Suzuki S-Cross 1.4 Mild Hybrid is an endearing family vehicle with a perky drivetrain

Suzuki S-Cross 1.4 Mild Hybrid is an endearing family vehicle with a perky drivetrain
PHOTO: sgCarMart

Rewind the clock back to the early 2000s, and against the backdrop of roads still dominated by sedans, Suzuki had already launched its own high-riding hatch onto the scene: The SX4. One generation later, it would then become the SX4 S-Cross (or simply, the S-Cross, as it was officially known in Singapore). 

For a brand to have a compact crossover in its lineup, however, is now more the rule than the exception. And as many of today's best selling heavyweights have shown, longstanding recognition as a nameplate isn't even required to win favour among drivers.

Where its first forefather felt unique in the more sedan-oriented market of the early 2000s, the third-generation S-Cross has far stiffer competition to contend with today

It is this significantly more-crowded field that the all-new Suzuki S-Cross charges into in 2023, eager to remind us of its presence — and intriguingly, still chugging along to the beat of its own drum.

Forget me not

The first-generation SX4, as mentioned, felt like a raised hatchback with some black cladding and roof rails, while its successor relied still on an overall softness to its silhouette as it leaned more heavily into the crossover look.

In contrast to both of them, this is as conventionally SUV-like that the S-Cross, in its third-generation, has ever looked.

Suzuki's relatively lean local lineup means the S-Cross looks nothing like its siblings here — with neither the doe-eyed cheeriness of the Swift/Swift Sport, nor the slatted grilles of the Jimny and Ignis.

Chunky wheel arches, boxier styling, and a more upright front end give the S-Cross a properly SUV-like demeanour. Meanwhile, clever styling creates the impression that its head lights connect seamlessly to the grille's central chrome piece

Instead, its boxy styling, more upright front grille and chunky wheel arches give off the impression that it wouldn't resist the suggestion of tackling a small dirt road. (It's ideally not supposed to.) Interestingly, the car differs from its predecessor in that it's currently offered only with front-wheel drive currently; the former was available in the AllGrip 4WD variant.

A key quality to the S-Cross' look is also a trick it repeats on its front and rear.

Up front, its head lights connect seamlessly with the chrome piece struck across the grille; at the rear, its taillights are integrated with what Suzuki describes as a central garnish piece on the tailgate. Aiding the sense of cohesiveness are three 'LED position lamps' separately in each head and taillight, while some extra visual eccentricity is created by way of the car's clear taillight casings.  

The three 'position LED lamps' are repeated separately in each head and (clear) taillight, lending the car's design a sense of uniformity

Having said that, this is a car whose design you'd still file more under conservative than outrageous — nothing too offensive, and perfect for the driver that doesn't want to stand out too much on the road.

Functionality as a priority 

In a world where fancy features and screen sizes have become de facto yardsticks for value judgements of a car's cabin, the S-Cross offers a function-first alternative that — even if a little bland and dated — still feels rewarding to the driver.

While not the most modern-feeling, the flip side of the S-Cross' cabin is that functionality and intuitiveness are given priority 

A fair number of components have been brought forward from the previous car: Its gear lever, physical parking brake, and even the buttons on the centre control panel used to adjust temperature and fan speed for the air-conditioning. 

Where the current market trend is to impress (perhaps inundate) with digitalisation, the S-Cross retains analogue dials for its speedometer and tachometer too, although they do flank a 4.2-inch colour display. 

Digital real estate on the car's dash comes in the form of a 4.2-inch digital display flanked by the tachometer and speedometer, as well as a 9.0-inch central touchscreen

By these tokens, the S-Cross doesn't dazzle; you won't find soft-touch materials fitted around the car aplenty either. At the same time, this doesn't mean that this isn't a satisfying space to be in. 

Think Uniqlo, or MUJI — basics and block colours executed with the goal of long-wearing satisfaction rather than grabbing attention in the moment. The S-Cross' no-frills, no-questions-needed cabin likewise impresses with a consistent uniformity in its build quality, even if it pales in comparison to the more modern interiors of its contemporaries. 

The user interface of the infotainment touchscreen is relatively vibrant and logical, but Apple CarPlay (wireless) and Android Auto are also offered

Nonetheless, it does have a fresh (and solid) party piece — a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, which has a vibrant tile-based user interface, and supports Apple CarPlay (wirelessly) and Android Auto. A 360-degree camera also promises to alleviate some of the stress of driving, although it's unlikely you'll feel much of this when on the road. (More on that later.)

The S-Cross is also decently competent on the cargo and passenger-hauling front for a car its size. While its wheelbase remains unchanged at 2,600mm over the previous car, the car's high roofline remains relatively flat towards the rear thanks to its boxy shape, lending itself to a good amount of headroom in the rear. 

