S-Cross: The more mature half of the Suzuki double act
Suzuki is performing an effective double-act in the compact SUV segment of New Zealand's new vehicle market.
On the one hand there's the Vitara, which could be said to be a true SUV because it looks and feels more like one. And on the other hand there's the S-Cross, which is more of an urban-oriented crossover vehicle.
They're essentially the same vehicle though, even though they're not identical twins. They come from the same factory in Hungary, they're built on the same platform, they share the same drivetrains, and their prices are even the same.
Between them, they're performing very well for Suzuki New Zealand.
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Vitara is the volume seller. A total of 1481 of them were registered last year which contributed to an 18 per cent jump in total Suzuki sales, and the opening four months of this year saw 619 of them registered, which tells us that if the popularity continues the model will enjoy an even better 12 months in 2017.
But the S-Cross is doing nicely, too. A substantially facelifted version was introduced in mid-February, and this has sparked a sharp rise in sales - the opening four months of the year saw 307 of them registered.
When the vehicle was introduced to the motoring press earlier this year, the Suzuki NZ people forecast more than 600 S-Cross sales for 2017. But such as been the market acceptance of the facelift, that it looks like this total will be surpassed with more than four months to spare.
And here's an interesting point. With both the Vitara and the S-Cross the most popular models aren't the entry 1.6-litre versions that retail for less than $30,000, but the top models that are powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and cost in the middle-to-high $30,000s.
In the case of the S-Cross, the top model is the vehicle we've just been driving - a front-drive 1.4 Prestige that retails for $33,990. You can buy the S-Cross in all-wheel drive Limited form for the same price, but Suzuki NZ reports that sales are heavily skewed towards the model that is only front-wheel drive, and has the highest specification.
And as a matter of interest, you can also buy a 1.6 JLX Vitara with all-wheel drive, or a 1.4 Turbo Vitara with front-wheel drive, for that same $33,990 price. Good stuff, huh? Four Suzuki vehicles, all closely related but different, to choose from for the same price. It's pretty effective marketing.
At that facelifted S-Cross launch, Suzuki NZ executives explained that the difference between it and the Vitara is that the vehicle typically appeals to a slightly older age group, so they see the two models complementing each other - Vitara being the sportier and more personalisable model, and the S-Cross being the more luxurious car with styling and interior appointments that reflect this.
All of that is true.
When we drove a Vitara Turbo 2WD late last year we commented on its interior which was black with red trimmings, its exterior with its two-tone paintwork and gloss black alloy wheels, and the fact that its 1160kg kerb weight made it light enough to let its 103kW/220Nm BoosterJet turbocharged petrol engine give it fun performance potential. A vehicle for the young, you might say.
Now we've been driving the S-Cross Prestige 2WD with the same engine and...well, perhaps we can say the vehicle is more discreet. Our test vehicle might have been painted a fairly loud colour called Canyon Bronze Pearl Metallic, but there was nothing loud about its performance - just cultivated. A vehicle for the more mature, you might say.
It can turn on a bit of the speed when required. It's powered by the same BoosterJet engine as the Vitara Turbo, and it has a set of paddle shifters on the steering wheel for the more enthusiastic work. But it is bigger and 35kg heavier than the Vitara, and it has a longer wheelbase, which gives it more grown-up characteristics.
The interior is more mature, too. While the Vitara Turbo has the black-with-red interior, the S-Cross Prestige is more black-with-silver. Upholstery is leather, the interior layout is well-designed and simple, and specification unique to this model Suzuki includes automatic light-sensing projector LED headlights, automatic rain-sensing wipers, and rear parking proximity sensors.
On the outside the Prestige also rear privacy glass, silver roof rails, and 17-inch polished alloy wheels.
Standard specification, which this model shares with fellow S-Cross and Vitara models with the same price, includes push-button start, dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, satellite navigation, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, reversing camera, and electric windows.
The S-Cross appeals as a well-built and superbly painted crossover vehicle that offers good interior room (440 litres of luggage space with all seats in use), and 20 per cent more power and 40 per cent more torque via its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine than the normally aspirated 1.6-litre engine that powers the lesser models. It's also got a six-stage automatic transmission, which replaced a CVT that was under the bonnet of the first-generation S-Cross.
Prior to this facelift the S-Cross was a fairly conservative-looking crossover. But the facelift project has made some changes to that, particularly via the installation of a substantial new toothy grille with vertical bars. Some don't like this new face - it doesn't worry me - but it has certainly made this Suzuki more recognisable.
More to the point is that the facelift has significantly improved the S-Cross, to the extent it is now contributing strongly to Suzuki's new vehicle sales in New Zealand. It deserves to.