GIVEN the continued success of the Swift range, the charming appeal of the Alto hatch and the Mighty Mouse rugged character of the Jimny 4×4 (offset by stifled sales of the Kizashi saloon), it’s clear Suzuki’s greatest path towards continued success within the South African auto sector remains its ability to offer a range of honest and relatively affordable, if somewhat quirky, compact vehicles that challenge the establishment. With this in mind, it seems obvious Suzuki Auto South Africa might delve into its global bag of tricks in order to give potential customers as much variety within these popular segments as possible.
Based on a shortened Swift platform (and marketed by co-developer Opel as an Agila in European markets), the Splash was first launched in 2008, making it two years older than the current-generation Swift. Despite this, there remains enough youthful swagger about the Splash’s wide-eyed front-end and pert rear for it to still look fresh among its younger family members.
Where the Splash loses 70 mm worth of wheelbase to its Swift sibling, it nevertheless gains 90 mm in overall height. In turn, this tall stance guarantees the “new” Suzuki more headroom than any young family or student driver is ever likely to need. This extra space does, however, go some way towards giving the Splash’s cabin a welcome sense of roominess. A further benefit is the taller positioning of, in particular, the front two seats. With no height adjustment offered (and only rake movement available on the steering wheel), the driver is nevertheless afforded a relatively raised default driving position that eases visibility and a much sought-after, greater sense of presence on the road. The only downside to this particular driving position, as commented on by various members of the test team, is a somewhat awkward, ankle-joint challenging, angle of the throttle pedal in relation.
This is the only awkwardness amid the Splash’s otherwise well-put-together cabin. One criticism is that the many storage bins available should feature gripier plastic surfaces. A standard fitment of a multi-function steering wheel on GL models (GA spec is kept to the bare minimum) is a nice touch, but in reality all controls, including those of the built-in audio system, are large and clear enough for easy operation. A satellite rev-counter mounted atop the facia adds some quirk to the cabin, although paying attention to both this and the suitably large speedometer at the same time proves difficult.
Understand the workings and character of the Splash’s 1,2-litre naturally aspirated engine and, in this case, five-speed manual transmission, and you quickly realise that it’s only the rev needle that requires scrutiny in order for more than handy momentum to be maintained. Shift efficiently via a nicely notchy and precise transmission and suitably lightweight clutch pedal, and this free-revving engine rewards with a feisty willingness round town. The ceiling to this performance (whereafter things get a tad breathless), reached at the 110 km/h mark in top gear, should prove tall enough for most city dwellers. That said, combining a section of steady freeway driving within our fuel route helped the Splash achieve an impressive combined figure of just 5,2 litres/100 km.
Less impressive during our test period was its braking performance. Despite the standard fitment of ABS to the ventilated discs up front (drums at the rear), the brake pedal grew progressively softer during our standard 10-stop test, resulting in a disappointing average time of 3,66 seconds.
Also highlighted during this braking test was a somewhat unsettling pitching motion as the Splash’s tall body settled onto the MacPherson strut front suspension. Fortunately, lateral body roll is more successfully controlled during everyday driving.
There’s a nice weighting to the hydraulic power assistance and this, together with a tight (9,4-metre) turning circle and impressive all-round visibility, makes the Splash easy to manoeuvre in congested areas.
Shopping in hand, the luggage area makes up for in depth what is loses in length; impressive considering there’s still a full-size (165/80 R14) spare wheel housed below the boot board. Folding the rear backrests forward (60:40 split) reveals 848 dm3 worth of utility space.
It’s not often a vehicle will beat its competition in our road-test rivals block, but still not be the car we’d necessarily spend our money on.
Ultimately a nice problem for Suzuki South Africa to have, we’d remain in the showroom, spend an additional R2 000 and purchase the larger, more modern Swift 1,2 GL. It features the same impressive drivetrain and near identical standard specification as the Splash GL.
What the more compact Splash offers is a nimble, relatively versatile alternative that, despite its age, still represents everything good (the brakes on our test unit aside) about the modern Suzuki brand.