But every so often you get a car that doesn’t really fit comfortably into one of those brackets. A car like the Suzuki Ignis.
Viewed from a distance you’d assume this was a serious SUV poised to show the soft Nissan Juke, Renault Captur or Ford EcoSport how to do things properly - an idea bolstered by its distinctively chunky design and Suzuki’s pedigree in building tough 4x4s.
But get up close and you realise it’s about the size of a shoe, or perhaps a Kia Picanto, and for all its rugged design it’s powered by a 1.2-litre engine with just 82bhp, plus most versions are front-wheel-drive.
Suzuki Ignis SZ5 Allgrip
- Price: £17,499 (£18,149 as tested)
- Engine: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol with 12v hybrid ISG
- Power: 82bhp
- Torque: 80lb ft
- Transmission: Five-speed manual, four-wheel-drive
- Top speed: 103mph
- 0-62mph: 12.7 seconds
- Economy: 51.9mpg
- CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Suzuki says it is the world’s only ultra-compact SUV, which is stretching the definition of SUV but it’s hard to think how else to describe it. Its footprint is closer to a city car than a B-SUV but it looks and feels more rugged than “SUV-inspired” models like the Honda Jazz Crosstar or Kia Picanto X.
In a market that’s dominated by bland, interchangeable bodyshells, the Ignis stands out for its size, its boxy shape and chunky yet strangely cute styling. Like the Jimny it balances in small and lovable looks with an air of ruggedness and 2020 brought a new grille and bumpers to enhance its SUV styling.
The interior received a similarly subtle refresh last year with new trim and upholstery colours and a new instrument display. Those minor changes haven’t done much to raise the look and feel of the cabin, which is in keeping with the chunky styling of the exterior but can’t really back up the rugged image. There’s an appealing simplicity to the design but, as in other Suzukis, the materials show where money has been saved. While the main controls feel solid, some of the buttons and obvious areas like the dash and door tops are finished in distinctly thin and scratchy feeling plastics. And for all the instruments are new, they still look old-fashioned in 2021.
What it lacks in material bling, the Ingis makes up for in practicality. At 3.7m long and 1.66m wide, it’s closer to a city car than any SUV but manages to offer impressive levels of room for four passengers. A high roof means it feels roomy and the upright seating position helps create rear legroom that some larger SUVs can’t rival. Even the boot isn’t as tiny as you’d expect, with a respectable 267 litres of luggage space - not far off that in a Ford Fiesta. Throw in a slightly raised ride height that aids entry and offers good visibility and you’re onto a winner.
If you face the kind of conditions where additional traction comes in handy, the Ignis even has that covered. Splash out on top-spec SZ5 and you can have Allgrip permanent four-wheel-drive with hill descent and grip control.
While it can cope with a bit of the sticky/slippy stuff, the Ignis is still more at home in the city. The controls are light and the steering quick - ideal for nipping among the urban traffic - and the ride has that slight lumpiness that comes with the short wheelbase of many city cars. On faster roads it feels settled enough - more than you might expect from its tall, narrow appearance - but there’s still some wobbling in the corners and not a whole lot of feedback. More of an issue is the intrusive amount of noise at anything above 50mph. This is not a car you could drive at high speeds for long periods.
There’s also the issue that it takes quite some time to get to those speeds. The 1.2-litre engine is a new mild hybrid unit with a 12V integrated starter-generator to offer a little torque boost at start up and under acceleration. With just 82bhp it’s not going to win any races and feels like it’s working very hard at higher speeds. It will, however, return an easy 51mpg in real-world driving and around town its lack of oomph is less apparent.
Most day-to-day equipment demands are met by the top-of-the range SZ5, although it doesn’t feel quite as technologically advanced as some similarly priced cars. Features such as cruise control, sat nav, auto air con and keyless entry set it apart from lesser models along with lane departure warning and electric windows all round. Sliding rear seats, a seven-inch touchscreen and smartphone mirroring are shared with the SZ-T trim as are the rear-view camera, flared wheel arches and roof rails.
The Ignis is a bit of a curiosity in today’s motoring landscape. It’s compact yet spacious, has four-wheel-drive and rugged looks but is far more at home in the city, and is well equipped but old-fashioned feeling. If you can forgive its flaws, it’s a quirky and characterful alternative to the bland mainstream.