FIRST DRIVE | 2021 Toyota Urban Cruiser takes on its Suzuki twin
With both offering good value for money, brand loyalty and warranties will decide sales winner
You have to feel for Suzuki. There was the Baleno, quietly finding handfuls of new owners. Then Toyota slaps its badge on the small hatchback, renames it the Starlet, and it sells like eisbein at an Oktoberfest.
It’s all to do with Toyota’s almost bulletproof reputation and vast dealer network.
Now the Toyota Urban Cruiser’s been launched in SA as the second fruit of the partnership which sees rebranded India-built Suzukis selling as Toyotas in certain markets. Suzuki SA had just a few weeks’ head start with local sales of its Vitara Brezza before its partner-rival launched the same vehicle with a Toyota badge.
The two cars are basically identical save for a restyling of the snout and a small difference in specifications. The Toyota’s front grille is flanked by chrome accent strips and LED projector headlamps to give the Urban Cruiser a family resemblance to its larger Fortuner and Land Cruiser siblings.
Available in three grades, the Urban Cruiser costs slightly more than the Suzuki due to all its models being equipped with the Toyota Connect telematics system which includes an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and complimentary 15Gb data. Once linked to their profile, owners can manage their vehicle via the MyToyota App which allows on-demand service bookings, vehicle information, and tracking data among other features.
A month ago we reported on what a good value-for-money deal the Vitara Brezza is, and we can essentially cut-and-paste that finding onto the Urban Cruiser. It is a well-priced compact crossover with a surprisingly roomy cabin, decent refinement, and a generous helping of standard features.
For a compact car it has a cushy ride and its high-profile tyres are good at ironing out bumpy tar or gravel roads. For its generous 198mm ground clearance it’s a nimble vehicle with tidy cornering manners, and light steering that makes it effortless to drive in the urban bustle.
The 1.5l three-cylinder petrol engine used across the range is an honest performer, with its 77kW and 138Nm providing decent hustle in city commuting and fairly comfortable at maintaining the national 120km/h speed limit on freeways.
It’s a relatively refined motor but the five-speed manual tends to rev high in top gear on the open road (the car’s also available as a four-speed automatic). A sixth gear would have made for a more silent and frugal car on open roads, but nevertheless the test vehicle averaged an economical 6.6l /100km.
For the price the Urban Cruiser has an attractive looking interior. There are no soft-touch plastics but the textures and styling are appealing and the build quality seems solid.
Creating modern vibes is a touchscreen infotainment system with large, colourful icons, and an instrument panel offering several different colours of ambient lighting.
A decent-sized cabin perches on the car’s compact 3,995mm length, and four adults won’t find themselves cramped. The reasonably roomy 328l boot has a full-sized spare wheel.
The range-topping Urban Cruiser 1.5 Xr manual is priced at R294,500 (the equivalent Suzuki Vitara Brezza 1.5 GLX costs R289,900) and comes well stacked with features such as automatic headlights, cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, dual 12V power outlets, leather steering wheel, and a cooled storage compartment.
This is in addition to the standard fare available across the three-model range: keyless-entry with push start, electric windows all round, air-conditioning, LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, and rear park distance control. The aforementioned touchscreen infotainment system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Safety comprises ABS brakes and dual front airbags in all versions. The Urban Cruiser hasn’t been crash tested but its donor Suzuki achieved a commendable four-star safety rating in the Global NCAP test.
A negative point is that the steering column is adjustable only for height, not reach. Also, the Urban Cruiser test car had quite lousy radio reception, which we didn’t experience in the Vitara Brezza.
Both cars offer good bang for buck in a competitive budget SUV market that includes the Ford EcoSport, Hyundai Venue, Haval H1 and Volkswagen T-Cross.
The choice between the Toyota and Suzuki will come down to brand loyalty and aftersales service. Toyota has a much larger dealer network but Suzuki offers a five-year/200,000km warranty and four-year/60,000km service plan, compared to Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty and three-services/45,000km service plan.