For many people, Suzuki is a company that doesn’t feature particularly highly on their radar.

That’s surprising, particularly considering how many pies they have their collective fingers in, with the company producing not just cars but also motorbikes, boats, quad-bikes, outboard motors and, er… wheelchairs.

They’re not small, either, and rated by production, Suzuki was the tenth largest automaker in the world in 2011, beating the likes of Fiat, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler.

In this country, they are perhaps most likely to be recognised for their long-running line of 4x4s such as the Jimny and Vitara models, plus their equally long-lived Swift supermini.

Capitalising on the experience they’ve gained in both these markets, Suzuki set about creating an entirely new vehicle for the burgeoning crossover segment, and the result – the SX4 S-Cross – went on sale in October of last year.

Although the S-Cross shares practically nothing with its smaller brother, the SX4, the two are clearly related in terms of front-end styling.  The design features all the right cues: the protective black plastic on the lower body, the silver skid-plates, and a neat crease that flows from the headlights, through the doors, to the rear lights.  There’s also a range of punchy of colours to give the S-Cross a little extra pop, including the somewhat lurid Crystal Lime Metallic of our test car.

The interior, although predominantly black, uses a number of silver elements to lift the overall ambience, while top-spec models feature a large double sunroof that fills the cabin with light.

The blue-ringed dials are clear and perfectly legible, the controls are well-sited, and even the Garmin-sourced infotainment system works well, requiring minimal stabs at the screen to get it to pair with our test phones, and offering impressively clear instructions during route guidance.

Long journeys will be a comfortable affair for front seat passengers with good shoulder and head-room, a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, and soft padding on the doors and central armrest.

Rear seat passengers don’t fare quite so well, as although there’s plenty of knee room and the seat backs recline for extra comfort, head room can be tight for six-footers, particularly on cars equipped with that huge sunroof.

Still, there’s a surprising amount of space in the boot, with 430 litres on offer (plus an additional 10 litres with the rear seat backs in their forward-most position), rising to 875 litres with the seats folded and loaded to the window line.  That’s easy to do, too, and there’s a dual-level boot floor that allows for an almost completely flat load area, plus a space underneath to store the parcel shelf.  You also get a useful number of hooks, a pair of cubby holes in the boot sides, and a 12-volt charging point, yet still there’s room for a space-saver spare wheel.

The S-Cross is available with two engines – one diesel, one petrol – both of 1.6-litres, and both with 120PS.  Our test car is powered by the petrol unit mated to a five-speed manual gearbox – a CVT auto is available as an option.

Its rather modest torque reserves of 156Nm mean you need to work it hard if you want to make spirited progress, but in normal driving it whirs away quietly to itself.  It’s quite a forgiving little mill, too, and leaving it in the wrong gear doesn’t prompt the slightest grumble of complaint.

In fact, this easy-going nature is evident in almost everything the S-Cross does, from the light yet satisfying gear-shift action to the well-balanced clutch and accelerator response.

The little Suzuki turns in well, with the steering offering a consistent account of what’s going on up ahead with the exception of a slight nervousness at motorway speeds either side of the straight-ahead position.

On the back roads, though, the S-Cross leans calmly and progressively on its suspension through the bends, and while there is some dive under braking, it’s no more than you’d expect for a crossover.

It’s undoubtedly a firm set-up, as evidenced by its occasional tendency to make a bit of a fuss over cat’s eyes, but Suzuki’s engineers have managed to strike an endearing compromise between tight control and comfortable compliance.  For a car designed first and foremost to provide practical and reliable family transport, the S-Cross steers and handles far better than is strictly necessary.

Recognising that most S-Cross owners are unlikely to be tackling terrain much trickier than a festival car park (ground clearance is a useful if modest 165mm), the AllGrip system does away with heavy and complex 4WD hardware in favour of a simple electro-magnetic clutch that engages drive to the rear wheels as needed.

The system is presided over by a Drive Mode selector next to the gear lever, and twisting it into Sport mode will see the throttle response tighten up and the AllGrip system send 20% more torque to the rear wheels.

Although labelled ‘Snow’ the off-road mode isn’t just for use in the white stuff, providing extra traction in both muddy and slippery conditions, while pressing the Lock button supplies equal torque to front and rear axles for more sustained off-road use.

In Auto, though, it’s the front wheels that are driven by default, with the AllGrip system monitoring available traction levels and switching into 4WD if required.

This front-wheel bias makes for good economy, and it’s here that the S-Cross has a final string to add to its bow.

The official combined cycle figure for the 1.6 petrol AllGrip model is a creditable 47.8mpg.  Of course, we’re used to taking these figures with a bucket of salt, but in the case of the S-Cross we found this figure to be bang on the money.  In fact, on a longer journey, we saw an indicated average of 50.1mpg.

Prices for the S-Cross start at £14,999 for the SZ3 petrol, the diesel range starting at £16,999.

All models are equipped with alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control and heated door mirrors, with the SZ4 model adding larger 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, front fog lights, Bluetooth, privacy glass and roof rails.

The SZ-T grade is aimed at fleet buyers and includes satellite navigation, parking sensors and a rear-view camera, while top-spec SZ5 models add front parking sensors, leather seats, HID headlights and sliding panoramic sunroof.

We admit the Suzuki S-Cross may not immediately set your hair on fire, but its combination of excellent economy, almost class-leading boot space, and an endearing set of road manners will quickly win you over.

Entry-level Price £14,999 Price as tested £21,979
Engine 4-cylinder petrol, 1586cc Transmission Five-speed manual
Power 120PS @ 6,000rpm Torque 156Nm @ 4,400rpm
0-62 12.0 secs Top speed 108 mph
Economy 47.8 mpg CO2 135 g/km
Dimensions 4300 x 1765 x 1575 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1240 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.