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Suzuki Ignis Sport Test

by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Poor NVH
  • Good equipment level but some looks odd
  • Very short gearing
  • Tractable, torquey engine
  • Absolutely brilliant chassis feedback and handling
  • Useful interior space
  • Build quality average
  • Summary: best fun car for the money
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So you reckon that the fun has gone out of current cars? Too many electronic gadgets intervening between the driver and car? Balance, feel and the ability to steer the car with your right foot gone the way of the dodo?

Well, try the Suzuki Ignis Sport for size.

Cos here is one helluva good little sporting package – adequate power and grip, and fantastic balance. You want to trail-throttle oversteer? – you can. You want to thread the needle between oversteer and understeer around a long sweeper? - you can. You want to keep the engine buzzing at the redline as you flick the car in and out of urban roundabouts? Well, do that as well.

At AUD$19,990, the Ignis Sport might not be the best made car in its class. But it’s sure as hell the most fun....

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But when you step inside, that fun quotient isn’t something that immediately strikes you. Sure, you’ll find factory Recaros, LED-illuminated white-faced instruments and a leather-bound wheel and gearknob. But you’ll also see ghastly mid-‘80s mesh head restraints, an afterthought single CD radio that doesn’t match the style or colour of the rest of the interior, and find that there’s no room next to the clutch for your left foot. And when you close the door, the clang that accompanies the movement isn’t likely to inspire respect for the build quality.

And even on a first drive around the block (or along a freeway, as we did) the negatives are still strong. The gearing is very short (third gear is equivalent in rpm to 5th in some cars!) and there’s plenty of engine noise – both induction roar and also plain old fashioned NVH. The ride is firm – though never busy – and the non-adjustable steering wheel a little too close.

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But then you start to realise the throttle response that’s available from the 1.5-litre, 83kW four cylinder. With a mass of only 935kg and with a good torque spread (peak is 143Nm at 4100 rpm), the low gearing gives instant acceleration in any gear at any speed. It’s not that the car is out-and-out fast (with a 0-100 in the low/mid nines, it isn’t), but there’s always power and response when you want it. Peak power is at 6400 rpm – and redline 6500 - so stratospheric revs aren’t being pulled – but like nearly all Suzuki engines, the M15A is happy to be spinning fast all of the time.

At 3.944:1, not only is the final drive low, but the notchy but precise gearbox has ratios that are also stacked very close together. In fact, it’s the sort of driveline that encourages heel-and-toe flick flick flick downchanges as you brake and turn-in for a corner.

Ahhh, corners...

With a relatively pedestrian suspension design (front MacPherson struts and a rear 5-link beam axle), the handling brilliance is all in the set-up. Reef on lock and hammer the loud pedal and the Sport will understeer strongly – as we said, outright grip from the 185/55 Advan A043 tyres isn’t enormous. But instead turn-in on a trailing throttle, balance the car on the throttle – making small cornering adjustments with power alone – and the Sport can be fast.

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Like, really fast.

Its small width, superb feedback and wonderful mid-corner adjustability conspire to make this car’s point-to-point performance astonishing.

Especially when you consider the price – and how easy it is to drive.

Yes, unlike some front-wheel drives set up to handle really sharply, the Ignis isn’t about to bite you hard if you make a mistake. Go in too quickly, panic and get off the loud pedal and the car tightens its line – if it’s been too much of a retreat, the back will even start coming around. But that’s all it does: start coming around. (In dry conditions, at least – it didn’t rain in the week we had the car.)

This is a machine to have you seeking out corners, showing off through roundabaouts, worrying the hell out of vastly more expensive cars that have far more power – and yet can’t get away.

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And rather surprisingly, it’s not just brilliant in urban environs. Most of the driving kilometres we spent hammering up and down secondary rural roads, around bends with typically Australian broken bitumen edges, up over suspension-lifting humps and then down into crushing dips. And the Suzuki handled it all. Not terribly comfortably for the occupants in these conditions, mind you. But the suspension – yes even that live rear axle – did very little wrong. A touch of rear-end hop when just the right (wrong) bump was met, but even on full compression there was never the crash-through that you half expected.

In really tight stuff the inside front wheel can be picked up and spun a little, but such is the feedback and precision of the throttle (remember, you’re always in what feels to be a gear or two lower than you actually are, even in fifth!), modulating the wheelspin is child’s play. Rather surprisingly, the steering isn’t as quick as you’d expect. In fact, it’s rather slow around centre but we soon got used to this characteristic and with its mixture of linear weighting (it’s electric-assisted) and precision, it became a seamless part of the handling strengths.

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The brakes are standard four-wheel discs with ABS – 257mm vented on the front and 258mm solids at the back. In a car that weighs well under a tonne that’s quite a substantial braking package and the anchors are well up to task, even when the Sport is being driven hard. Around the brakes are white-painted 15x5 alloys – yes, they’re white, irrespective of the colour of the car. The wheels are one aspect of the styling that didn’t do a lot for us – the Sport comes standard with a body kit comprising bumpers, side skirts, guard extensions and a rear spoiler. From some angles it looks tough-but-cute while from others, the tall-body design sits oddly with the add-ons.

However that shape does lend itself to plenty of interior room – about the only tight dimension is rear knee space. Seatbelts are provided for five but there are only four head restraints and the rear width basically makes the car only a four seater anyway. Access to the rear seat is easy, even for adults. Another useful feature is the pushbutton unlock for the rear hatch - something not always provided in this pricing class.

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Air con, the single CD radio and remote entry locking are all standard. Given the budget price, the need for 98 octane fuel is a downer – but then again, even being driven about as hard as we think it’s possible to do on public roads, the fuel consumption figure still came in at a very creditable 7.8 litres/100km....

But perhaps the best driving endorsement that we can give is that at the end of the week, the shoulders of the front and rear tyres were worn absolutely evenly... now that’s handling balance...

The Suzuki Ignis Sport was provided for this test by Suzuki Australia

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