Motoring Review - Suzuki Splash

Suzuki's new Splash has the European market firmly in its sights.

Casting its Splash into the deep end of the mainstream European supermini MPV sector, Suzuki might appear to be heading for a fall but this isn't another Japanese Kei car oddity. Developed and manufactured in Europe to European tastes, the Splash demands to be taken seriously.Suzuki has a bit of form when it comes to tiny cars. Various guises of the Wagon R graced UK dealerships for the best part of a decade with their odd miniature ice-cream van styling and the impish Alto soldiered through an innings of similar proportions. Of course, you could be forgiven for not noticing either. Both vehicles were direct products of the Japanese Kei car legislation that gives tax and insurance breaks to vehicles below a certain size with engines of less than 660cc in capacity. They went down very well in the home market but in Europe, their profile never rose much beyond that of left-field curiosities. The Splash is different. It's designed and built in Europe to European tastes and Suzuki is fiercely keen that we Europeans should 'get it' and then get it.If the Suzuki Wagon R failed to appear on your radar, there's still a chance that the Vauxhall Agila did. The Wagon R was rebadged as the Agila and sold by Vauxhall in the UK and it fared a little better in this form thanks largely to the greater exposure from the Luton firm's extensive dealer network. A similar relationship exists with the Splash in that Suzuki's factory in Esztergom, Hungary also builds the latest Vauxhall Agila. This time, however, greater efforts have been made to differentiate the two products. Suzuki is offering a range of three engines. All are mated to five-speed manual gearboxes but there's the option of a four-speed automatic with the larger petrol unit. The 64bhp 1.0-litre 3-cylinder unit props up the range but buyers looking to venture beyond the city limits onto the open road may prefer the extra power of the 85bhp 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder option. Suzuki's European focus with the Splash is underlined by the presence of a 1.3-litre diesel engine. It's manufactured under licence from Fiat and it delivers 73bhp, courtesy of an advanced common-rail direct injection architecture.The way the Splash drives will be crucial to its prospects and Suzuki's design team were under no illusions about this during development. The European market that the Splash has been created to crack wants a more cultured and responsive driving experience than cheap and cheerful Kei cars usually serve up. To this end, the Splash development programme took in tens of thousands of miles on Europe's toughest roads. The PR blurb says they visited southern Spain for the dirt tracks, Germany for the autobahns and England for the cobbled streets. You might think that in the post Dickensian era, cobblestones might not be a particularly common driving surface in the UK but once the maverick utilities companies have done their bit, roads that feel like they're cobbled are commonplace on these shores.A diminutive five-door supermini-MPV in the mould of Renault's Modus and Peugeot's 1007, the Splash was the fourth model to be created under Suzuki's 'Way of Life!' design philosophy. Following on from the Swift, Grand Vitara and SX4, the aim was for it to excite customers with a youthful vibrancy that previous small Suzukis had sorely lacked. The car also needed to retain the spaciousness, high seating position and good all-round visibility that a supermini-MPV needs and that the Splash's Wagon R predecessor actually did rather well. The Splash rides on a modified version of the Swift platform with a 30mm shorter wheelbase. At just 3.72m long, it is compact and should prove well suited to the cut and thrust of our urban centres.The exterior styling owes much to the Project Splash concept car that had the covers whipped from it at the 2006 Paris Motor Show. Once again, the European connection is strong with Suzuki sending a team of engineers to Europe as far back as 2004. Apparently, the ten-strong team 'analysed European trends in cars, fashion, lifestyle and design' for six months. At least all the champagne and penthouses didn't go to waste because the Splash is a pleasantly styled thing. Chunky and high-roofed in the best supermini-MPV traditions, it's also substantially different in appearance to its Agila sister vehicle. Compared to the Vauxhall car, the Splash exhibits a restyled bonnet, wings, bumpers and light clusters as well as a different tailgate.The Splash represents the start of a fresh stage in the development of the Suzuki brand in Europe. Phase one of the marque's expansion plans brought us models following a sporty theme that was best characterised by the nimble Swift supermini. Phase two, which the Splash heralds, heaps the focus on young families. Suzuki sees these kinds of buyers still wanting the fresh, sporty styling but also keen on spaciousness, flexibility and economy. The target is for the Splash to achieve annual sales of 60,000 units across Europe.Safety is another crucial constituent part of a small family vehicle and the Splash has an impressively complete specification in this regard. ABS with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution are included, as is ESP stability control. Six airbags are dotted around the interior, plus there are seatbelt force limiters and pre-tensioners for the front seats. The fact that the Splash is a small car with small engines bodes well for its environmental performance, even if measures to Europeanise the product away from its Kei car roots have inevitably added weight. We can safely expect emissions in the 120g/km to 140g/km bracket which will render the car tax friendly enough and although the diesel engine will post the best economy figures, buyers will need to weigh these savings up against their projected annual mileage and the price premium that the oil-burner will command. It's often the case that petrol makes the most cost effective choice in a small car that's used mainly for getting about town.Suzuki wants the Splash to be viewed as a serious contender in the major European markets and this mission is evidenced throughout the car's make-up. The styling, the engines, the emphasis on the driving experience: it all gives the Splash a distinctly European flavour where Suzuki's past small car offerings have always been overwhelmingly Japanese. It's hardly surprising when the car has been researched, developed and built in Europe but Suzuki will be hoping that European motorists appreciate its efforts and offer up a steady stream of European currency by way of reward.

FACTS AT A GLANCECAR: Suzuki SplashPRICES: �8,000-�12,000 (est)INSURANCE GROUP: 2-4 (est)CO2 EMISSIONS: 120-140 g/km (est)PERFORMANCE: [1.0] 0-60mph 16s/ max speed 95mph (est)FUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.0] (combined) 55mpgSTANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: ABS, EBD, BA, ESP, six airbags,seatbelt pre-tensionersWILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE? L 3720 x W 1680 x H 1610mm (est)

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