For those who curse the advent of SUV crossovers, hope beckons. Several car makers are already preparing for the next wave, which will adapt the rugged crossover into a more family hatchback affair. For a sign of things to come, look to Hyundai’s award-winning Ioniq 5.
For those who can’t wait for the next design wave to transport their family and its detritus, there’s an obvious option that existed before the crossover craze: the humble estate.
While our European colleagues long ago embraced the long-tailed load luggers, Irish buyers remained seduced by saloons before making the leap to mock SUVs. In fact, these days many mainstream European brands start the design process of a new car with the estate — or some iteration of it — and then retrospectively style the humble hatchback or saloon variants. That’s if they bother designing saloons at all.
In praise of the family estate, you get better load carrying ability than an equivalent, and more expensive, SUV, without the need for the unnecessary height.
For many practically minded Irish motorists, the first port of call for is usually a Skoda or Toyota. We’ve a new addition to that list: Suzuki.
Suzuki has proper engineering pedigree, spreading its expertise across motorbikes and motorboats. Basically, if there’s an engine involved and a whiff of petrol, then a Suzuki engineer has been tasked at some stage with figuring out how the firm can get in on the act. The results on the motoring front have been mixed. The Swift is a cracking good car; the Ignis is a good buy, but the new S-Cross crossover is very forgettable.
Given its minnow status on the European motoring market, Suzuki simply can’t offer a similar model array as its rivals. Sensibly then for this endeavour, the ever-conservative Japanese are leveraging their corporate links to its shareholder Toyota for this latest addition.
The Swace is an identikit of the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports, or the Corolla estate as the rest of us call it. You would be hard-pushed to tell the difference between the two cars if it weren’t for the badges. That’s a positive, for the Corolla is a good-looking car. As is the Swace. A week of driving it up and down the east coast drew plenty of compliments from people who normally shop in the premium aisle.
This is a hybrid and as such fits into the “regular” category, in that some of the driving range is supported by battery power. It also offers a useful reminder of the difference between hybrids these days. Where plug-in hybrids claim distances of up to 80km operating only on electric, this regular hybrid claims a far more modest range of 1km on full-electric before the engine comes in to offer its support. That’s still a lot more than the so-called “mild” hybrids will offer.
Always remember when shopping around for hybrids — particularly when the word “mild” is used — to ask just what the electric portion of the powertrain is capable of supporting. If it’s the radio and the air-conditioning, then far from taking a baby step towards the electric car revolution, you are still on the potty.
Under the Swace’s bonnet is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which is combined with Toyota’s regular hybrid electric motor set-up to deliver 102bhp and a claimed fuel economy of 4.4 l/100km (64.2 mpg) with emissions of 103g/km. That fuel economy figure isn’t pie in the sky; a 320km round trip one afternoon delivered us a fuel economy of 5 l/100km (56.6mpg), despite two-thirds of the drive being spent on national routes.
One more thing to note about the Swace’s powertrain set-up: for years we have complained about the unresponsive CVT automatic transmission in the likes of the Toyota Prius. In the Swace, as with the Corolla, it’s slightly more tuned to react to your right foot, though it’s hardly nippy and the official time of 11.1 seconds from 0-100km/h is an honest take on this car’s acceleration.
A plaudit for the Swace is the suspension set-up. As with the Corolla, this car features a double wishbone format in the rear that offers a lot better ride and control than many rivals who opt for the cheaper torsion-beam arrangement. The end result is a much better handling for the driver and a more comfortable ride for passengers.
Some family motorists with little interest in cars glaze over when you mention the word suspension, but consider a cross-country drive with children in the back and you start to appreciate the importance of a comfortable ride.
If you are contemplating a Swace, then clearly you’re in the market for space. Here, you get 596 litres that’s easy to load, benefitting from a pair of levers that flick the rear seats completely flat, expanding your bootspace to a whopping 1,232 litres.
On the dash, the eight-inch screen is the focus for controls, set high and in easy sight for the driver. However, in this rapidly advancing age for car tech, it’s already looking a bit dated. Suzuki — and Toyota — should rework their screen resolutions and icons to bring them into the same realm as smartphones. The good news is that the important controls are kept as physical buttons and knobs.
Despite the market fixation with crossovers, there are still several estate rivals out there chasing the same market as the Swace. For a start there is, of course, the Corolla, which starts at €29,850 compared to the Swace’s €30,995. Then there is the good-looking Kia Ceed Sportswagon, available as a plug-in hybrid for €34,310. And of course, there’s the Skoda Octavia Combi estate, with prices starting at €30,320, though the mild-hybrid auto version starts at €33,165.
They are all commendable, with the Skoda probably luring many Irish buyers already won over by the family-orientated appeal of the brand, and the Kia, the one we’d probably choose even though it has a smaller boot.
It’s great to see Suzuki entering this market, particularly as it’s a brand that does well in the crossover segment with its Vitara. Tapping into Toyota’s expertise was a smart move and ultimately the Swace is a sensible choice for family buyers — more so than opting for a crossover.
It’s likely to deliver pain-free motoring with all the flexibility you need in family life. Suzuki is a sensible choice. Yet you can’t help wondering why you wouldn’t just opt for the Toyota.