OPINION: Suzuki's revamped high-rise Splash is probably better-suited to family life than its Swift sibling, and has enjoyed an important safety upgrade, writes Dave Moore .
Suzuki's hero car in the last five or six years has been its cute as a button and enormously entertaining Swift hatch, and we're told interminably in radio ads that even Jeremy Clarkson likes it. Well, I do too, and with the addition of a new Sport model and a manual-only diesel offering, the Swift soldiers on at or near the top of new small car sales in New Zealand. As well it should, there are few cars of any size that offer as much fun and Suzuki appears to have managed to position the car in that desirable, but often impossible to achieve slot, as "classless".
That doesn't mean it's not classy. Far from it, just about anyone can drive one without feeling out of place, and it has proven to be such a desirable bit of kit that people will often forgive it its one bugbear - lack of rear room.
Which is where the Suzuki Splash comes in. By going high-rise, the Splash design manages to accommodate rear passengers much more capably, with surprising legroom and while the car's truncated vertical hatch means the boot is not much good unless you're using soft luggage, it wouldn't put me off.
The Splash has been on the New Zealand market for about two years now, but it could have been here much sooner, as the model was launched in Europe in 2008, and in southern England where I spent an extended holiday after the Olympics, it appears to outnumber the Swift - to the eye of this casual observer, anyway.
The reason it seems more numerous is probably because it can also be seen with Vauxhall and Opel badges. The car was developed in Europe as a successor to the Wagon R Plus, that wee fridge-like people mover that was first developed as a Wagon R micro car in the 90s.
The first Wagon R Plus was designed for use as a General Motors model too, so it can be seen as a Vauxhall or Opel Agila. Which is what the new Splash is also called when it's seen with those brand's grilles and badges on its nose.
In Europe, the Hungarian-built Splash, like its GM cousins is available with a 1.0-litre triple cylinder engine or a 1.2-litre four. We just get the latter engine, which is related to the 1.4-litre unit fitted to the latest Swift. Despite losing 130cc, the Splash's 69kW/118Nm motor is only short of the Swift's to the tune of 1kw and 12Nm, and it still manages to feel quite nippy, though it does lack one thing the Suzuki has, and that's a CVT transmission.
Except for the Splash, all non-SUV Suzukis have CVT options, and they benefit both in terms of refinement and ease of driving, but also when it comes to fuel consumption. The mid-sized 2.4-litre Kizashi sedan came with CVT right from the beginning, while the Corolla-sized SX4 and the Swift gained them after having previously offered a simple four-speeder as the automatic option.
The Splash would be even better with a CVT, because its four-speed does tend to "hunt" between rations a tad, and even though its posted economy figures are a pretty decent 5.5L/100km in mixed driving, no doubt this would drop into the 4s with the new transmission.
But I'm scraping the barrel here, the Splash may not be a very glamorous car - though I found its new deep-grille nose-job engaging enough - but it's a thoroughly capable one, and it has all been taken a step for the better with the recently facelifted car gaining an Electronic Stability Control setup, to go with its front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and electronic brake distribution.
Without ESP, the car gained a four-star NCAP rating, it's expected that when it is reassessed the addition will have the car regraded to five stars, like the Swift and SX4.
Sadly Suzuki didn't see fit to upgrade the model to Bluetooth connectivity as well, but aftermarket systems are simple and cheap enough to fit, and for the market in which the car is placed, perhaps its importers didn't think the Splash demographic is that techno-savvy. Savvy or not, we can all benefit from hands-free can't we?
Options or otherwise it all boils down to working out a good pricing structure and the base GLX Splash also eschews power mirrors, a rev-counter and alloy wheels to enable it to have a sticker of $18,990 in manual form (it's another $1510 with automatic).
However, it would be churlish to criticise the car's specifications, when air conditioning is on the standard equipment list, along with a four-speaker stereo with tuner, CD and MP3 compatibility and front seats that give drivers and front passengers a massive 30mm of height adjustment
The higher specification automatic Limited model at $21,900, adds keyless starting, heated power side mirrors in body colour, fog lamps and alloy wheels.
It all adds up to a lot packed into a little car, and within its diminutive 3.7-metre overall length, the Splash will accommodate up to five people remarkably well. Sure the centre rear passenger will have drawn the short straw, but considering the car is 135 millimetres shorter than the Swift, on a 70mm shorter wheelbase, while still managing to afford greater useable interior volume, it is one of the best packaged small cars you can buy.
In the rear, the car allows someone my size - 1.88mm - to sit behind a driver just as tall. As I mentioned before the boot is not huge, but with folding rear seat backs and bases that are split 60:40 you could expand load space selectively and still leave space for one or two in the rear seat while allowing some expansion of the seat-up 178 litre load volume. Leave out rear passengers altogether and the Splash can gobble up a much more useful 573 litres.
Up front, Suzuki has left well enough alone with the Splash's minor facelift, which means the tidy, logical driving environment remains, and while the plastics and fabrics seem more workaday than luxurious, they appear to be very nicely put together.
Those adjustable front seats are brilliant for older or more infirm users. They offer a seating plane that is that much taller than the Swift's that people who would have to haul themselves into and out of that car, can elegantly enter the Splash with little effort, while getting out is just as easy.
On the road the Splash is a competent rather than sporting handler. Its electric steering is well-weighted enough, but there's more body roll than the Swift has. However, in terms of ride quality there's no comparison. The Splash quietly copes with bumps and holes very well, and there are plenty of those in my Christchurch suburb.
At highway speeds, the Splash cruises along pleasingly smoothly and while the four-speed automatic makes the engine busy itself up hills and on twistier routes, the Suzuki doesn't feel underpowered even with a load on board.
A zero to 100kmh time in the 13 second bracket does not restrict one's driving at all. Traffic hardly ever travels and accelerates more quickly than that, and even in the snarls of pre-Christmas shopping drivers, the Splash can more than look after itself.
Living in the shadow of the best-selling Swift, the Splash is something of an unsung hero in the small car market.
The Swift may be the segment champion in terms of sales and popularity, but if you like to travel with two or three other people, who like a bit of room to move, the Splash is the better bet.
Drivetrain: 1242cc fuel injected transverse FWD DOHC 16 valve four, with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Performance: 69kW at 6000rpm, 118Nm at 4800rpm. Max 172 to 175kmh, 0-100kmh 12 to 14.5secs, 5.1-5.7L/100m, 119-133g/km CO 2.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam. Vented front disc brakes, drums at rear. Electrically assisted rack and pinion steering.
Safety: Front, side and curtain airbags, ESP, ABS and EBD. Four-star Euro NCAP crash rating (ESP may make this five-stars).
Dimensions: L 3715mm, W 1680mm, H 1590mm, W/base 2360mm, F/track 1460mm, R/track 1470mm, Weight 990 to 1040kg, Fuel 45L.
Pricing: Pricing: Splash GLX $18,500 (manual), $19,990 (automatic), Splash LTD $21,500 (automatic only).
Hot: Successful facelift; good passenger space; rides well; good equipment; ESP added.
Not: No Bluetooth option; car could do with CVT like other Suzys. Not much luggage room with its rear seats up.
Verdict: Not as much fun as the Swift, but cheaper, more spacious and a better ride. A great small car for the family.
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