7-seater vehicles aren’t exactly a dime a dozen – less so if you’re working on a budget. If you’ve only got around R200 000 to spend, the options are further reduced; to 2 exactly. Toyota’s Avanza, and the Suzuki Ertiga – the latter of which found itself the focus of our latest road test, in GL Manual spec with a price tag of R215 900.
Cheap… so what do you get for the money?
Simply, you get an MPV based off an enlarged Suzuki Swift platform. But it has 7 seats, with the option to drop the rear 2 completely flat into the boot floor if you need the additional boot space. The 2nd row of seats is also adjustable to create some extra leg room for the rather tight back row.
For the money you also get Suzuki’s familiar 1.4-litre 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual gearbox, pulling the Suzuki Ertiga along via the front wheels. In the way of equipment, this top-of-the-line GL specification gets you electric windows all round, electric mirrors, air conditioning, a radio system with CD player and standard Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, and rear park distance control – a massive assistance when trying to reverse the rather large derrière of the Suzuki Ertiga.
All-in-all it’s a pretty decent spec, but the beige interior is decidedly horrible. The seats stain far too easily, and the beige carpeting and two-tone beige dash looks cheap. It’s the price to pay for a vehicle built on the Indian subcontinent where this colour is all the rage. However there is some reprieve, as many a dealership are offering re-upholstery prior to delivery – an option Suzuki SA reps say is proving to be popular.
Is a 1.4-litre engine enough for 7 people?
Interesting question… the answer needs a bit more of a look into the circumstances surrounding the use of the 1.4-litre mill. It’s the same one we’ve driven in many a Suzuki, including the Ciaz sedan and Swift 1.4 hatch. Outputs are nothing serious, 70kW at 6000 rpm and a measly 130Nm achieved at 4000rpm.
It’s not powerful, not even a little, but it’s been around for a while now, so it’s been proven as reliable, and importantly, efficient. In the Swift we’ve seen it achieve figures of 5.0l/100km consistently, and in the Suzuki Ertiga it isn’t far off – sipping 6.2l/100km, and matching claimed figures, despite its rather un-aerodynamic appearance.
The front wheels are responsible for the drive, via a 5-speed manual gearbox. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a joy to stir and row, and swap from cog to cog. The shift is light, but precise and infallible. It’s a joy in its simplicity.
But what about when you’re 4, 5 or even 6 passengers up? Suzuki has shortened the ratios of the 5-speed manual gearbox to lug the weight around better. Truth told it has made things easier – accelerating from standstill or low speeds is accomplished decently enough, even with a heavy load. It enjoys being wrung out, and chasing redline affords ample pulling power without feeling overly-strained.
But the compromise of shortened ratios means that on the highway, at anything above 100km/h, you’re met by a readout of north of 3 grand on the tachometer and the additional noise that entails.
What about comfort? This is an enlarged Swift after all…
Suzuki couldn’t have picked a better platform to enlarge. The Swift is light and supple, and by some sort of black magic has finer suspension tuning than many cars 3-times its price; the Suzuki Ertiga inherits all of these qualities.
It weighs only 1180kg dry, so engineers could focus on making sure the suspension works right. It does, as it does in the Swift, but the Suzuki Ertiga gets a jacked up ride height – 185mm of ground clearance the result. With that much height, there’s plenty of body roll, loftily leaning side-to-side around corners. But the suspension supports it well – even with the roll it never feels uncontrolled or out of shape. However, cross-winds do affect it badly, with the wallowing suspension absorbing them in a manner that drags you into the adjacent lane.
Then there’s the way it soaks up little bumps. It’s such a simple platform, the Suzuki Ertiga, and yet it rides with such compliancy and pliability. Over any road surface it simply bobs along soaking up the road surface, without fuss, without issue, without even batting an eyelid.
Sadly, the seats of the Suzuki Ertiga lack the same high levels of support the suspension has. You sit perched and upright, and although the seats are comfortable, they accentuate the body-roll. That said, nothing in this segment is particularly brilliant in this regard, so you’re stuck with this sort of problem no matter what you opt for.
But perhaps the biggest upside to the inherited platform is the character that comes with it. The Suzuki Swift has never been a particularly complicated car, and yet it’s always had such a pleasant character. ‘Cheerful’ is perhaps the best single word description of the Swift’s demeanour, and the Suzuki Ertiga is just as happy. It’s a tool, an appliance to ferry 7 people from one point to another – but it doesn’t have to be characterless.
If you want seven seats, with basic mod-cons, ample safety (including airbags and ABS), and low running costs, your options are very limited. But with the Suzuki Ertiga, ‘limited’ doesn’t mean you’re forced to buy something horrible to live with. Avoid cross-winds, and opt for the dealer-level re-upholstery option, and you’re able to pick up a budget 7-seater that’s enjoyable to drive, without fuss or complication.
In a world full of dull and dreary, Suzuki has given us an appliance that’s genuinely enjoyable. The cheerful attitude and wholesome simplicity makes the Suzuki Ertiga one of the best budget buys around, and arguably the best 7-seater for the money you’re paying.
Words: Roger Biermann
Photos: Roarke Bouffe, Vaughn Humphrey