An alternative to the crossover craze – The Irish Times
For those who curse the advent of crossover SUVs, hope beckons. Several automakers are already gearing up for the next wave, which will adapt the rugged crossover into a more family-friendly hatchback affair. For a sign of things to come, take a look at Hyundai’s award-winning Ioniq 5.
For those who can’t wait for the next wave of design to haul their family and their detritus around, there’s one obvious option that existed before the crossover craze: the humble station wagon.
While our European colleagues have long embraced the long-tailed luggers, Irish buyers remained enticed by sedans before making the leap to mock SUVs. In fact, many mainstream European brands these days begin the process of designing a new car with the estate – or some iteration of it – and then retrospectively style the humble hatchback or sedan variants. That’s if they bother to design sedans.
To the family estate’s praise, you get better cargo capacity than an equivalent, more expensive SUV, without the need for unnecessary height.
For many practical Irish motorists, the first port of call is usually a Skoda or Toyota. We have a new addition to this list: Suzuki.
Suzuki has a proper engineering pedigree, extending its expertise to motorcycles and powerboats. Basically, if there is an engine involved and a gas puff, then a Suzuki engineer has been tasked at some point to figure out how the company can intervene. Results on the automotive front were mixed. The Swift is an excellent car; the Ignis is a good buy, but the new S-Cross crossover is very forgettable.
Given its minnow status in the European car market, Suzuki simply cannot offer a model range similar to that of its rivals. Sensibly so for this venture, the ever-conservative Japanese are leveraging their corporate ties to its shareholder Toyota for this latest addition.
The Swace is a sketch of the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports, or the Corolla estate as we all call it. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two cars without the badges. That’s a positive, because the Corolla is a nice car. Just like the Swace. A week of riding on the east coast brought many compliments from people who normally shop in the premium aisle.
It’s a hybrid, and as such falls into the “regular” category, in that some of the range is taken care of by the battery. It also offers a helpful reminder of the difference between hybrids these days. Where plug-in hybrids claim distances of up to 80km running on electricity alone, this regular hybrid claims a much more modest 1km all-electric range before the engine steps in to offer support. This is still a lot more than the so-called “mild” hybrids will offer.
Always remember when shopping for hybrids – especially when the word ‘mild’ is used – to ask exactly what the electric part of the powertrain is capable of handling. If it’s radio and air conditioning, then far from taking a small step towards the electric car revolution, you’re still on the pot.
Under the hood of the Swace is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which is combined with Toyota’s standard hybrid electric motor setup to deliver 102hp and a claimed fuel economy of 4.4L/100km. (64.2 mpg) with emissions of 103 g/km. This fuel economy figure is not a pie in the sky; a 320 km round trip one afternoon saved us 5 l/100 km (56.6 mpg), despite two-thirds of the trip being on national roads.
One last thing to note about the Swace’s powertrain setup: For years we’ve complained about the CVT automatic transmission falling short in the likes of the Toyota Prius. In the Swace, as with the Corolla, it’s slightly more suited to reacting to your right foot, although it’s hardly nippy and the official 0-60 mph time of 11.1 seconds is an honest interpretation the acceleration of this car.
An applause for the Swace is the suspension setup. As with the Corolla, this car features a double-wishbone format at the rear which offers a much better ride and control than many rivals who opt for the cheaper torsion beam arrangement. The end result is much better handling for the driver and a more comfortable ride for the passengers.
Some family motorists with little interest in cars marvel when you mention the word suspension, but consider off-road riding with kids in the back and you’ll begin to appreciate the importance of a comfortable ride.
If you’re considering a Swace, then you’re clearly in the market for space. Here you get an easy-to-load 596 litres, benefiting from a pair of levers that fold the rear seats completely flat, expanding your boot to 1,232 litres.
On the dash, the eight-inch screen sits in the center of the controls, positioned high and in plain sight for the driver. However, in this age of rapidly advancing automotive technology, it already feels a bit dated. Suzuki – and Toyota – should rework their screen resolutions and icons to bring them into the same realm as smartphones. The good news is that the important controls are kept as physical knobs and buttons.
Despite fixing the market with crossovers, there are still several real estate rivals chasing the same market as the Swace. For starters, there’s of course the Corolla, which starts at €29,850 compared to €30,995 for the Swace. Then there’s the handsome Kia Ceed Sportswagon, available as a plug-in hybrid for €34,310. And of course there’s the Skoda Octavia Combi estate, with prices starting at €30,320, although the mild-hybrid auto version starts at €33,165.
They’re all commendable, with the Skoda likely attracting plenty of Irish buyers already won over by the brand’s family appeal, and the Kia the one we’d probably pick even though it has a smaller boot.
It’s great to see Suzuki entering this market, especially since it’s a brand that is doing well in the crossover segment with its Vitara. Leveraging Toyota’s expertise was a smart move, and ultimately the Swace is a solid choice for family buyers – more so than opting for a crossover.
It’s likely to offer a pain-free ride with all the flexibility you need in family life. Suzuki is a smart choice. Still, you can’t help but wonder why you wouldn’t go for the Toyota.