Competent in people and cargo-hauling, the S-Cross boasts a decently roomy rear bench, as well as a commendably-sized 440-litre boot

Legroom is good, too, with an almost-flat floor, while three can still sit abreast without squeezed shoulders, despite the car's objectively small size. Finally, its tailgate opens to a commendable 440 litres in the trunk. 

The only notable downside here? Rear air-con vents would have been welcome — but the S-Cross' powerful air-conditioning, even on hotter days, promises to easily circumvent this. 

Surprisingly perky 

The most significant surprise (and delight) still from the S-Cross, however, is experienced when one depresses the Start/Stop button and gets onto the road.

The S-Cross gets a 48V mild hybrid system for the first time, with a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine augmented by an integrated starter generator

For the first time, the car relies on a 48V mild hybrid system that sees a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine augmented by an integrated starter generator (ISG). If this setup and its combined output of 127bhp and 235Nm of torque sound familiar, it's because they are: This is exactly the same powertrain found in the Swift Sport.

Of course, the S-Cross is a heavier and larger car — and one that isn't specially built for enthusiastic driving too — but the numbers already spell a good start. What makes things even better is the fact that the S-Cross dispenses with the CVTs of its predecessors for a smooth six-speed automatic gearbox instead.

The car's powertrain imbues it with surprising peppiness, with the mild hybrid system providing an additional torque 'boost' at low revs

This pairing isn't just smoothly executed, but also gives the S-Cross a level of peppiness one doesn't expect when first setting eyes on the car. Here, the ISG and turbocharged engine work together in good harmony, making moving about in all manner of settings very pleasant.

With the mild hybrid system providing an additional torque 'boost' at low revs, the S-Cross feels sprightly off the line, and will keep going with verve even as you're attacking highway speeds. In start-stop traffic, the engine is shut on and off with minimal fuss too.

Furthermore, while the car's light steering, compact dimensions, and great all-round visibility naturally make it a very relaxing car to drive, its supple and generally well-sorted suspension is just slightly on the stiffer side. In all, even as the car is ostensibly geared towards comfort, we suspect keener drivers should also be able to have their little bit of fun — especially with the paddle shifters offered.

A little sign lights up on the driver's instrument cluster to inform you when the electric motor is taking over, and the mild hybrid system is recuperating energy

But the S-Cross' mild hybrid drivetrain isn't just targeted at driving pleasure — it also has fuel efficiency in its crosshairs.

At high enough speeds, lifting off the accelerator pedal will trigger a couple of arrows (denoting a rotating motion) at the top right hand corner of the dash — as well as a slight but unmissable jerk — denoting that the electric motor is taking over, and that the hybrid system is at work to recoup some energy while coasting. 

A relatively even mixture of highway and city driving during our time with the car returned a consumption of 14.3km/L — a commendable figure, given the 17.5km/L declared by Suzuki.  

Simpler pleasure

In the same way that Suzuki stood apart presciently from its peers with the original SX4, today's S-Cross also serves as a form of counter-programming — albeit in a slightly different manner.

The S-Cross comes with today's safety assistance essentials, including adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring

Instead of chasing the razzle-dazzle even mass-market cars are striving towards today, it appears the brand has remained steadfast on its ethos of uncomplicated, budget-oriented functionality, while still bringing the S-Cross suitably and sufficiently up to date. (Today's safety assistance essentials, for instance, such as blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are all here.)

All this, naturally, is bundled together with the promise of bulletproof reliability in the years to come. This is a car that feels faithful to what you expect (and perhaps enjoy) from a Suzuki.

Since staring at the S-Cross' price in isolation today is somewhat unfair given the price climate, a look at its contemporaries (both in terms of price and segment) will give you a better idea of what it's contending with in 2023.

For drivers who still place functionality and reliability as the highest priorities, the S-Cross — especially with its surprisingly delightful drivetrain — should still hold great appeal

Against them, the model's unique and dogged insistence on charting its own path should surely still appeal to those seeking the simpler, sometimes surprising pleasure of driving a zero-shock family crossover. 

Interested in the Suzuki S-Cross? Make sure to check out these other compact crossovers too! 

While not the fastest car, the Honda HR-V delivers on quiet, affordable, and comfortable motoring

The slightly refreshed, peppy-as-ever Nissan Kicks e-POWER is even more compelling a compact crossover

Good space and a host of convenience features make the facelifted Citroen C5 Aircross the pick for those looking for family transport with minimum fuss

What we like

  • No-frills functionality holds its own charm
  • Spacious interior
  • Surprisingly smooth and perky drivetrain
  • Easy to drive
  • Mild hybrid system returns commendable fuel economy

What we dislike

  • Slightly dated interior
  • No rear aircon vents
  • Perceptible switches between starter generator and engine

ALSO READ: Updated BMW X5 and X6 land in Singapore

This article was first published in sgCarMart.

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