Thursday, 6 November 2014

COLUMN - November 2014

Here is my column from the November edition of The Local Herald. I'm off to Japan this month, starting with a Suzuki crossover in the SX4 S-Cross, and then on to the almighty Subaru WRX STi. The former is a bit of a dark horse in its segment, and has the power to surprise and surpass expectations. The latter is a rally legend and the heart-throb of a PlayStation generation, but you know what they say about meeting your heroes... This was sure to be a good one. As always full write ups can be found in the Reviews section of the site.

We’re well on the way towards Christmas now, and the weather has turned well and truly miserable. Luckily before this happened I was fortunate enough to get hold of a rather exciting new car and give it a proper test (before a barge became a more appropriate means of transport). I’ll move on to that in a short while, but for now I wish to talk about another rather impressive car; the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross.

I grabbed an SZ5 Allgrip model for a week, which meant AWD and plenty of toys. Suzuki is no stranger to the crossover market, but the previous SX4 left a little to be desired. The new SX4 S-Cross looks great, with a bold front end and high stance. Inside the materials may not be of the highest quality, but that’s not what the Suzuki is about. It’s good home-cooked food; no Michelin stars but everyone appreciates it all the same.

I tested the 1.6-litre diesel model, which was an absolute dream to drive. There’s enough power, and with the 6-speed gearbox it’s a great all-rounder; from towns to motorways. There is a bit of lean through the corners, but the AWD offers great cornering ability. The S-Cross is also economical, with road tax at £30 a year and combined consumption of 64.2mpg. And at £23,549 I think the top-spec SZ5 represents good value for money as well.

The car I had the following week also offered 4WD and a 6-speed gearbox. But it was no diesel. Oh no. This was the brand new Subaru WRX STi; all 305PS of it. This is a rather exciting car, considering Subaru never planned to bring it to the UK. Thankfully they did, and to see it in the flesh finished in World Rally Blue with gold wheels reminded me of the early Gran Turismo days when an entire generation fell in love with the Impreza.

The styling is much better than the previous instalment; I love the more aggressive and angular front end, with the traditional large bonnet scoop. At the rear the large rear wing is back, and the quad exhausts give a nod to the power available at the push of your right foot. And that’s the most addictive element of this car.

Granted, the engine is the same as it was a couple of years ago; a 2.5-litre, turbocharged boxer engine. But why fix something that isn’t broken? Power delivery is hard and punchy once the turbo kicks in, and you can soon work your way through the gears. The familiar burble provides a nice soundtrack as well.

Subaru’s Si Drive system allows control over the centre differential and mapping; with sport sharp mode giving you faster throttle response and increased torque. And the car completely comes to life on a fast, flowing A-road. The WRX STi has immense levels of grip, and can corner at speeds you wouldn’t think possible. What’s more, it has more than enough power to make sure you reach the next corner a lot faster than most other cars.

I suppose I should mention economy; it’s not great. Combined fuel consumption of 27.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 242g/km mean that running costs will be rather high. But then again who buys a Subaru WRX STi and expects it to return 40mpg. Fuel aside though, I found it a rather practical car. The boot is a decent size, there’s plenty of room in the cabin, the spoiler is well designed not to obscure rear visibility, and the car is more comfortable than you’d imagine. Finally, at £28,995 you show me more performance per pound elsewhere? I think you’ll struggle.

Dan

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