FIRST DRIVE | 2020 Suzuki S-Presso promises more than a cheap shot
New Indian-built city car is set to battle against the Renault Kwid and Datsun Go when it arrives in SA in March
Shoddy crash credentials marred the introductions of the Datsun Go and Renault Kwid. Yet from a sales perspective the duo performed admirably, fattening the bottom lines of either respective division.
During this time Suzuki had been plotting its assault, eyeing the shared chink in these competitors’ armour. Could they manage a better effort at reconciling the virtues of safety and thriftiness in a budget-focused small car? The Hamamatsu-based company has a newcomer in the wings, waiting to swoop down like a vulture on vulnerable prey.
It would seem the firm’s executives have a hidden fetish for coffee. First it was the little Cappuccino, a dainty two-seater built in 1991. And now they’re delivering the S-Presso. This little shot of metal and rubber is their entrant to the entry-level hatchback playground. We travelled to India to sample it, a trip which included a first-hand experience of its production at the Maruti Suzuki plant in Delhi.
On initial introduction, design similarities with its rivals became immediately apparent. It is considerably subdued in comparison to the Future S concept car that previewed it.
The Maruti (as they refer to Suzuki in India) S-Presso is billed by its makers as a compact crosser. Though it looks raised in suspension, the truth is that the term “crossover” has been slightly overused by vehicle manufacturers. It’s no different here. The ground clearance is on par with that of the Renault Kwid at 180mm.
Visually the newcomer has a polarising effect — you’ll either find it cute or not so charming. However, in this corner of the market design craftsmanship comes secondary to price and economy.
When Suzuki set up the Maruti factory in 1983 it had a long-term strategy in mind. Instead of purchasing just the land it stands on, the company also acquired rights to the space surrounding the site, which is now used by vendors who supply the factory with every part needed to build the S-Presso.
To further trim costs and improve efficiency, the factory employs the science of gravity and momentum in many of its assembly lines, and where backup power is required, a gas turbine, steam turbine and solar panels ensure the production line stays in motion, come rain or shine.
Powering the mode is a normally-aspirated, three-cylinder, 1-litre (998cc) petrol engine which will be standard across the range. A high-specification automatic is on the cards too.
The little motor breathes freely and with a curb weight of 750kg it doesn't struggle to carry its weight. The S-Presso moves with respectable enthusiasm. Seating for the front occupants can feel slightly awkward. Given the lack of height adjustment, a propped-up, lifted effect is the default.
The upside of this set-up is ample room for rear occupants. Even taller folk will appreciate the space. Driving the vehicle in India, where road conditions and other obstacles act as natural speed limits, we were able to push the S-Presso over the 100km/h threshold and it remained composed throughout. With two airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution, the bare essentials are covered. But since a crash-test evaluation is yet to be conducted, this is one aspect of the S-Presso that hangs in the air.
Sales success is a different story altogether. The Suzuki brand is big in India: seven of its vehicles are sold every two minutes. A Suzuki is produced every eight seconds, factoring in the combined work of the country’s three plants, which export to 125 countries, ours included.
If the price is right, there’s no reason students and first-time buyers won’t commit their rands to the S-Presso. As things stand in India, the Suzuki comes in at a slightly lower price point than competing brands. Hopefully it will have the same effect in our market.
- The Suzuki S-Presso is scheduled to launch locally in March. Pricing is yet to be confirmed.