Long-term test review: Suzuki SX4 S-Cross

Final report: Family-friendly Suzuki SX4 S-Cross has proven fun to drive and well built

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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And so we say goodbye to the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.6 DDiS SZ5. After the best part of a year on the fleet, the £21,749 lime green machine has gone, leaving us to look back on its time with us and draw some conclusions.

The production S-Cross was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 2013 and went on sale soon afterwards, Suzuki dropping it into the highly competitive compact crossover market, where the constant stream of new arrivals can move the game on very quickly. So has the S-Cross been left behind?

After 11 months with the car, we can conclusively say no, it hasn’t.

The Suzuki is refreshingly free of the kind of novelty features and design gimmicks that could date it; instead, it’s simple, feels solid and is user-friendly. These strengths might not yank the heartstrings of buyers in showrooms as effectively as a head-up display or a Union Jack roof decal, but they count when it comes to actually living with a car over the long term, as we did.

The S-Cross isn’t going to win any design awards, but its inoffensive exterior is reflected inside by a clear dash layout and tough materials. It’s plasticky in places, but nothing broke during its time on our fleet, despite some concerns over the flimsy removable cubbyholes in the boot.

The controls couldn’t really have been easier to work out, so if you’re left daunted by the tech-heavy approach adopted by so many of its crossover alternatives, the Suzuki could well appeal. The cabin and boot space proved perfectly adequate for a family with a well equipped two-year-old, too.

On the road, the SX4’s honest attributes shone through. You sit a few centimetres higher than in a conventional hatchback, but the body resists roll well and grip is plentiful. Well weighted controls and a strong diesel engine mean the S-Cross is more fun to drive than most competitors.

The only reliability issue came three weeks before the end of its stay with us. A faulty exhaust pressure sensor would have cost £143 to fix were it not covered by the three-year 60,000-mile warranty.

While the repairs were carried out, we sampled another S-Cross, in the shape of a 1.6 petrol-powered replacement, equipped with ALLGRIP four-wheel drive. The petrol engine was quieter than the diesel around town, but both tended to be drowned out by road and wind noise.

The diesel’s punch and more relaxed character were missed, though. You have to work the petrol much harder and its five-speed gearbox is notchy and less satisfying than the diesel’s six-speeder.

Even on wet roads, the 4x4 system was rarely called upon, such is the car’s mechanical grip. We’d recommend the £1,800 cheaper FWD option (with winter tyres for the colder months) over the economy-sapping 4x4, unless you really do intend to take the Suzuki off-road.

So that’s it. The S-Cross has gone and it’s made a very positive impression on us. The Suzuki doesn’t represent the cutting edge in the crossover class but it’s highly likeable, well resolved and decent value. That counts for a lot.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross report 4

Crossover scrubs up well after a string of family outings

Mileage: 8,561 milesReal-world economy: 53.8mpg

Our Suzuki SX4 S-Cross has had a long overdue date with a bucket and sponge. I’ll admit it, I’ve been driving a very, very dirty car. There are no excuses, either; not for the thick black grime on the alloys or the holiday sand forming dunes in the footwells and boot.

Yes, the cleaning regime I’ve applied to the S-Cross has been very shoddy, but all that changed when I booked the car in for the buffing of its life!

If you stand back and squint a bit, the Crystal Lime green metallic paint on our S-Cross hides the dirt brilliantly. It’s not a colour I’d choose, but the bright shade adds interest to the bulky lines and generic detailing of the Suzuki’s exterior.

One of the 17-inch wheels has picked up some slight kerb damage since my last report, but on the plus side, all of them are a breeze to clean. While multi-spoke wheel designs can be a nightmare, black inserts on the Suzuki’s eliminate tricky crevices that usually call for a toothbrush and skinned knuckles.

The cabin’s wide, flat surfaces might lack visual interest, but again they don’t collect dust in the way more complex layouts in rival models can.

