Awards are good, sales are better

Outside view of Suzuki S-Presso

The Cars.co.za annual Consumer Awards ceremony took place on 15 February, with 13 category victories available to the 39 finalists. When the winners were announced, six brands divided the titles between them.

Suzuki, Land Rover and BMW won a category each, Volvo won two, Toyota won five and Volkswagen three. You will find the winners in each category on the Cars.co.za website and you can see which were the 39 finalists – if you are really interested you can go over the list of 65 semi-finalists.

I do think that Toyota should share their victory in the Budget Car category with Suzuki because their winning entry, the Toyota Starlet 1.4 XR, is a rebadged Suzuki Baleno. This is doubly-true when you consider that both the Toyota and Suzuki competed side-by-side in the category. Toyota’s victory apparently relied on consumer input on their brand experience to snatch the victory.

For consumers in South Africa, the brands of Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW, Volvo and Land Rover need no introduction or explanation – all are well known. Cars, motorcycles and boats have all sold under the Suzuki brand in South Africa for decades but the company is significantly smaller than most of the others in terms of local representation.

That hasn’t stopped Suzuki from putting on a strong offensive. In terms of the Cars.co.za awards there were five Suzuki models among the nine finalists across three categories. The Suzuki S-Presso 1.0 S-Edition and Swift 1.2 GL were both in the Entry Level category, the Baleno 1.4 GLX and Ignis 1.2 GLX were in the Budget Car category while the Swift 1.4 T Sport auto competed in the Compact Hatch category.

Only Toyota matched Suzuki for the number of finalists from a single brand.

It isn’t about competitions though. Four times last year Suzuki exceeded their previous monthly sales record, selling a total of 16,527 new cars in 2020 and growing their market share to 4.3% – in an industry that saw a nearly 30% decline in sales over the same period.

More South Africans are turning on to the brand – and the company is rising to the challenge, having added another 10 dealerships last year and also increased warehousing for parts.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, last year in the midst of lockdown the S-Presso launch model arrived at my door and, other than putting maybe 25km on it I spent a week doing nothing but sitting in it now and again. I’ve been holding on to the story every since, with no idea of what to do with it.

The awards have provided me with the opportunity to finally get it online – for the (perhaps) two people who will read it. Unfortunately for the S-Presso though, it lost out in the Entry Level category to the better established Swift, a formidable opponent which has had plenty of time to become a local favourite.

The S-Presso provides an unexpected level of equipment, including airbags, touchscreen and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

There are three derivatives to the S-Presso range. The GL, GL+ and S-edition. All have electric windows up front, all have air conditioning, all have rear parking sensors, all have central locking, all have two airbags up front, all have anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and all have power steering and a three-cylinder 998cc engine producing 50kW and 90Nm of torque.

Only the cheapest model doesn’t get the touchscreen, Apple Airplay, Android Auto, USB or Aux input or bluetooth. Adjustable seats and adjustable steering wheel are also not a thing on the S-Presso range.

I remember when entry-level cars had no airbags, no ABS, no power steering, no electric windows and no aircon. The S-presso is a long way from this past reality – and it isn’t shy on interior space either. Adjusting the driver’s seat to my comfort, I can then slip into the back seat and still have enough legroom.

A vehicle’s looks can be a very subjective thing. This is even more true when it comes to small cars, and for the S-Presso this is no different. It isn’t a bad-looking vehicle, relying more on a rugged design to be attractive rather than any specific good looks. Personally, I much prefer the styling of the Ignis – but that is a bit more expensive.

In terms of luggage capacity, the Suzuki S-Presso provides 239 litres of packing space.

The introduction of the S-Presso has not been without controversy. When the Global NCAP results were published, the Maruti-built S-Presso did not perform well. It has been explained that the S-Presso for the Indian market is not the same as that offered in South Africa, a model which is yet to be tested.

When it comes to novelty, locals love finding new ways of spending their money. Brands have traditionally enjoyed good custom with their offerings when times are good, but South Africans have proven themselves a reliable bunch historically.

When the pinch arrives, they flock to traditional brands and pursuits, not wanting to stray far from their opinion of value. It seems that South Africans have remained reliable in their choices yet again. This time they’ve decided that this Japanese brand, which celebrated 50 years of the 4X4 with Jimny and 100 years of Suzuki in 2020, counts amongst the South Africa’s value prospects.

There is enough space inside the S-Presso that it is possible to be comfortable both in the front or back of this compact SUV.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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