Suzuki might seem to be a relatively small player in the South African car market, selling around 500 units a month; roughly half that of Japanese compatriot Honda.
To be honest, that’s not too bad when you consider it outsells the likes of Subaru, Peugeot / Citroën, Fiat/Alfa and Volvo.
The thing with Suzuki, though, is that it has a reputation for building cars that offer a solid, well spec’d, overall cool alternative to the mainstream – at a good price. This is especially true when it comes to the company’s small city cars.
The Alto (replaced in February by the Celerio) and Swift (in its current and previous iterations) are cases in point: they’re all nippy, enjoyable, charismatic run-arounds. It’s thus that I expected much the same from the Splash, which is positioned somewhat interestingly between the entry-level Celerio and volume-selling Swift in terms of size, spec and price.
While the Splash is shorter and narrower than its brethren, it is nonetheless much taller, at 1,62 m. This has the effect of giving the Splash a unique, cutesy look as well as endowing the interior with lots of headroom. In fact, the interior is the biggest surprise offered by the Splash – not only is there a lot of head room, but there is a good amount of room all round. It is a very well-packaged little car that can comfortably seat four adults.
The interior also offers a good amount of stowage space, with various nooks and crannies dotted around. The boot, though, is rather small and narrow, offering just 236 l of space.
Strangely, despite the vehicle’s impressive height, anyone of average height needs to take care to not bump their head on the rear tailgate.
Anyway, back to that interior … which, despite feeling budgety, will immediately feel like home to anyone familiar with Suzuki’s products. The GL-spec model, as tested, is well appointed, offering electric windows and mirrors; a decent four-speaker sound system with USB and auxiliary connectivity and steering wheel controls; air-con; a multi-function onboard computer (the button for which is awkwardly placed in the instrument binnacle itself); and fabric door trim.
Safety equipment includes dual front airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes, front fog lamps, side-impact beams and remote central locking.
While the seats themselves are comfortable, the Splash does have a rather uncomfortable “arm-chair” type of driving position. This is the first aspect that ruins the expectation of yet another enjoyable small Suzuki. Allied to that driving position is a rather notchy five-speed gearbox with a clutch that feels like you’re pressing on a very substantial button, heavier than expected steering and rather stodgy handling.
At least the engine is a little peach. Of only 1,2-litres and producing all of 63 kW of power and 113 Nm torque, this little four-cylinder revs freely and pulls well for what it is. You really don’t have to rev it hard to make any progress and it’s claimed to consume only 5,6 l/100 km (I averaged a still-impressive 6,3). It is lively, ready and willing to help you zip around town. It’s a pity the rest of the mechanicals didn’t get the memo – though I shouldn’t be too harsh, the Splash is impressive in the way it banishes three-point turns.
The Splash 1,2 GL manual sells for a very reasonable R135 400 and comes standard with a three-year/100 000 km warranty, and a two-year/30 000 km service plan. However, this means that for around R10 000 less you could buy a Celerio 1,0 GL manual, or, for R5 000 more, you could buy a Swift 1,2 GL manual. The three models are roughly the same size and offer similar levels of kit (though you do get bit more in the Celerio and Swift).
Then there is the slew of competition from other manufacturers that the Splash comes up against – the Hyundai i10, Toyota Etios and Volkswagen’s recently-launched Up! are but a few. There really is a lot of good competition in this price bracket – both within and outside of the Suzuki stable – and the Splash will probably have a tough time of making waves within it.