David Motton

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Find out what tow car ability the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross has as our expert David Motton puts it through our rigorous towing test – how will it perform?

Overview

Forget the old SX4: today’s Suzuki SX4 S-Cross is a very different car. With a choice of petrol and diesel engines, and two- and four-wheel- drive models, the S-Cross is a serious rival for the Nissan Qashqai, which won our Tow Car Awards in 2014, and the Škoda Yeti.

The diesel four-wheel-drive model is the most obvious tow car, and one we at Practical Caravan have enjoyed on long-term test. In range-topping SZ5 spec, it comes with lots of kit as standard for a price of £23,799.

Despite the extra weight of the Allgrip 4x4 drivetrain, the Suzuki is still relatively light. That’s good news for fuel economy, but not for matching it to a mid-sized caravan. So the question is, what tow car ability does the new SX4 S-Cross have?

Towing

There aren’t many 4x4s with a kerbweight as low as 1370kg. That gives the S-Cross an 85% match figure of 1165kg. Both major caravanning clubs recommend towing no more than 85% of a car’s kerbweight for anyone new to the hobby, while towing between 85% and 100% of a car’s kerbweight is acceptable for an experienced tow car driver.

We hitched up to a Bailey Pursuit 540-5 with a mass in running order of 1229kg, a 90% match, so we were well into experienced-driver territory.

You might think that a 1.6-litre diesel would struggle to tow a tourer this size, but the DDiS engine is stronger than you’d expect given its capacity. There’s 236lb ft of torque, putting the engine on a par with many 2.0-litre diesels for pulling power.

Maximum torque arrives at 1750rpm and the engine tugs with determination from just below this figure. There’s little to be gained from revving the engine hard, because there’s not much in the way of top-end punch. As long as you change up early to make the most of the mid-range torque, the Suzuki tows up to speed well. At the test track, it posted a respectable 30-60mph time of 14.9 seconds.

The S-Cross stops reasonably well, too, needing 10.7m to bring car and caravan to a halt from 30mph.

The Suzuki’s stability passes muster, but it doesn’t have the unshakeable feel of the best tow cars. It fidgeted at a steady 60mph, especially in crosswinds. The more we towed with the Suzuki, the more we got used to the slight movements. However, the Nissan Qashqai, Škoda Yeti and other crossovers are more relaxing to tow with at speed.

In the lane-change test, the S-Cross felt composed and in control through the first few runs at a steady pace. When we pushed a little harder, though, the tourer shoved the car around.

Hill starts often favour four-wheel-drives and, as long as we pulled the handbrake on firmly, the S-Cross had no trouble with the 1-in-6 slope when the 4x4 system was in ‘auto’ mode.

If the Allgrip drivetrain is left to its own devices, power is sent to the front wheels; it only also goes to the rear if the front wheels slip. ‘Snow’ mode (which is for slippery conditions of all kinds, not just snow) runs the car as a 4x4, uses a variety of sensors to anticipate loss of traction, and varies the power split between the axles. ‘Lock’ holds the car in four-wheel drive and splits power about 50:50 between front and rear.

This should result in the fuel economy of a two-wheel-drive when towing in dry conditions. It’s good to know that four-wheel drive is there for a hill start on a damp slope or when towing across a muddy field.

The S-Cross is a capable tow car. With a more settled ride when towing at motorway speeds, it would be better still.

Everyday driving

Without the weight of a caravan to pull around, the 1.6-litre engine continues to impress with its punchy mid-range. It’s a shame the engine sounds so clattery. Once up to speed it’s not intrusive, but it is when accelerating. Wind noise is kept to acceptable levels, although there’s quite a bit of road noise, especially over coarse surfaces.

On bumpy roads, body movements are controlled. Switch the Allgrip system to its ‘Sport’ setting and more power is sent to the rear wheels to sharpen handling, but even then the Suzuki is pleasant rather than exciting. The steering is light, and there’s a lot of lean if you corner with enthusiasm.

Drive more steadily and you’ll appreciate how easy the Suzuki is to pilot, with light controls, a smooth clutch action and good all-round visibility. That simplifies parking, helped further by the rear-view camera. The ride is on the firm side, though, especially at low speeds. Big potholes and other imperfections make themselves felt.

The Suzuki is likeable, but it’s a shame the engine isn’t quieter.

Space

Most drivers will have no trouble getting comfortable in the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross. There’s a decent range of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel, and a relatively high driving position that gives good visibility and makes getting in and out of the car easier for drivers who aren’t as agile as they used to be.

