Suzuki has a new flagship model, but it’s not the now-dead Grand Vitara that has usually sat atop the range – rather, it’s the 2023 S-Cross that’s now serving as the brand’s largest, most well-equipped, and most expensive model.
Priced from $40,990 before on-road costs for the base AllGrip model, or from $44,490 for the AllGrip Prestige on test here, there’s no denying the new S-Cross has been substantially repositioned.
Once positioned below the Vitara, it’s now noticeably larger and has overtaken it in price by $1500-2500 in like-for-like specification. Mind you, all-wheel drive is now standard on the S-Cross when it was once front-wheel drive only.
While this new S-Cross is being marketed as an all-new model, that’s not strictly the case. The styling might mark a considerable departure with how much boxier, bolder, and smarter it is, but there are no new engines and it still rides on the same wheelbase.
The other hangover is an SX4 badge on the tailgate, as well as on the floor mats – a reminder of its original name which saw it flop in this country, although it’s officially called the SX4 S-Cross in other markets.
As standard, the base 2023 Suzuki S-Cross comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-button start, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, and automatic LED headlights with high-beam assist.
Rear privacy glass also features. In terms of active safety technology, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, weaving alert, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors are also standard.
Most of the upgrades the S-Cross Prestige gets are superficial. The 17-inch wheels sport a polished finish, there are heated and leather-accented seats (although the central part remains finished in cloth), a panoramic sunroof and a 9.0-inch infotainment system.
A 360-degree camera is a first for the brand. While that level of equipment isn’t bad, it’s also not entirely befitting of a car priced in the mid-40s. Sure, the new infotainment system is a highlight as it works fairly well, but it doesn’t even have the basics.
For example, there’s no power-adjustable driver’s seat. There are also very few items not already found in the cheaper Vitara, making this step up somewhat of a head-scratcher. It must also be said that this interior doesn’t feel the most prestigious, either.
The heavy use of hard plastics join a dated look to some switchgear and instrumentation. The steering wheel, shifter, and 4.2-inch gauge cluster display designs haven’t changed since the first press car this writer was ever loaned, a Suzuki Baleno back in 2016.
I’m no fan of these leather-accented seats either, not because of the materials but because of the lack of shoulder support in its top leather section, with a noticeable ‘step’ that’s felt firmly prodding into your upper back where the cloth and leather meets.
At least there’s a fair amount of room for passengers in the S-Cross, although the rear legroom is by no means segment-leading. The boot, however, is a highlight with it able to swallow 430-litres with the rear seats up and 1230-litres with them folded down.
There’s also a flat-loading false floor that can be used to create a separate storage space underneath, or removed to allow for taller items, while the storage pockets on the sides of the boot are also able to be removed to create even more open space.
Do keep in mind, though, that this new S-Cross riding on the same platform is no wider than before, meaning there’ll be a jostle for who gets the skinny armrest on the centre console. It also means the rear pew is a bit of a squeeze.
That’s especially so if you’re trying to fit three across it. Were this not Suzuki’s flagship, perhaps ditching the centre seat à la the Honda HR-V could have been an option. There’s also a lack of air vents or charging ports in the rear as well.
Under the bonnet of both Suzuki S-Cross variants, you’ll find the same 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that graces many of the company’s other models. Unchanged, it makes 103kW and 220Nm, and is paired with a six-speed automatic.
There’s a good reason that Suzuki uses this engine in just about everything – because it’s an absolute cracker. Made noteworthy in the Swift Sport, it’s a smooth and punchy unit with a nice spread of torque across its mid-range.
It’s so refined that it feels European – fittingly so, as the S-Cross is built in Hungary. The only trouble is that while it feels zippy in a featherweight like the Swift, the S-Cross tipping the scales at 1260kg proves it to be a tad too much for an engine so low on displacement.
Performance is certainly still acceptable – and like all tiny turbos it proves to be effortlessly efficient, using just 6.4-litres/100km over 430km of testing, barely above the 6.2-litres/100km claim.
Similar to the 1.2-litre Toyota C-HR, it lacks grunt when you’re really trying to overtake someone on a country road. While ride comfort is fairly good too, there’s no denying the S-Cross isn’t quite as sharp through the corners.
Body control and body roll are not as well managed as you’d hope for; although not something many buyers will likely worry about, it is worth mentioning given how solid most offerings in this class now are in the bends.
Its low overall weight does make it feel light on its feet however, which can clearly be felt through the tiller. At least its soft suspension and 175mm ground clearance makes it able enough to tackle light off-roading, driving on gravel tracks with impressive ability.
It has Snow mode that actually functions as a general-purpose off-road driving mode, along with a Sport mode that sharpens throttle response slightly. That suspension also means it can tackle pothole laden city streets fairly well; at least the small ones.
As with all current Suzuki models, the S-Cross is covered by a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty, along with 5-years of capped price servicing. It’s worth noting, however, that servicing is required every 12 months/10,000km.
The big challenge for the Suzuki S-Cross above all others is simply how much of a step up it has taken in the range. Rising from being the middle child to a flagship with a price tag to match means it’s up against some big-name competitors.
When you look at how much Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Toyota C-HR, or Mazda CX-30 you can get for the same money or potentially even less, things start to look less favourable for the Suzuki. Where it does excel is in its fuel efficiency among non-hybrids in the class.
Likewise, its sheer simplicity, basic and dated as it may be in some regards, will appeal to a certain buyer who finds a dashboard covered in a sprawl of massive screens to be overwhelming.
It’s just that the price tag isn’t right for the S-Cross, especially not for this range-topping Prestige model. $44,490 is a lot of money to spend on a small SUV, and while its simplicity is somewhat endearing, that amount of money is simply too much.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com and has been republished with permission. Test vehicle provided by Suzuki Australia. To find out more, contact your local Suzuki dealer.