South Africa is no stranger to Japanese ‘Kei cars’ (pronounced ‘K-cars’) – miniaturised city cars with cuteness being the very core of their design brief.  The Daihatsu Copen was the most memorable until the brand withdrew from SA.  But there’s a new Kei car and it’s destined for local greatness if Suzuki has their way.  It’s the Suzuki Ignis – a compact city crossover with bundles of character in a pint-size package with a price to match.


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How small exactly is the Suzuki Ignis?  At 370cm long and 169cm wide, it’s almost as wide as it is tall (159.5cm height).  Importantly though, the Suzuki Ignis weighs next to nothing – a diminutive 850kg.  Despite its size, space is surprisingly substantial, with genuine space for 4 adults – the ‘me behind myself’ test yielded more than acceptable results, and stowing luggage for 2 in the 260-litre boot with space to spare was a welcome surprise.


So the Suzuki Ignis is a compact car with decent interior space – you can get that just about anywhere these days.  What you can’t get, however, is character. Cars with character are rare gems nowadays, where accountants hold the most sway behind development and merely making an appliance is what matters most.


Suzuki, for the most part, isn’t like that.  The Swift, Jimny, Ciaz, and even the award winning Celerio are all jam packed with character, and the Suzuki Ignis is no different.


Powered by a peppy 1.2-litre 4cylinder petrol engine – the same one you’ll find in the Swift 1.2 and now defunct Splash – with outputs of 61kW and 113Nm, the Suzuki Ignis is no red-light racer. But a healthy power-to-weight ratio of 71.6 kW/ton means the Ignis is pretty peppy.  It feels snappy and quick to respond – at least in the coastal Cape air – and though it may lose some punch up at JHB altitudes, like many Suzukis it’s more than happy to be wrung out in search of peak power.


That doesn’t come at the cost of fuel efficiency though.  Even on our launch drive where the Suzuki Ignis was taken outside of the confines of the city in which it would be happiest, it still returned consumption figures of around 6l/100km.  A bit of practised hypermiling will surely see low 5s.  Suzuki claim 5.1l/100km with the 5-speed manual gearbox, whilst the 5-speed automated manual (AMT) is claimed at 4.9l/100km.


The compact SUV tag is a bit of an awkward one – and though the Suzuki Ignis may share that tag with other vehicles, it has no real direct rivals.  Still, Suzuki SA are targeting the likes of the Renault Sandero Stepway and Toyota Etios Cross – both hatchback-on-stilts type vehicles.  The Suzuki Ignis, despite the SUV tag, isn’t much different from the same hatchback-on-stilts mentality.  However, with 180mm ground clearance the Ignis has sufficient pliancy to soak up whatever you throw at it.


It’s no off-roader; get a Jimny for that; and like just about every modern hatchback it’ll handle dirt roads with ease.  But the tall ride height keeps the Suzuki Ignis out of the way of kerbs and helps soak up imperfections in the road excellently.  The soft suspension is prone to body roll, and the skinny tyres (175/65 R15) don’t afford racetrack-suited levels of grip, but the 2 pair up wonderfully to absorb just about every minor bump in the road with a buttery smooth ride quality.


It’s not your typical faraday cage of isolation on the road though.  Despite minimal wind and tyre noise and excellent ride quality, as a driver you’re never isolated from the road.  There’s a good feel for what’s happening in a most unobtrusive manner.  The steering has a large part to play, light and quick, but relaying everything you need to know.  It’s sharp too, and the Suzuki Ignis boasts a seriously tight turning circle of just 9.4 meters.  3-point turns are seldom required with that sort of turning prowess.


Everything the Ignis does is not only done with proper capability, but with a real sense of fun.  It’s a happy car, and it wants you to be happy too.


It’s all about feeling good, and Suzuki has done a bang on job of it from the inside out.  Interior styling is funky and comes standard with a 2-tone white and black dash.  Other interior elements can be colour coded to match the exterior, where up to 5 different colours are available, some with two-tone black or white roof elements, and all with a range of customisation from grille colour to spoiler elements, mirror housings, and even roof racks.


The levels of customisation make for an array of possible designs, with no 2 quite looking the same.


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In the way of toys, gimmicks, and features, the Suzuki Ignis is surprisingly well kitted.  Available in 2 model derivatives, the 1.2GL starts things off with 15-inch steel wheels, colour coded bumpers, door handles, and mirrors, and standard blacked out A- and B-pillars.  Electric windows are standard, as are electric mirrors, remote central locking, and air-conditioning.  The standard radio is of the old-school variety – though a touch screen unit, with Bluetooth, is available as an option for around R6 000.  Why they couldn’t fit this with Bluetooth I don’t quite know, since even the Celerio has that modern necessity.


The Suzuki Ignis 1.2 GLX is the range-topper, and affords the option of a stunning blue exterior paint with white roof.  It swaps out the steel wheels for similarly sized black alloy wheels, and also includes chunky wheel arch extensions, standard roof rails, and chrome grille elements.  The GLX also features projector LED headlamps- both high and low beam – usually the reserve of far more expensive vehicles – and fog lamps.  Inside, keyless starting, automatic climate control, an additional 2 speakers and 2 tweeters, and Bluetooth functionality give the GLX a leg up on the GL model.  The driver’s seat gets height adjustment in GLX spec, and rear Park Distance Control also features.


Of course safety is standard – The Suzuki Ignis boasts a 3-star Euro NCAP safety rating.  Dual front airbags, front and rear head restraints, and inertia real seat belts are all standard, as are ABS braking with EBD and EBA to ensure safety remains a priority.


In the way of pricing, the Suzuki Ignis is going to be highly competitive.  The Ignis 1.2 GL – available only with the manual transmission – starts off at R169 900 before options.  The Ignis 1.2 GLX manual is still incredibly affordable at R189 900, with the 5-speed AMT variant the only model above the 200k mark at R204 900.  All models include a 3-year/100 000km warranty, as well as a 2-year/30 000km service plan.


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