It may be colourful, but the new Suzuki Splash causes few ripples

Wed, Oct 1, 2008, 01:00

Mini people-carriers carry a lot of hype, if not more passengers, says Michael McAleer, Motoring Editor. The Splash symbolises the clash between marketing and reality

CAN SOMEONE please explain the principles behind a mini people-carrier? Is it the people or the car that's supposed to be mini? What is the point of taking a perfectly good supermini and making it taller and narrower? Why sacrifice the useful extra millimetres of seating width to support your buttocks for empty space over your head?

We've tested these cars on numerous occasions, but have purposefully ignored the hype about them being people-carriers for the simple reason that anything this small is not going to be any better at carrying people than the average supermini at the same price.

What they usually offer is added seat flexibility - with perhaps individual movement on the back seats - and a larger boot that's easily loaded. In return for being that little bit more practical than a regular supermini, we've consented to ignore the hype.

However, there comes a time when it just doesn't add up. Welcome to the Suzuki Splash, purportedly a mini-MPV and positioned just above the firms great little supermini, the Swift. You'd suppose that the Japanese brand, renowned for employing some talented engineering teams, would take the Swift's basic sporty small car format and turn it into a slightly more practical vehicle, adding some of that all-important multi-purpose ability in the vehicle, however small.

That would be the expectation. After all, while we might not think much of the MPV traits of rivals like the Renault Grand Modus, it does boast a great big boot and some added rear seat formats. While there are not that many multiple purposes to which you can put the car, at least it has more functionality than its equivalent supermini sibling.

Here, with the Splash, we spent a bewildering week wondering just where they hid the extra functionality. It has a higher roof than regular superminis, but offers little in the way of extra space for rear seat passengers. Up front there's the usual tough plastics on the dash, a large speedometer and an afterthought rev counter stuck to the top for some reason that we can only guess has something to do with funky styling.

For as you quickly realise from the colour of the car and the seat covers, this car is meant to be a little cheeky and fun, while retaining a strong practical approach to life.

According to a Suzuki statement, this car was designed along the themes of being "youthful" and "practical". If by youthful they mean blindingly garish colours both inside and out, then it has hit the spot. If by practical they mean a decent-sized boot and passenger space, then it has missed the mark by some degree.

Remembering that this is a car that Suzuki describes as a mini-MPV, you would no doubt be conjuring up images of a car that can carry at least three passengers in the back, along with a decent load of shopping or perhaps even a pram.

Not in the Splash I'm afraid. For a start, its much more appealing sibling, the Swift, is actually wider, which in turn means more room for three rumps on the rear seat.

So, far from being a small people-carrier, this car has less seat room than a regular supermini, but more headroom.

Then we come to the boot. With the rear seats up, it has about the same space as a Ferrari. In fact that's doing a disservice to the Italian sports car maker, for the F430 has 250 litres of boot space whereas the Splash has just 178 litres.

In fact, not only is it less practical than an Italian sports car, but even the much derided Smart car has at least 202 litres of bootspace in regular format.

True, you can fold down the rear seats of the Splash, which is something you can't do in an F430 or Smart Fortwo.

However, like these two examples, the Splash then becomes a two-seater and in return you get a whopping 573 litres of load space.

Yet that's still only 11 litres more than you get when you pop down the seats in the non-MPV Swift, and some way off the likes of the Fiat Panda, which offers 860 litres with the back seats folded.

On the positive side, you do get a good feeling of space when you are sitting up front. That's thanks to the high roofline and the rake of the windscreen that makes the car seem longer than it actually is. The problem is that those in the back won't share that feeling of space, while your shopping will have to be sent home in the store delivery van.

It's pointless, then, to compare it with the other so-called mini-MPVs, for the likes of the Renault Grand Modus offers boot space of between 305 litres and 1,454 litres depending on the seat configurations. And as you see in a comparison with its own supermini sibling, the Swift, it isn't stunningly superior in terms of practicality.

So in reality, Suzuki has come up with another supermini to rival its own current model.

In fairness, the Japanese brand didn't come up with the Splash all on its own. General Motors was looking to replace its Agila and, realising there are limited opportunities for these cars, opted to share the load with someone who could sell the car rebranded in Asian markets.

Enter Suzuki.The idea to add a little more functionality to a car of this size was a good one, but the end result is car creation by committee and focus group.

On paper at least, the 1.2-litre Suzuki engine seems more potent than its rivals, but it's all relative. None of these cars is going to set your world alight in terms of performance.

It might be far quicker off the mark than similarly powered mini-MPVs or even your run of the mill supermini, but it doesn't have the peppy, enthusiastic character of its supermini sibling the Swift.

That particular model is something of a benchmark for us in its class, but its youthful vigour has been washed out of this particular small car.

For €16,000 or thereabouts there are several regular supermini rivals that feel far more composed and solid on long distance runs. After a week behind the wheel, we just couldn't understand why someone would enter a Suzuki dealership, and leave in a Splash instead of a Swift.

Ignoring the fact that it's less expensive (starting at €13,495), the 1.3-litre engine in the Swift offers better performance, is a more enthusiastic drive, and still falls into the Band B CO2 rating so they both come with a €150 annual motor tax bill. It also handles better due to its lower centre of gravity.

Then there's the Swift's styling, which is far more urban chic than the Splash's boxy shape, while in terms of space, you are once again better off in the Swift. Just what was the point of the Splash?

Suzuki has a great model line-up. As you have realised by now, we're a fan of the Swift.

It somehow captured the attention of young drivers and can even rub shoulders with more iconic models like the Mini and the Fiat 500, but for a much more attractive price. The Vitara range is well-priced off-roader.

Then there is the upcoming family saloon. If the concept design is anything like the concept then Suzuki should have a winner on its hands.

The Splash, however, does not float our boat.

Engine: a 1242cc 16-valve multi-injection petrol engine putting out 85bhp @ 5,500rpm and 114Nm of torque @ 4,400rpm

Specification: standard features include: front, side and curtain airbags; ABS with EBD; Brake assist; side impact protection beams; front fog lamps; 15" alloys; manual air-con; Radio/CD with MP3 socket and audio controls on leather steering wheel; front foglamps


Engine:a 1242cc 16-valve multi-injection petroll engine putting out 85bhp@ 5,500rpm and 114Nm of torque@ 4,500rpm

Specification:standard features include: front, side and curtain airbags; ABS with EBD; Brake assist; side impact protection beams; front fog lamps; 15" alloys; manual air-con; Radio/CD with MP3 socket and audio controls on leather steering wheel; front foglamps

L/100km (mpg):Urban: 6.9 (40.9) Extra-urban: 4.7 (60.1) Combined: 5.5 (51.4)

CO2 emissions:131g/km

Tax bands:VRT - 16 per cent; annual motor tax - €150