With the dust and dirt stripped back, it’s clear that the tough plastics in the S-Cross are holding up well to hard family use. There are some scuffs around the doorsills and at the sides of the boot, plus the back of the front passenger seat has taken a beating from my son’s feet as he sits in his car seat, but a quick wipe revealed that the leather is blemish free.

I’ve praised the removable side pockets in the boot before, although I’m now having doubts. While they are useful, the plastic inserts are flimsy and difficult to slot back – it feels as though they may not last the course.

With the Suzuki returned to (near) showroom condition, it was back out on the road. The absence of long trips in the past few weeks has seen the trip computer’s indicated economy dip below 60mpg for the first time in a while, but my calculations show we’ve been getting around 53mpg from the 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel. That feels respectable given the punchy performance on offer.

The S-Cross is still an enjoyable car to drive and what its simple design lacks in showroom wow factor it makes up for in toughness and easy-to-clean functionality.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross report 3

Crossover comes into its own on Walker family camping trip

Mileage: 6,358 Real-world fuel economy: 50.4mpg

Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress, testing man to his limits and beyond on a whim. It’s survival of the fittest, where only the mentally strong and physically tough will prosper. 

Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Walker family went camping in the New Forest. It was to be two nights under canvas with a turbocharged two-year-old, and a Suzuki SX4 S-Cross serving as our only means of escape. 

As an inexperienced and occasionally incompetent camper, two nights zipped up in a field are a daunting prospect for me. But the S-Cross made it easy, and my wife had the foresight to read the instructions that came with the tent.

Even before we set off, the lime green Suzuki proved its worth. With the parcel shelf and false floor stored in the shed, we liberated the boot’s full capacity. One handy touch is the removable cubbyhole dividers on either side of the load bay, which unclip to widen the main space.

My car also impressed on the way to the campsite. There’s a pleasant solidity about the way it rides, and to the major controls. You feel more connected with it than you do in rival crossovers with their super-light steering.

With 6,000 miles on the clock, the S-Cross’ fuel economy still seems to be improving. We’ve been averaging just over 50mpg for the past month, although the trip computer registered 63mpg on our motorway run to and from the New Forest – not far off the 1.6 DDiS diesel’s 67mpg official figure. The engine stays quiet when cruising, too, although wind and tyre noise means you’ll be turning that radio up a few notches. 

Once at the campsite, we also found the keyless entry a bit clunky. Unlike the best systems, you can’t just pull the door handle to unlock the car. You have to press the button on the handle: one press to open that door and two for all five. We were able to reset it to open all the doors with one press by dipping into the car’s touchscreen menu, but the keyless set-up still feels awkward compared to rival systems.

Our family camping trip was almost a complete success. The rain stayed away and the Suzuki performed admirably. Plus, once we got home, the dirt-hiding powers of the metallic green paint meant I didn’t have to wash it, and we could all crash out and get some decent sleep!

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross report 2

A switch to summer tyres has given the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross a boost

Mileage: 3,101 miles Real world fuel economy: 48.4mpg

We waited as long as we could. Our Suzuki SX4 S-Cross arrived at the start of the year on a set of steel wheels shod with Avon Ice Touring ST winter tyres. And I spent the following months hoping in vain for the cold, slippery conditions to test them out.

Winter got pretty wet, disastrously fo for many households. But ice? Snow? Not a sniff. By the end of April, with the Met Office’s pronouncements turning to BBQs and sunblock, we had to admit defeat and get the S-Cross back into its summer shoes.

A trip to Suzuki service centre TW White in Bookham, Surrey, saw the winter tyres back in storage, replaced with Continental EcoContact tyres on the SZ5’s original 17-inch alloys. A thorough spring clean, and the lime green Suzuki was ready for summer.

British motorists invested in winter tyres in their droves following the Arctic onslaught of 2012/2013, but most will scarcely have had the opportunity to feel the benefits over the rain-soaked winter just gone. There’s always next year, though, and the S-Cross’ switch back to normal tyres has revealed that modern winter tyres are very good, even when conditions don’t really warrant them.

