- and B-pillars, and terminating in a sharply cut-off tail with blocky rear lamps. Angled strakes in the C-pillar recall historic Suzuki styling, and the bonnet has a clamshell design like that of the Vitara. It’s highly customizable as well, with a range of contrasting roof colours and different grille treatments to add some make-up to the headlight surrounds. A selection of funky colours, tailgate spoilers and optional alloy wheels round off the styling, should you desire even more individuality.
Specification levels are fairly comprehensive, with electric windows and -mirrors, remote central locking, air conditioning and a USB/MP3-compatible audio system appearing on the entry-level GL variant (which only comes with the manual gearbox). The high-spec GLX adds (among other things) roof rails, 15-inch alloy wheels, chrome grille accents, keyless entry, full-LED headlights and front fog lights, Bluetooth handsfree phone integration with steering wheel controls, and upgrades the air-con to electronic climate control. GLX trim also adds the option of the AMT gearbox.
All of which brings us neatly to the value proposition, where the Ignis makes perhaps its strongest case: the GL opens the range at a starting price of R 169 900, with the manual and AMT-equipped GLX derivatives costing R189 900 and R 204 900, respectively. That’s a lot of equipment for your money, especially in GLX form, in a car with a modern design, cheerful demeanor and surprising fun quotient. It might just be the perfect choice for city slickers who need a car with an edgy image, yet who also appreciate fine engineering and top-notch quality. Blocky, practical, fun, and affordable: the Ignis will surely win even more buyers for the Suzuki family.