David Motton

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FORGET THE NAME: the new Suzuki crossover may wear an SX4badge but it's a very different car from the previous model.

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The new SX4 (or SX4 S-Cross to give its full title) is much bigger than the old, and is now large enough to compete head-on with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti.

What's more, it's priced to make mainstream crossover buyers think twice before buying one of the default choices. The range starts from £14,999, undercutting the cheapest Nissan Qashqai by £1896.

Driving the SX4 S-Cross

We've had the chance to drive both petrol and diesel models. Whether you fill up at the green or black pump, there's a choice of two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive versions.

The diesel 4x4 is best suited to caravanning. The engine might be just a 1.6, but there's a healthy 236lb ft of torque from 1750rpm. That's plenty of poke for a car of this size. There's not much to be gained from revving the engine hard, but make the most of the mid-range pull and the SX4 shifts along at a useful rate. It's not the quietest engine, but once cruising at a steady pace it's not too obtrusive.

Even four-wheel-drive models (Suzuki calls the system 'Allgrip') send power to the front wheels only most of the time, diverting torque to the rears if the fronts begin to slide. It's possible to lock the car in four-wheel-drive mode if the going gets really slippery, and there's also a specific setting for snowy weather.

The Sport mode is intended for country roads, and sharpens the throttle response and sends more power to the rear wheels. Even with the Sport button pressed, though, the SX4 S-Cross isn't especially fun to drive. There's little weight to the steering or feedback through the wheel, and the body leans heavily if cornering hard.

However, for most drivers most of the time the SX4 is competent and composed. The low-speed ride could be more supple, but otherwise the light controls and smooth clutch make the S-Cross a very easy car to live with.

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Two-wheel drive and petrol models

In most driving conditions, there's little to choose between the four- and two-wheel-drive cars, although your bank balance will be better off if the engine is only connected to the front wheels. The list price difference is £1800.

You'll save on fuel bills, too, although not by as much as you might expect. The two-wheel drive achieves 67.2mpg on the combined cycle, the four-wheel drive manages 64.2mpg.

That must be set against the all-weather, all-surface benefits of towing a caravan with a 4x4, and the extra kerbweight of the Allgrip model. Suzuki quotes a kerbweight of 1370kg for the four-wheel drive. That gives an 85% match figure of 1165kg. The two-wheel drive has a 1305kg kerbweight and an 85% match figure of 1109kg. Both versions have a legal towing limit of 1500kg.

The petrol is less well suited to towing, with kerbweights from 1175kg and a 1200kg legal maximum. What's more, performance is rather pedestrian. However, any caravanner looking for a second car — or someone who occasionally pulls a trailer tent — could do a lot worse.

It's worth noting that although the car goes on sale in October, a dealer-fit towball is unlikely to be ready until January.

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In the cabin

Whichever engine is chosen, the SX4 S-Cross is very roomy inside. Okay, the cabin plastics are rather hard and don't expect much design flair, but there's enough room for a passenger over six feet tall to sit behind an equally lanky driver. Just think twice before choosing the range-topping SZ5 with its huge sliding panoramic sunroof. It steals a lot of headroom in the back, although it does lighten up the interior.

Luggage space is another strength. There's 430 litres with the seats upright, 20 litres more than in the Nissan Qashqai. The boot floor can be set level with the tailgate opening, which leaves some hidden space underneath, or lowered to make one large space with a small lip to load items over. Folding the rear seats leaves a near-flat load floor.

The cabin isn't just roomy. It's full of toys, too. Even the entry-level SZ3 trim gets air conditioning and cruise control. For another £1250, SZ4 has dual-zone climate control, privacy glass and Bluetooth connectivity. A further £1500 is enough for the SZ-T model, with satellite navigation and a digital radio among the upgrades. The range-topping SZ5 has full leather upholstery, the panoramic sunroof and a number of other enhancements, but costs another £2000. For our money, SZ4 looks like the sweet spot for value.

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Verdict

The Suzuki SX4 S-Cross faces a lot of stiff competition, and it doesn't drive as well as the Skoda Yeti. However, it's roomy, well equipped and promises cheap running costs. Given that it's also very keenly priced, it deserves a test drive before buying one of the better known crossovers.

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