With its standard tyres back in place, the Suzuki has gained lighter steering and a more precise feel when cornering, although the difference is slight. Tyre noise may have dropped a notch, too, but that’s even harder to detect.

Fuel economy has also taken a turn for the better, rising from 46.4mpg to 48.4mpg, but that improvement has also corresponded with other members of the team taking the wheel, so it may be down to different journey types, or their superior eco driving skills...

The point is that winter tyres have their drawbacks in mild weather, but you’ve really got to be looking out for them to notice. I also know from experience that the safety benefits they give when Jack Frost does appear are huge. 

If you’ve invested in winter rubber and the past six months have left you wondering why you bothered, stick with it – you’ll be glad you did.

In more general terms, the S-Cross continues to thrive as a small family car. The simplicity of its layout and controls is tough to beat, and I’m enjoying some of the handy little touches, like the deep storage bins tucked in on either side of the boot.

I took a peek inside a lower-spec version on our visit to the dealer, and that illustrated how the aftermarket look of our car’s sat-nav lowers the tone of the cabin. Nav-free models have a more cohesive dash, but the navigation system works well and I wouldn’t want to swap.

The driving experience continues to stand out as a strong point, too. The Suzuki is easy to drive, and it’s grippy and balanced in corners. I’m beginning to wonder about the gearshift, though. It’s loosened up with use, which has made its notchiness more obvious.

Overall, we’ve learned that while you can’t rely on the British weather, you can rely on the SX4 S-Cross. Other small crossovers layer on the polish, but strip that away and Suzuki has nailed the basics you really want.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross report 1

Family man has been won over by sensible crossover

Mileage: 849 miles Real world fuel economy: 46.4mpg

The appeal of a good family car is all too easy to miss. When you’re young and carefree, there’s always something sexier than that sensible five-door with the big boot. But once you’re in the family way, things change. Boy, do they change.

For five months I’d been battling through family life at the wheel of a small, three-door supermini. But now the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross has turned up, and it’s like having a 1.6-litre diesel-powered Mary Poppins parked outside. 

Suddenly there are places to put wipes, bottles and other toddler essentials. The pushchair slots into the boot without expletives and the child seat fits easily. Of course, the SX4 S-Cross has been designed to cope with this kind of stuff.

It’s a crossover SUV that counts the Skoda Yeti, Mitsubishi ASX and Nissan Qashqai among its rivals. Yet it’s not a large car by class standards. It’s 30mm shorter and 15mm narrower than the latest Qashqai, but park the cars side-by-side and the difference seems greater.

Still, there’s a 430-litre boot, and two six-foot adults can sit comfortably in the back without having any head or legroom issues. Deep windows let lots of light into the rear, and also give small kids a chance of seeing out. But the major contributor to the airy feel inside is the full-length double-opening panoramic sunroof.

It won’t surprise you to hear that this isn’t standard on every model. Ours is the fully loaded, top-spec SZ5, which comes complete with leather seats, sat-nav, keyless entry and a rear parking camera, among other equipment. 

Add the 1.6 DDiS diesel engine, and the price is pushed towards £22,000 – and our model’s £430 optional Crystal Lime metallic paint, plus winter tyres wrapped around a set of steel wheels, make for a grand total of £22,748. 

About the only thing you don’t get for that price is four-wheel-drive. The 118bhp diesel sends power only to the front wheels, but with winter tyres fitted I’ve still been facing up to the cold, wet weather with confidence. 

There’s plenty of grip and hardly any road noise makes its way into the cabin. The bare black wheels have prompted several local comedians to ask who’s stolen my hubcaps, but I quite like the contrast with the lime green bodywork.

If your first reaction on hearing the pitter-patter of tiny feet is to get on the phone to the council’s pest control department, you may not appreciate a car like the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross. When you’ve got kids though, a car that gets the basics right is a real bonus.

Insurance quote (below) provided by the AA for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Group website editor

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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