Suzuki S-Cross Hybrid first drive: mild, not wild

Damien O’Carroll
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Like all manufacturers, Suzuki has been on a bit of an electrification mission of late, scrambling to get at least some fuel-saving tech into its existing range before the inevitable fully-electric offerings arrive.

But unlike a lot of other manufacturers, it has been tough for Suzuki to show much in the way of fuel-saving gains from it all because: A) their cars were among the most economical in their respective segments to begin with, and: B) they have opted to stick with mild hybrid technology instead of going full hybrid.

Suzuki’s existing hybrids - the Swift and Vitara - both use the excellent 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo “BoosterJet” engine, with the Swift’s teamed with a 12-volt assist system and the Vitara - and now the S-Cross - with a 48-volt starter generator, or “the bare minimum” in hybrid terms.

But although the mild hybrid version doesn’t exactly offer massive fuel savings over the non-hybrid version (it’s around 1.0L/100km better), the comparison is largely pointless, as once Suzuki has sold its existing stock of non-hybrid S-Cross and Vitara models, the hybrid will be the only powertrain it brings in for both.

With the shift to the hybrid drivetrain, Suzuki NZ has shifted the S-Cross range up a notch, dropping the entry level JX model from the local line-up. This has also seen a slight bump in pricing, with the 2WD JLX starting the range at $42,990 and the AWD version topping it at $45,990. Previously, the JX opened the range at $37,500, while the JLX started at $40,500 for the 2WD model.

Some of the price increase is offset by the fact that the hybrid sits in the ‘neutral band’ of the Clean Car Discount scheme, whereas the non-hybrid attracted a $748 fee. The hybrid has CO2 emissions of 125g/km of CO2 for the 2WD and 133g/km for the AWD, while the non-hybrid models emit 153g/km and 161g/km respectively.

This also moves the S-Cross closer to the Vitara, with the new entrant being just $1000 more than the Vitara, despite being a larger car (the S-Cross is 125mm longer and boasts a 440 litre boot) with considerably more standard equipment.

Don’t expect any massive visual differences between the non-hybrid S-Cross and the new electrified version on either the inside or outside, as it really is just the same car with a new drivetrain, and the large panoramic sunroof and blue “Hybrid” badges on the outside are the biggest visual changes.

It has been tough for Suzuki to show much in the way of fuel-saving gains from electrification all because their cars were among the most economical in their respective segments to begin with.

Because the JX model is gone, all S-Crosses now feature leather accented heated seats, “leather-effect” interior trim, a 360 degree parking camera, radar cruise control, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation and wireless Apple CarPlay (Android Auto users still need to use a cable) as standard.

While there aren’t massive differences in either appearance or consumption, the hybrid sees gains in one area that really counts; its sheer driveability.

While the hybrid BoosterJet develops slightly less power than the standard version (95kW versus 103kW), the addition of the 48-volt system boosts torque from 220Nm to 235Nm but, more importantly, bulks up the lower revs in the BoosterJet engine to an impressive degree, not only eliminating any hint of turbo lag, but also helping make the entire drivetrain remarkably smooth at all times.

As a result, driving the S-Cross is a far more refined experience than you might initially expect, actually rivalling some considerably more expensive vehicles in terms of sheer drivetrain smoothness and refinement.

While the suspension is actually a tad firmer than you would expect, it is never intrusive and brings a touch of panache to the S-Cross’s handling, which is typically engaging and competent. In other words, exactly what you would expect from a Suzuki.

Suzuki claims fuel consumption of 5.5L/100km for the 2WD and 5.9 for the AWD and this is surprisingly achievable - a solid day of punting both around the roads around Hunua and Clevedon just south of Auckland saw returns of around 6.0. And while this was pretty much all open road driving, it was more, shall we say, “enthusiastic” than your typical S-Cross driver would be likely to do.

While the new hybrid drivetrain doesn’t bring huge consumption advantages to the S-Cross, what it does bring is more than worth the bump in price. A practical, sensible small SUV (it’s actually right up on the border of being a medium one) that packs a lot of equipment for the money, the hybrid version of the S-Cross doesn’t rewrite the rules, but the extra refinement and driveability it brings certainly makes it an even more complete package.

ENGINE: 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine with 48-volt mild hybrid assist
POWER: 95kW/235Nm
GEARBOX: 6-speed automatic transmission, FWD or AWD
0-100KM/H: N/a
CONSUMPTION: 5.5l/100km, CO2 125g/km (2WD), 5.9l/100km, CO2 133g/km (AWD)
PRICE: $42,990 (2WD) and $45,990 (AWD) (Clean Car Fee: $0)


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