Eamonn Wall puts the Japanese car manufacturer’s mild hybrid 4x4 through its paces.

TRADITIONALLY, Suzuki has been known for its small-car expertise and internally follows a philosophy which translates as ‘smaller, fewer, lighter, shorter and neater’. This certainly applies to its smallest car, the Ignis.

The current Ignis was launched in early 2017 as the manufacturer’s new global compact crossover and, being only 3.7 m long with four doors, it certainly fits the bill. It is a brilliant-looking vehicle and the good news is that it boasts a useful 180 mm ground clearance and is available with 4WD. It weighs 900 kg and can tow a braked trailer up to 1,000 kg. The fuel tank holds 32 litres but the car easily returns 50 mpg.

The exterior design is unique and the interior design is also very appealing. In 2020, the vehicle was refreshed a little, with a new hybrid engine fitted to all models and an increased amount of noise insulation fitted. 

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The updated engine, known as the K12D, is a four-cylinder petrol engine producing 87 bhp combined to a five-speed gearbox. There are three models in the range: SZ3, SZ-T and SZ5. These are all fitted with 2WD as standard, with 4WD available only on the top-of-the-range SZ5. Prices span £13,999, £15,499 and £16,499 for the three 2WD models.

An automatic CVT gearbox adds £1,000. The 4WD version costs £17,499 and is only available with the manual gearbox. I did not sample the CVT, but when it comes to manual gearboxes I do prefer a five-speed. It feels more natural than six-speeders, especially for non-motorway driving, when you use the gearbox more often.

The mild hybrid system fitted uses a belt-driven integrated starter generator (ISG) –which acts as both an electric generator and starter motor – combined with a small battery to store energy created under braking and provide a little help to the engine under acceleration. Cleverly, the ISG unit detects when the brake pedal is depressed and, through regenerative braking energy capture, it recharges both the hybrid and conventional 12-Volt battery. All this helps reduce fuel consumption.

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When driving the vehicle, you do not notice the regen braking, which is great because on some hybrids the regen braking is felt without the brake pedal being depressed or braking required. It is interesting to note how often one takes one’s foot off the gas just to coast a little, without wanting to brake.

The Ignis adopts Suzuki’s ALLGRIP AUTO 4WD system. Under normal driving conditions all the power goes to the front wheels, and when slippage (i.e. a spinning front wheel) is encountered, power is automatically sent to the back wheels via a viscous coupling unit. Enhancements now include hill-descent control and grip control.

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Grip control activates on slippery surfaces at speeds less than 18 mph once switched on by the driver. It focuses torque on the driven wheels that have grip and will quickly apply braking to a wheel that is spinning. 

The ALLGRIP adds only 45 kg to the weight of the Ignis, but due to the location of the rear differential viscous coupling for the 4WD system, the rear boot luggage capacity reduces from 260 to 204 litres.

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The Ignis drives well. It has a comfortable ride and handles and brakes satisfactorily. It does 0–60 mph in 12.8 seconds with a top speed of 103 mph. These are very similar figures to the Fiat panda 4x4, perhaps its only true competitor, though the Panda is almost cheaper at £14,000. The Panda Cross 4x4 is a similar £18,000. In my experience, the Panda 4x4 Twinair will do 43 mpg, while the more modern Ignis ALLGRIP will do 50 mpg. Then again, a Dacia Duster 4x4 diesel costs £19,000 to £20,455. 

The Ignis is a great-looking vehicle and its interior is well thought out and nicely cool, in design terms. It is good fun to drive, but the boot is small (though the rear seats can be folded down, which improves practicality) and it is not very fast. However, on the whole, it is a good wee car for the country and city.