Once the middle child in Suzuki's lineup, the S-Cross is now placed as the brand's new flagship model. Can it live up to that standing, and to the hefty price tag it wears?

Suzuki has a new flagship model, but its not the now-dead Grand Vitara that has usually sat atop the range – rather, its the 2023 S-Cross that’s now serving as the brand’s largest, most well-equipped, and most expensive model.

Priced from $40,990 before on-road costs for the base AllGrip model, or from $44,490 for the AllGrip Prestige on test here, there’s no denying the new S-Cross has been substantially repositioned. Once positioned below the Vitara, it’s now noticeably larger and has overtaken it in price by $1500-2500 in like-for-like specification. Mind you, all-wheel drive is now standard on the S-Cross when it was once front-wheel drive only.

While this new S-Cross is being marketed as an all-new model, that’s not strictly the case. Although the styling might mark a considerably departure with how much boxier, bolder, and smarter it is, there are no new engines on offer and it still rides on the same 2600mm wheelbase. The other hangover is an SX4 badge on the tailgate, as well as on the floor mats – a reminder of its original name which saw it flop in this country, although it’s officially called the SX4 S-Cross in other markets such as Europe.

As standard, the base 2023 Suzuki S-Cross comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-button start, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, automatic LED headlights with high-beam assist, and rear privacy glass. In terms of active safety technology, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, weaving alert, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors are also standard.

When it comes to the S-Cross Prestige tested here, however, most of the upgrades you get are superficial. The 17-inch wheels sport a polished finish, there are heated and leather-accented seats (although the central part remains finished in cloth), a panoramic sunroof is added, and it scores an all-new 9.0-inch infotainment system with a 360-degree camera in a first for the brand.

While that level of equipment isn’t bad, it’s also not entirely befitting of a car priced in the mid-40s. Sure, the new infotainment system is a highlight as it works fairly well, but the rest of what it boasts is really only the bare minimum you’d expect from a car these days, especially as it doesn’t even have basics like a power-adjustable driver’s seat. There are also very few items not already found in the cheaper Vitara, making this step up somewhat of a head-scratcher.

It must also be said that this interior doesn’t feel the most prestigious, either, with heavy use of hard plastics and a dated look to some of the switchgear and instrumentation; the steering wheel, shifter, and 4.2-inch gauge cluster display designs haven’t changed since the first press car I was ever loaned, a Suzuki Baleno back in 2016.

I’m no fan of these leather-accented seats either, not because of the materials used but because of the lack of shoulder support in its top leather section, with a noticeable ‘step’ that’s felt firmly prodding into your upper back where the cloth and leather meets. At least there’s a fair amount of room for passengers in the S-Cross, although the rear legroom is by no means segment-leading.

The boot, however, is a highlight with it able to swallow 430 litres with the rear seats up and 1230 litres with then folded down. There’s also a flat-loading false floor that can be used to create a separate storage space underneath, or removed to allow for taller items, while the storage pockets on the sides of the boot are also able to be removed to create even more open space.

Do keep in mind, though, that this new S-Cross riding on the same platform means it’s no wider than before at 1785mm overall, so the centre console isn’t the widest meaning there may be a bit of a jostle for who gets to use the skinny armrest. It also means the rear pew is a bit of a squeeze if you’re trying to fit three across it – were this not Suzuki’s flagship, perhaps ditching the centre seat à la Honda HR-V could have been an option – and there’s also a lack of air vents or charging ports in the rear as well.

READ MORE: The Suzuki Vitara Turbo shows that there’s fun to be found among small SUVs

Under the bonnet of both Suzuki S-Cross variants, you’ll find the same 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that graces many of the company’s other models. Unchanged from when it was used in the old S-Cross, it makes 103kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm from 1500-4500rpm, and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive as standard.

Certainly, there’s a good reason that Suzuki uses this engine in just about everything – mainly because it’s an absolute cracker. First used in the Vitara but made noteworthy in the Swift Sport, it’s a smooth and punchy unit with a nice spread of torque across its mid-range. It’s so refined that it feels quite European – fittingly so, as the S-Cross is actually built in Hungary.

The only trouble with this power plant is that while it feels zippy in a featherweight like the Swift Sport, the S-Cross tipping the scales at 1260kg proves it to be a tad too much of a ballast for an engine so low on displacement. Performance is certainly still acceptable – and like all tiny turbos it proves to be effortlessly efficient, using just 6.4L/100km over my 430km of testing, barely above the 6.2L/100km claim – but similarly to the 1.2-litre Toyota C-HR, it lacks grunt when you’re really trying to overtake someone on a country road.

While ride comfort is fairly good, there’s no denying that the S-Cross isn’t quite as sharp as some other Suzuki models through the corners, with both body control and body roll not as well managed as you’d hope for; although not something many buyers will likely worry about, it is worth mentioning given how solid most offerings in this class now are in the bends. However, its low overall weight does make it feel light on its feet which can clearly be felt through the tiller.

At least its soft suspension and 175mm ground clearance makes it able enough to tackle some light-duty off-roading, with driving on gravel tracks with impressive ability for a smaller SUV. It does also have a Snow mode that actually functions as a general-purpose off-road driving mode, along with a Sport mode that sharpens throttle response slightly. That soft suspension does also mean that it can tackle pothole and speed bump laden city streets fairly well, although bigger hits do expose its less staid body control once more.

Like with all current Suzuki models, the S-Cross is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, along with five years of capped price servicing, with an average cost of $397 per service during that period (a total of $1985 over five years). It’s worth noting, however, that servicing is required every 12 months/10,000km rather than the typical 15,000km intervals many rivals have.

The big challenge for the Suzuki S-Cross above all others is simply how much of a step up it has taken in the range. Rising from being the middle child to an all-new flagship with a price tag to match means it’s up against some big-name competitors, and when you look at how much Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Toyota C-HR, or Mazda CX-30 you can get for the same money or potentially even less, things start to look less favourable for the S-Cross.

Where it does excel is in its fuel efficiency among non-hybrids in the class, as well as in its sheer simplicity. Basic and dated as it may be in some regards, there is something to be said for that as it will appeal to a certain buyer set that finds a dashboard covered in a sprawl of massive screens to be overwhelming.

However, it’s just that the price tag isn’t right for the S-Cross, especially not for this range-topping Prestige model. $44,490 is a lot of money to spend on a small SUV, and while its simplicity is somewhat endearing, that amount of money is simply too much.

2023 Suzuki S-Cross AllGrip Prestige List Price: $44,490
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Ride & Handling - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech & Features - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 6/10
    Value for Money - 6/10

Pros: Smooth and efficient turbocharged engine, massive and functional boot, new infotainment system
Cons: Price tag is much too high, dated switchgear and interfaces, poor body control, lacklustre seats

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Suzuki Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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