ON THE ROAD
The Suzuki S-Presso’s arrival in South Africa was inauspicious, coinciding as it did with that Covid-19. Our bags were half-packed and our flights booked for the media launch in Cape Town before it became clear that it had to be called off.
Just a few hours later, our president announced we would be entering a nationwide lockdown.
Suzuki went ahead with a digital launch (quite the novelty back in the days of early 2020) and delivered media packs to our homes — name tags and everything else that had already been printed out. Nothing, of course, could be done about the reality that no one was looking to buy a car. Economic uncertainty aside, the only place anyone had to go during those weeks of hard lockdown was to the shops and back.
Not the grandest of entrances, then. But before you begin to feel too sorry for Suzuki, know that there’s a good chance the S-Presso finds some sales serendipity on the long road ahead. That same virus that crashed the launch party has also had the rather more serious side effect of devastating the economy. With wallets set to be strapped tighter than ever before, it’s only logical to expect that the cheap cars segment will be a bustling marketplace for the foreseeable future.
Even before our ordeal of the last six-odd months, the S-Presso had been charged with undercutting the competition, sent to rival the increasingly popular Renault Kwid and Datsun Go with a R139 900 starting price. Did its (awkward) landing place it on top of the pile? Perhaps.
Almost everything about this car is divisive, beginning right from the styling. From certain angles it’s sleek, sexy even, with a harder squint of the eye. But slant your attention to the left and the clunkier, boxier aspects can’t be unseen. The hubcap-laden wheels are particularly off-putting: the body rises high above the small things as if it were permanently cruising on four biscuit spares.
The cabin similarly straddles these lines of subjectivity. To some tastes this will be very pleasant; not so much for others. At the centre of the dash is a cylindrical outline that encloses both the infotainment screen and the digital speedometer — yup, borrowing from the design of the mid-2000s Toyota Yaris, the area in front of you behind the steering wheel is bare. The rest of the interior is neat with a few splashes of colour that match the outside (bright orange, in our case). We could talk about the cheap plastics but, given the price point, that’s not really a conversation here.
Under the hood, the S-Presso hides a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 50kW of power and 90Nm torque. Given the light frame you’re in, the output is more than sufficient to nip round on back roads and through city traffic. Taking it to the highway, however, exposes its struggles. The car starts squealing when asked to go at more than 120km/h and even maintaining that speed for a long distance will produce a constant high-rev symphony.
The payoff for that timidity is a ridiculous fuel economy of a quoted 4.9-litres/100km. Sticking to the practical side of things, the S-Presso will also seat friends and luggage far more comfortably than its competitors.
For what the S-Presso is trying to be there’s not much to dislike about it. And yet it’s not something you would easily call great either.
Suzuki thrives when it simplifies the essence of a given segment to produce something pure and exciting — think the Vitara or the Swift Sport. That same magic just isn’t present here.