Big and clear controls for the air conditioning are a plus, and it’s handy to have buttons for the stereo, cruise control and telephone on the steering wheel. However, while the dashboard feels well-built, the materials look and feel workmanlike. The inside of a Nissan Qashqai is more attractively finished.

Those in the back of the car won’t be quite as comfortable as those in the front. Legroom is acceptable, but the panoramic sunroof (standard on the SZ5) steals a lot of headroom. If the rear seats are going to be occupied by young children that’s not a problem, but adults and lanky teenagers could find their heads rubbing against the ceiling. It’s also a shame that the car lacks vents to blow chilled air at rear-seat passengers.

The boot is a good shape, and offers owners the choice of two levels to the floor, to give hidden storage or one larger space. Suzuki quotes a capacity of 430 litres, which exactly matches the Nissan Qashqai’s luggage space. Folding the seats down leaves a slight slope to the floor, but creates plenty of room.

As well as space for big items, Suzuki provides storage for smaller bits and bobs. There are cubbies for bags, mobile phones and drinks bottles.

It’s not the roomiest car for those travelling in the rear. Otherwise, the S-Cross is a practical crossover.

Running costs

Suzuki tends to equip its cars well and price them keenly, and while £23,799 for a car of this size isn’t cheap, it’s important to remember that the SZ5 sits at the top of the range. A mechanically identical SZT costs £2000 less.

It’s well worth haggling: research by What Car? magazine suggests that discounts of more than £1000 are for the taking.

Having negotiated a handy saving on the list price, you can expect to save at the pumps, too. The official combined figure is 64.2mpg. While towing the Bailey on a mix of roads, the Suzuki returned 34.4mpg. That’s very impressive, especially when you consider that the Bailey was a 90% match for the S-Cross.

Other running costs should be reasonable, with the car sitting in group 19 for insurance. With emissions of 114g/km, the car is in Band C for Vehicle Excise Duty, set at a standard rate of £30 per year at today’s prices.

There’s a long list of standard kit, including a DAB radio, sat-nav, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, front fog lamps, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, heated door mirrors, dual-zone climate control and automatic headlights.

The comprehensive roll of safety equipment includes stability control, seven airbags, hill-hold control to prevent the car from rolling backwards on a slope, and a tyre-pressure monitoring system. Suzuki should be commended for offering the same level of safety kit on entry-level models as on the range-topping SZ5, and for achieving a five-star rating from the safety experts at Euro NCAP.

After three years on the road, expect to get back around 41% of the original list price. That’s good, rather than great. Even so, the Suzuki scores well for its economy and generous spec.

Technical specs

Engine size1598 cc
Kerbweight1370 kg
85% KW1165 kg
Towball limit75 kg
Maximum towing limit1500 kg
Power118.0 bhp
Torque236.0 lb ft
Official MPG64.2 mpg
CO2108 g/km
30-60mph14.9 seconds
30-0mph10.7 m

Verdict

There’s no shortage of crossover rivals for the SX4 S-Cross, but the Suzuki can hold its head high. It may not be class-leading, but it’s thoroughly competent.

Despite its relatively small engine, it has ample muscle for towing. The engine’s punch helps the Suzuki cope with hills and makes it easy enough to hold 60mph on the motorway.

It’s a shame the car doesn’t feel more settled at the legal limit. It’s not unstable, but the firm ride jostles occupants and makes the car fidgety. In our lane-change test, the S-Cross felt fine at low speeds, but the harder we drove, the more the caravan pushed and shoved the car.

The S-Cross is pleasant to drive in an everyday context, with an easy-going character and light controls. However, around town in particular there’s a firm edge to the ride and, while the engine is strong, it’s too clattery.

Inside, there’s plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, and reasonable legroom for those in the back. However, the panoramic sunroof steals a lot of headroom. That’s not a problem for young children, but it’s worth noting if you carry tall passengers in the back.

The S-Cross may not be cheap for a car of its size, but the sophisticated four-wheel-drive system and the long list of standard kit help make the cost reasonable. There’s plenty of safety kit and running costs should be low.

If you’re looking for a crossover with four-wheel-drive, the Suzuki deserves a place on your shortlist.

Conclusion

Pros

  • It has four-wheel-drive
  • The standard spec is generous
  • Its fuel economy when towing impressed

Cons

  • The engine is too noisy
  • It's quite light
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