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Click to view road test review picture gallerySuzuki’s all-new
  five-seat city car is set
  to make a big splash
  in the mini-MPV sector.
  Not only does it do
  everything a small car
  should, but it does
  it all very well...”

THE NEW SUZUKI SPLASH WILL SEND RIPPLES through the small car market after it arrives in showrooms on 8 March. The company's first model made specifically for Europe, it will be competing as a mini-MPV with its five-seat capacity and choice of four-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol and 1.3-litre diesel engines. The eye-catching design, under-scored by strongly flared wings, a bold nose and a flowing roof, has a friendly, endearing personality.

The all-new petrol engine and the familiar diesel are designed with low emissions to beat congestion charges while still providing good perfor-mance on the open road. The diesel achieves a wallet-comforting 62.8mpg and emits 120g/km — so qualifying for a 35 annual VED. The petrol version will exceed 51mpg.

Costing between 8,999 and 10,499, the Splash is a four-model range (the 1.2 model comes in either GLS or GLS+ grades; an automatic transmission is available on the GLS+ model; and the fourth model is the 1.3 DDiS whose specification is identical to GLS+ grade). It's also keenly priced — but it is not a cheap car. It oozes refinement, with impressive standard safety equipment that includes a sophisticated ESP electronic stability program as well as six airbags (including two full-length curtain airbags). In addition, all models also come with air conditioning and electronic power steering as well as a comprehensive sound system with MP3 compatibility.

Step up from the entry-level GLS to either a GLS+ or DDiS and you get 15-inch alloys, front foglamps and privacy glass on the rear side win-dows and tailgate. That's on top of an equipment list that includes a leather-trimmed steering wheel with wheel-mounted audio controls, remote central locking, front electric windows with driver's auto-down, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, height-adjustable front seats, tilt adjustable steering wheel and an information display.

Inside, there's an equally lively cabin treatment, with stylish silver trim elements and, depending on the body colour, a splash of added colour in the form of turquoise, blue, or light grey inserts on the fascia, doors and seats. Further distinction is provided by the angled centre console and large diameter speedometer with refreshingly simple and clear black numerals on a white background. Secondary controls are well laid out and there's a novel tachometer that sits on top of the dash in its own individual housing. The high seating position makes for easy entry and exit, and there are lots of cubbies and places to stash possessions dotted about the cabin — although the door pockets are on the slim side. The heating and ventilation proved effective on a warm day and the boot was easy to load and is a good shape for hassle-free week-end shopping.

The Splash is built by Suzuki in Hungary on the same production lines as the Vauxhall Agila — which will be sold with a 1.0 engine option as well as the 1.2 and 1.3 units. Otherwise, they are largely the same models.

Splash will be first to market, and Suzuki UK expect to sell about 4,500 this year with a reasonable proportion to be conquest sales now that
it can offer a modern small MPV in a sector of the market which is very cost and capacity conscious.

It is also likely to be the catalyst for an increase in Suzuki's dealer network — from under 150 to about 180 sites. Suzuki in the UK has been encouraged by a steady rise in sales, good reports from the
retail network and improvements in the brand's rating in recent dealer satisfaction surveys.

The five-door Splash is a 3.7m-long supermini with five seats and a small boot that can be quickly extended. When the offset, 60:40 split rear seats are folded, the practical boxy shape is fully utilised to expand the normal 178 litres load space up to a maximum of 573 litres. There's also a handy waterproof compartment beneath the boot floor.

I found the room in the back to be slightly short of leg space with the front seats set for a six-footer, but the headroom is good throughout and those in the front enjoy a good range of seat adjustments. All seats are comfortable, and the rear seat headrests are normally set low to aid visibility.

Ride comfort is very good for a small car, and the Splash was surpris-ingly smooth over some poorly surfaced French roads; although this can lead to some body roll.

Roadholding was reasonably good in the dry and never gave cause for concern. The upright shape of the cabin, combined with the low waist-line and big windows, allows excellent visibility and it can be accurately placed on the road when cornering or eased into the smallest of par-king spaces — thanks to the standard power steering. The brakes are also well up to the Splash's performance, with ABS and EBD, and the high-set manual gearlever — mounted relatively high at the bottom of the centre stack for easier, more relaxed operation — worked precisely and smoothly. And the elevated driving position means a great view of the road. All important factors in ensuring an enjoyable driving experience.

Up front, the engines — I tried both — were extremely strong in mid-range. The new 1.2-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine develops 85bhp and was particularly quiet, even when pushed hard on some mountain roads, and it cruised effortlessly at motorway speed. Buyers of the petrol engine models have a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

The gutsier 1.3-litre 74bhp 4-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel initially felt slower off the mark but, thanks to its superior 140lb ft of torque, it has good mid-range pull and flexibility. Suzuki UK expects about 80 per cent of sales to be for the new petrol-powered Splash, and after my test drive I think they are probably right in their research — but that's not to say that the diesel doesn't deserve to do well.

I think a test drive of any Suzuki Splash will open a driver's eyes and it comes with a good standard specification which is a serious challenge to rivals that cost the same or more but don't offer as much. What's more, the build quality is significantly better than previous Suzuki models and lifts the brand into a new sector of premium city cars. Go on, take the plunge! — Robin Roberts

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Suzuki Splash 1.2 GLS | 8,999
Maximum speed: 109mph | 0-62mph: 12.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 51.4mpg | Power: 85bhp | Torque: 84lb ft

CO2 131g/km | VED Band C 115 | Insurance group 3E
Visit Suzuki's website Click to go there now

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