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► New Suzuki S-Cross full hybrid tested…
► … but it’s a bit of a disappointment
► You still get loads of kit for the money
We like the Suzuki S-Cross. There’s something oddly appealing about its bantamweight design and unapologetically affordable character. It’s also powered by Suzuki’s rather excellent 1.4-litre mild hybrid petrol engine, which pulls off the difficult party trick of being frugal, fun and fast.
The world is changing, though. Legislators are pushing manufacturers to launch cleaner and greener petrol engines during the short march between now and the ban on fossil-fuel cars in 2030. So, to keep up appearances, Suzuki has launched a new full hybrid version of the S-Cross.
It’s powered by the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder system found in the Vitara Hybrid, which isn’t a fantastic place to start. It produces a rather breathless 113bhp and 101lb/ft of torque – and it’s mated to a jerky automated manual gearbox that crashes through cogs with the same finesse as a drunken removal man. It isn’t particularly efficient either, which sort of defeats its purpose.
It can’t be that bad, can it?
Well, we’ve driven worse. But the S-Cross’s new full hybrid powertrain is such a fall from the grace of its mild hybrid unit – and we’re frustrated because we know Suzuki can do better.
Performance is a little disappointing. The 0–62mph sprint takes a pedestrian 12.7 seconds in the front-wheel drive model and a glacial 13.5 seconds in four-wheel drive variants. Both of those figures are a long way behind the 9.5-second time posted by the front-wheel mild-hybrid S-Cross.
Also, because the powertrain produces so little torque, the gearbox always needs to change down at least two gears when you accelerate. Pressing the throttle hard to nose ahead of a lorry on the motorway will see the revs spike up to a noisy 4,000rpm – and you’ll still struggle to get past.
Full throttle gearchanges are jerky. The gearbox slams gears home hard if you floor the throttle and let it do the work, although you can smooth out the changes by treating the ‘box more like a manual. You need to lock it manual mode, control the cogs yourself using the paddles behind the wheel and lift off the throttle between changes for the best results.
Then there’s the fuel economy. Under official WLTP testing, the four-wheel drive mild-hybrid S-Cross returns 47.8mpg, while the full hybrid manages just 48.7mpg. There isn’t even a full mile-per-gallon between the two powertrains and, in real world testing, both cars average out at around 44mpg.
The fuel economy gains offered by Suzuki’s new full hybrid powertrain are incredibly marginal, so it simply isn’t worth sacrificing the performance of the mild hybrid engine to unlock them. The only reason you’d opt for the full hybrid over the mild hybrid is to gain access to lower company car tax rates. Even then, though, we’d recommend you think twice before buying.
What about the mild hybrid model, then?
It’s much better. It produces 127bhp and a meaty 173lb/ft of torque, which is quite a lot in car that only weighs 1.3 tonnes in its heaviest trim. Prod the throttle, and the S-Cross will surge forward with an encouraging shove from the turbocharger, even when you’re in a high gear.
The manual gearbox is good, too. It’s a short-throw six-speed jobbie – and it’s surprisingly good fun to row through. We also found that the brake and throttle pedals are the perfect distance apart for heel-and-toe changes, although your average S-Cross driver probably won’t care about that.
It goes around corners well, too. The suspension is soft, so there’s quite a bit of body roll, but there’s plenty of grip to be found. Suzuki’s optional four-wheel drive system helps too. It can send power to the rear axle when it detects a bit of slip or you can lock it four-wheel drive mode if you’re driving it through a storm worthy of a mention in the Old Testament. We struggled to unstick it.
Our biggest complaint (and we level this at both the mild hybrid and full hybrid versions of the car) is the weight of the controls. The steering is feather light and offers very little feedback, which takes a bit of getting used to. During our test drive around Milton Keynes, we often found ourselves dialling in more steering lock around its many roundabouts to make the turns safely.
It’s noisy inside, too. The sheet metal is wafer thin, which means tyre roar and engine noise worm their way into the cabin with ease. Spend a day hammering the motorway in an S-Cross and you’ll also end up with tinnitus in your right ear from the sound of the air whipping past the door jams.
What about the practicality?
Brace yourself for another caveat. The S-Cross is practical little car, providing you opt for the mild hybrid powertrain. It can carry 430 litres of clobber which, while that’s less than the 504 litres you get in the Nissan Qashqai or the 520 litres of the Peugeot 3008, is respectable for its size. Bear in mind that the S-Cross is almost 150mm shorter than the 3008, so of course it’ll be smaller inside.
However, you might struggle for space with the full hybrid model. Its boot is 137 litres smaller than the mild hybrid car, as the battery pack for the powertrain lives under the boot board. That’s only one litre more than you get in a Ford Fiesta, which isn’t good enough for a family SUV.
At least the rest of the S-Cross’s cabin is practical. There’s loads of room up front for the driver and passenger and there’s enough space in the rear for three, providing it’s a short journey. Headroom is good everywhere and, if you opt for the range-topping Ultra model, you get a panoramic sunroof that lets loads of light flood into the cabin. The door bins are a good size, too.
And the interior?
It isn’t the last word in luxury, but it’s comfortable enough. Suzuki’s designers chose function over form, so the upholstery is hard-wearing and the dashboard and door cards are wipe-clean. The build quality is reassuringly sturdy, too. So, while the Peugeot 3008 has a more stylish finish, we reckon the S-Cross’s cabin will still look tidy in a decade.
You have a choice of two infotainment systems. The cheapest Motion car comes with a 7.0-inch screen, while the flagship Ultra model gets a 9.0-inch unit. Both feel a bit old-school, but they come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. We recommend using those whenever possible.
The S-Cross is crammed with equipment, too. Standard kit includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign-recognition, dual-zone climate control and heated front seats. You even get front and rear parking sensors and a rear parking camera, so there’s no excuse for stoving it into a bollard.
We were a bit confused by the blanking plate on the steering wheel of the top-spec Ultra model. It’s the flagship – what’s Suzuki leaving off? Still, we’d rather have that than BMW’s ‘we’ll give you the button but charge you to use it’ business model.
The Suzuki S-Cross is a simple and honest family SUV. It’s economical, good value for money, spacious and surprisingly good fun to drive. However, that lot’s only true if you stick with the car’s standard 1.4-litre four-cylinder mild hybrid petrol engine.
Suzuki’s new full hybrid system doesn’t make a very good case for itself. It’s a bit underpowered, the automated manual gearbox isn’t particularly refined and its fuel economy figures aren’t significantly greater than the 1.4-litre petrol, which makes it difficult to justify the £1,000 premium.
Couple that with the massively decreased boot capacity and you’re left with a very niche audience for the full hybrid model. It only appeals to company car buyers – but if you’re in that position, we reckon you’d be better served by the Peugeot 3008 or the Hyundai Tucson.
|Price when new:||£29,799|
|On sale in the UK:||Now|
|Engine:||1373cc, 4-cyl, turbo petrol, 127bhp @ 5500rpm, 173lb ft @ 2000-3000rpm|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive|
|Performance:||10.2sec 0-62mph, 121mph|
|Weight / material:||1305|
|Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):|