Park an Across alongside a RAV4 and you might play a fruitful game of ‘Spot the Difference’, highlights Iain Robertson, as he ponders over the awkward situation in which independent brand Suzuki finds itself, while needing to broaden its profile.
One of my favourite TV comedy sketches of all time is ‘The Cheese Shop’, in which a ‘difficult’ John Cleese attempts to buy a non-existent slab of dairy product from a recalcitrant but cheery Michael Palin. When you consider the exceptionally long list of cheese types rattled off by Cleese, you might also wonder why so many of them exist at all and nearly every nation in the world has a representative selection…all of which adds to the comedic value, of course.
During the heyday of BLMC, the sometime UK nationalised carmaker, the art of ‘badge engineering’ reached its unwarranted zenith, with both Austin and Morris branded versions of virtually identical ‘1300’ models, compounded with Wolseley, Riley, MG and Vanden Plas, all vying for the same market share, of an already (at the time) overcrowded market. How they managed to satisfy brand lovers was anybody’s guess but they probably did not anyway.
The connection between cheese and motorcars is not quite as tenuous as you might think. While not wishing to upset the dairy product connoisseurs, who can become every bit as shirty as the wine-gluggers, some yellow cheeses can be exceptionally difficult to tell apart. A yellow ochre Austin 1300GT was all but identical to its Morris counterpart. Okay, so the ‘blue-veined’ Riley managed to look a bit different to the ‘green-hued’ Wolseley, while MG was alone in offering a two-door variant and the VdP alternative added chrome, leather and wood…
Picture the situation confronting Suzuki. It needs desperately to rebuild a profile that has been looking shaky at best over the past year, or so. It has ditched its stunning 1.0-litre turbo-petrol engines, done away with both its Indian-built Baleno and its city runabout Celerio, in the process destroying almost 33% of its UK model range. It also got into bed with the immense Toyota Corp, around a year ago, with the initial plan being to increase its SUV profile and also (probably) reissue Baleno, or another former Suzuki model name, in a sporty estate car. At the heart of this seemingly happy relationship lies a need for electrification…not the ‘full Monty’ but plug-in hybrid developments.
While the estate car will be based on the Toyota Corolla, the first product to be introduced this autumn will be Suzuki’s badge-engineered version of Toyota’s RAV4, the Across. For what it is worth, the RAV4 is a particularly good hybrid SUV. For a brief period of time, Suzuki will have the advantage of a plug-in version, which boasts an excellent 22g/km CO2 exhaust emissions and an EV driving range of around 42-miles. As most commutes fall well within the stated range, the Across driver may never have to dip into the petrol engine’s resources.
Apart from the plug-in development, which Toyota will feature in due course, the core engineering is identical. The engine is an Atkinson cycle 2.5-litre, four-cylinder unit that drives all four wheels through an e-CVT (constantly variable transmission), developing a slightly confusing 136kWrpm, which equates to around 200bhp. Actually, it works in conjunction with the front electric motor, which draws its energy from an 18.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack located beneath the cabin floor. The engine provides extra power, when it is called into action, but most of the time it ensures that the battery is topped-up. The drive priority is always electric, although four selectable settings allow the driver some control over how the system operates.
Four-wheel drive is provided by an additional rear-located electric motor (40kW) that is electronically managed to vary between 100% to 20% rearward torque bias, dependent on conditions. Working in this way, traction is improved and handling balance is optimised. Known as AWD Integrated Management, it works without driver intervention to maximise stability.
Rest assured, none of this technology has originated with Suzuki, as it is all Toyota’s work. It was hoped that the Suzuki-badged variants would be produced at Toyota’s Derby plant, in the UK, but it seems that the RAV4 connection is going to be sourced from Japan, leaving the Corolla-based model to be produced in the UK, thus providing Suzuki with its first-ever British-built model, in the not too distant future. Regardless, the interior accoutrements are up to the latest Toyota standards, which means a satisfying blend of high build quality and first-rate tactility.
Practicality has been placed high on the list of features and the amount of space allocated to storage, drinks-holders and in-car clutter strikes a new peak. The boot offers an excellent 490-litres of largely unobstructed carrying potential, a figure that almost trebles, when the back seats are rolled forwards. However, the cabin is also well-proportioned to accommodate up to five people in decent comfort. The final specification of British versions of the Across (which I believe ought to be called the ‘A-Cross’, to make it sound similar to the Suzuki S-Cross) are yet to be determined but it is likely to be at the top end of the range.
The impact on the recently revised Suzuki price list, which has taken an extraordinary leap upwards, means that the Across will become Suzuki’s luxury model and you can reckon on it settling between £36,000 and £40,000, which is going to make some Suzuki customers take a leap into the dark in value terms. The technology is not cheap but Suzuki GB will be working its most recent ‘Fleet Department’ hard to get some return on investment.
Do I believe it to be a good move on Suzuki’s part? Well, unfortunately, with new car development costs verging on unaffordable for some carmakers, Suzuki really has little choice but to lean on its technology ‘partner’, Toyota. It would be nice to see a greater slice of ‘Suzukiness’ but I would not seek it, were I you. Suzuki is going to make up some vital ground with its Toyota-provided, plug-in hybrid developments. Quite how British car buyers will receive this project remains to be seen.