When the Suzuki Swift arrived in NZ it began giving the beat-down in sales numbers to almost every other hatchback in our market. Even the Toyota Corolla struggles to match the Swift’s sales figures. A key reason behind the Swift’s success is its affordability, but for some it’s still not affordable enough. For those folk there is now a second, cheaper Suzuki option. No, not the Alto, a third option then – the Splash. Suzuki has sandwiched the Splash hatch between the superstar Swift and the entry-point Alto. Priced from $17,990 the Splash undercuts the base model Swift by $2,500 but shares the same platform. While it’s not a brand new model, having been offered in Europe for the past three years, it’s new to NZ. An interesting character for sure, and being marketed as the Swift’s little sister, it’s arrived with big expectations. Car and SUV spent some time with this Swift understudy to discover what sort of sister the Splash really is.
In terms of exterior styling, the Splash isn’t the prettiest member of the Suzuki family but it does have a certain upright appeal. The front is quite fluid with wide-eyed headlights and a trendy split grille but the Splash’s rear is squarer than a Dungeons and Dragons convention. That said, it’s an inoffensive design that borrows glimpses of style from the Swift. Details that give it away as a budget model include the black plastic door handles and side mirrors and also the 15-inch steel wheels – but the silver wheel covers match up nicely.
In terms of sizing the Splash is based on the Swift platform but is 135mm shorter and rides on a 70mm shorter wheelbase. However, the Splash is 80mm taller with a slightly increased ground clearance. This extra height is used to impressive affect in creating a cabin atmosphere that feels airy and spacious despite the restricted overall dimensions. There’s plenty of headroom all round and the driver is treated to a high seating position that aides entry and exit and also allows for commanding visibility. There’s a surprising amount of legroom in the rear bench seat when the front chairs are adjusted accordingly. But the narrow width will make it difficult for three adults to stay comfortable on long trips. Cargo capacity is a minimal 178-litres in the hatch but the rear seat back splits 60:40 and folds fully flat to create a 573-litre loading area. It’s an efficient use of space that also includes a hidden 36-litre under-floor compartment in the boot with a waterproof lining.
Elsewhere in the cabin it’s fairly basic fare with dark plastics framed by contrasting silver trim. Instrumentation consists of a single dial with the tachometer noticeably absent. Everything is close at hand including a high-mounted gearstick and stereo buttons that are repeated on a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Build quality is solid but the plastics are varied, the dashboard has a soft touch but the door trims feel hard and hollow. Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, power windows (front only), trip computer, remote central locking, four-speaker stereo and height adjustable seats. Overall the Splash cabin isn’t flash but its livable and very practical.
Under the bonnet is Suzuki’s 1245cc 4-cylinder K12B engine which is a lower displacement version of the 1.4-litre K14B engine found in the Swift. The Splash motor produces 69kW of power and 118Nm of torque. It’s surprisingly lively and can provide peppy bursts of speed around town. The engine has a tendency to sound buzzy when pushed hard but has linear acceleration and will cruise comfortably at 100km/h. It’s no open road warrior but if you need to go on the occasional road trip the Splash is certainly capable.
The Splash is offered in NZ with a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-stage automatic transmissions. Our test subject was fitted with the auto box, which is shared with the Swift, and is a good match for the small engine. A fifth ratio wouldn’t hurt but the changes are fairly smooth and predictable. With the auto box the Splash achieves a fuel economy figure of 5.7-litres per 100km. Some small hatches in the market are thriftier but there aren’t many.
It’s easy to have concerns about the dynamics of a high and narrow car like the Splash but these worries are unfounded. It’s a tidy handler with suspension specially tuned so it doesn’t lean into corners too much. It can’t match the Swift for dynamic ability and there is still some body roll, but it feels stable and has plenty of grip through the front driving wheels. The Splash was more agile than expected; it changed direction with ease and has a tight turning circle, making it a precision tool for busy city streets. The ride is on the firm side but isn’t harsh and only large bumps or dips in the road surface will be felt in the cabin.
Safety specification includes a six-airbag package, ABS brakes, seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters for the front seats, 3-point seatbelts for three passengers in the back seat and ISOFIX child seat points. A stability control system remains absent for now, but Suzuki plans to add it as standard kit in 2012.
What’s the verdict on the Splash? Well it’s not going to challenge the Swift for the number one spot in the Suzuki range but it does have its own virtues. The cabin has a spacious feel and a high driving position that will appeal to many. It’s very economical and handles itself well, particularly in suburban streets. The styling is suitably cute and while the interior isn’t lavish, it’s practical and durable. But the real selling point with the Splash is the price; at under $20k for both the manual and auto models it’s a genuine value-for-money proposition.
Price: Manual – $17,990 Auto – $19,500
What we like:
- Keen pricing
- Cabin space and visibility
- Fuel economy
What we don’t like:
- Some interior plastics are hard
- Limited cargo capacity
- Engine buzzes at high rpm
- No tachometer
Who will buy this car: The high driving position and extra visibility will mean the Splash appeals to an older demographic than the Swift.
Cool Factor: Low, the Splash is practical, it’s reasonably priced but even when parked outside the lawn bowls club it’s still not really cool.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo