Suzuki S-Presso Review: Not Our Cup Of Tea

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Suzuki fans have a rather strong affiliation with caffeinated beverages. It’s not just that they love to start their mornings with a cup of coffee; no, mention the name Cappuccino and watch them devolve into gushing fanboys and girls, drooling over the Japanese Kei sports car they’ll never own and why, instead, they settled for an NB Mazda MX-5 based on its similar appearance. You’d imagine the Suzuki S-Presso would go down like mother’s milk to 90s JDM fans then… except this is no sports car. This is nothing like the Cappuccino. This is decaffeinated Frisco.

That’s because the S-Presso is yet another addition to the crossover segment, built to be an even more budget-friendly piece of metal that fits in beneath the Suzuki Ignis. Its goal is simple – be cheap and cheerful and draw as many sales as possible away from the Renault Kwid.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Thriftier than Macklemore
  • Impressive amounts of tech on top-spec derivative
  • Unmissable colour schemes
  • Cheap as chips
  • Surprisingly spacious seating

Cons:

  • Large blind spots
  • Dubious safety ratings
  • Not built to Suzuki’s usual quality
  • Feels frail
  • Central instrument cluster takes eyes off the road

Suzuki S-Presso Exterior

Many thought Suzuki had created something polarising with the Ignis, but the S-Presso takes that notion to a new level. Picture a childhood dinky toy caught on the receiving end of Wayne Szalinski’s growth machine in Honey, I Blew Up The Kid that somehow became almost lifesized – that’s the S-Presso in a nutshell. If that doesn’t make it unmissable enough, hues like Sizzle Orange, Pearl Starry Blue, Metallic Granite Grey, or the Fire Red worn by our tester are sure to catch your attention.

All models ship with body-color bumpers and a black grille, but features like a remote tailgate release are non-existent – here you’ve gotta stick the key in and twist to open. The S-Edition looks a little better thanks to the addition of a front skid plate, wheel arch cladding, door cladding, silver grille garnish, and a rear skid plate, but make no mistake, this isn’t meant to go off-road, and at just 3,565 mm long, all four of those 14-inch wheels will disappear into a Joburg pothole quicker than the PPE procurement funds into a government official’s offshore bank account.

S-Presso Performance

Engine and Transmission

Someone got the regular and decaf beans mixed up in the production of the S-Presso,  as there isn’t much here that’ll give you a morning wake-up call when you need it. Every S-Presso chugs along courtesy of a 998cc 3-cylinder petrol engine that sounds like a ride-on lawnmower more than it does a roadgoing commuter. But, with all of 750 kg to haul, 50 kW and 90 Nm of torque are all you need at the front wheels to send the S-Presso on its way. It’s truthfully not that sluggish, even at Gauteng altitudes, and it’s happy to rev out when needed for a bit of uphill impetus. The problem comes in with the 5-speed manual gearbox, which felt flimsy and regularly had trouble selecting reverse on our test unit. An automated manual is also available for those who sit in regular traffic, but we suspect it’ll simply add a dose of Stilnox to your decaf. Stick to the manual, and stay within the limits of suburbia, and the performance is just fine, as buyers in this segment would ask it to be.

Handling and Driving Impressions

Light as a feather and just as susceptible to crosswinds, the S-Presso’s ride is found somewhat lacking compared to the usual confidence we associate with Suzuki products. Lots of wheel travel (180 mm of ground clearance) and 14-inch tyres measuring 165/70 in profile mean that there’s plenty of sponginess to soak up the road. But the S-Presso careens down the road like a bouncing ball. Sure, the tyres always remain firmly in contact with the tarmac, and yes, there’s actually a fair bit of grip around corners provided you don’t ask more than what’s sanely possible, but it’s not comfortable and it’s definitely not composed.

The tiny wheelbase, measuring a toy-like 2,380 mm, and narrow stance means it’ll dip and duck into just about any spot available.

Fuel Economy

Budget cars aren’t bought for thrills and frills, despite what we might wish – they’re bought because they’re cheap to buy, cheap to run, and cheap to insure. The S-Presso ticks at least one of these boxes, as it’s officially the most frugal mass of glass, metal, and plastic we’ve ever driven. Averaging just 4.7 l/100km, there were genuine moments when I visibly saw the fuel gauge climb a bar instead of dropping one. The fuel tank might only measure 27 liters in displacement, but that’ll bag you more than 570 km on a tank of 93 unleaded.

S-Presso Interior

Cutting budgets means cutting quality, more often than not, and while we can defend something that’s spartan but solidly built, the S-Presso felt cheap. Perhaps not as cheap as the Renault against which it competes, but that’s hardly a strong benchmark. The seats offer little support and as a driver, you’re perched up high. Forward visibility is great as a result, but the awkward exterior design means there are large blind spots towards the rear of the car. Suzuki counters this with standard rear park sensors on even the cheapest GL trim, though. The design is quirky, but the centrally-mounted instrument cluster diverts the driver’s eyes from the road and isn’t appealing, at least not to my eye.

Diminutive dimensions don’t completely ruin interior space, as the tall seating position frees up some room for adults in the back on short trips. The boot isn’t cavernous, but as a city car, the maximum of 239 litres of space is ample for the weekly shopping run. The door pockets are decent and there are a couple of storage nooks that come in handy, so no complaints there, either.

S-Presso Equipment and Safety

How do you disguise budget cuts? Touchscreens – it’s an ethos I’ve firmly despised since the introduction of the Renault Sandero and Renault Kwid all those years ago, and it’s one I can’t help but feel was implemented here – at least from the GL+ grade onwards, which gets a 7-inch touchscreen replete with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 2 speakers. The front windows are electric, but the mirrors are manually operable, and as mentioned before, the tailgate has to be manually unlocked. Manual air conditioning is standard too, as are the much-needed rear park sensors.

Safety is where the S-Presso will come in for the most criticism. Recent Global NCAP tests gave it a humbling zero stars in India, but it’s worth noting that it only missed out on anything more by virtue of it missing a passenger airbag – something we get in South Africa as standard. There’s also ABS with EBD, and the front seatbelts have pretensioners. But we’re worried about other comments in the test – comments that were leveled against a number of budget commuters – that the structure itself wasn’t very strong. Similar money could get you a low-mileage demo model Ignis, or even a six-airbag Peugeot 108. 

Suzuki S-Presso Price and Verdict 

Many buyers in the budget segment will never look past the S-Presso’s R145,900 base price and next-to-nothing fuel bills when shopping. But truthfully, these are the buyers who should be paying the most attention to things like safety, especially since they’re likely to be young, newly-licensed drivers buying a car for the first time. That’s where things don’t sit well with us, as in Suzuki’s bid to compete with the hot-selling Renault Kwid, the S-Presso feels like it cuts too many corners. It lacks the simple confidence and solid feel of other Suzuki models, the gearbox felt flimsy, and the build quality just seems below par. That being said, this is still much better than any of the Kwids I’ve ever had the displeasure of piloting. But better than a Kwid is a backhanded compliment in my mind, and I can’t help but feel a demo-model Ignis or second-hand Swift is a far better bet for the same money. What Suzuki has brewed is not my cup of tea.

As for the remainder of the pricing, the mid-grade 1.0 GL+ we tested rings in at R150,900 with the manual gearbox, while the S-Edition starts at R159,900. Adding the AMT transmission to the GL+ or S-Edition adds an extra R14,000. All models come standard with a 5-year/200,000km warranty and a 2-year/30,000km service plan.

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