There are only a few car makers that can truly claim to be specialists in small cars, and it all really stemmed from one: the Mini
The Mini is really the OG when it comes to this trade. BMC did pioneer the use of a transverse front-engine, front-wheel-drive platform; a layout that is very widely used today due to its cost efficiency, among other characteristics. It was basic but very effective.
While Mini (or MINI) has moved on to aiming for a more premium market with much larger (but still small, by comparison to other models), many other carmakers are still taking that same tiny, fun, affordable and effective formula, and giving their own spin on it.
Suzuki is one such carmaker, one that specializes in small cars. Yes, they've tried to market larger models like the Kizashi or Grand Vitara, but those have since been discontinued. And perhaps the best reason is that it is in small cars that they can truly succeed. We've seen and felt how great their line up of mini cars and SUVs can be with the likes of the Swift and the Jimny. When they dropped the Grand moniker from the Vitara and downsized it, we raved about how well it drives and feels; well, myself in particular.
Now that brings us to another new small car from Suzuki: the S-Presso.
The S-Presso comes to us, not from Suzuki's manufacturing centers in Japan, Thailand, or Indonesia. Actually, like the Dzire, and the now-discontinued Alto (which these slots just above from), the S-Presso comes from India. It's made in a factory near New Delhi (which really in the middle of the subcontinent) and shipped all the way here as a CBU.
So yes, it's Indian. To some, it may sound strange, but not really. Much in the same way that Toyota dominates the Philippine market, Suzuki specifically Maruti Suzuki, commands more than half of the 4-million unit (roughly) annual car sales volume in India. Last year, the Dzire became the number one selling car in India. They are the number one automaker there, full stop.
But how does that dominance in the subcontinent benefit the S-Presso for export markets like ours?
For one, there's the look. It's technically a hatchback, but they worked to make it look more like an SUV, more... masculine? Well, it's odd to call a car this small masculine, but they tried.
The first thing you'll notice is that the S-Presso is quite boxy. The front end is rather vertical, with two slim headlights, a teeny little grille that isn't really functional (apart from having a high-mount air intake there for the engine near the right-side headlight), and an unpainted lower bumper. The hood is quite horizontal too, and the windscreen is not as steeply raked as most passenger cars; definitely a nod to SUVs.
The side of the vehicle really does give off some SUV pretensions. You wouldn't normally find these square-ish creases on the wheel wells in hatchbacks, but here they are. The vehicle looks very upright like it's at attention for the flag ceremony. There's not much to write home about in the back, except for those C-shaped taillights. The ground clearance is very apparent too. The S-Presso sits about 180mm from the road even with those teeny, tiny 13-inch steel wheels; with full caps.
I've been inside some of Suzuki's models from India before, like the first time the Alto arrived in the Philippines. I honestly expected more of the same, given the price point, but it was surprisingly much better than expected.
The interior is fairly neat with a rather nice looking dash with a round motif in the middle that appears to be a nod to Mini. The plastics, for instance, definitely do not look cheap. The steering wheel feels nice in my hands; it's urethane and not leather-wrapped, which is fine. The stitching on the fabric upholstery is consistent all throughout. Actually, the interior looks quite good, and the dash looks very well put together and the pieces look like they fit together perfectly just like a Tamiya kit.
The S-Presso is a tiny car at just 3565mm long and 1520mm wide, but I wasn't really wanting for space inside. I've experienced kei cars wherein if you close the door, you close your legs, but such isn't the case here. Suzuki was able to maximize the interior space so well, and one of the ways they were able to achieve it was having the front seats be very upright. It actually feels somewhat like a dining chair given the height of the cushion from the floor; it feels strange but isn't uncomfortable.
The upright orientation allocates a bit more real estate in the back, which is why taller individuals shouldn't have a problem. The rear seats do have their own retractable headrests and, surprisingly, ISOFIX anchors for two child seats; one on the left, and one on the right.
There's no button that serves as a trunk release for the S-Presso, but you can open it with the key, or with a trunk release lever under the driver's seat where the fuel tank lid release lever is, too. With the rear seats up, the S-Presso does have decent space (all things considered) at 239 liters. That's probably enough for bags for 5 persons on a weekend away. If you fold the rear seats down, you can take on bigger items like balikbayan boxes (we only had one, but we think it can fit 2 jumbo boxes. To do so, you'll have to remove the backboard/tonneau cover.
The unique thing about the S-Presso is how Suzuki worked around the constraints of the price tag. So what Suzuki did was do away with some non-essentials. The S-Presso doesn't have rear speakers. The mirrors, for instance, are adjusted manually with a lever on a ball joint, or whatever that's called. The rear windows are the manual wind up/down type, despite the front windows being powered. The one-piece backrests for the front seats are also an indicator; it's cheaper to produce that as opposed to a seat with an adjustable headrest.
But another bit of cleverness was how Suzuki designed the center stack. No, we're not talking about that round thing in the middle, but more of how they arrayed all the main features and functions onto the middle of the dashboard. In most cars, the audio system, the A/C controls, and charging ports are in the middle, but in the S-Presso the gauge cluster and power window switches are in the middle too.
It all may seem trivial, but this orientation simplifies the manufacturing or assembly process. Theoretically, it also means that Suzuki will have more parts commonality between LHD and RHD units; India, after all, does have the steering wheel on the right. It may even shorten the overall wiring, as everything is in the middle. All these little things help to keep the price down, and they executed it in a way that customers won't feel it. I'd call it smartly economical.
That's not to say either they scrimped. Customers demand connectivity, so they couldn't do away with a 2-DIN touchscreen audio unit that has Bluetooth so you can take calls on the go and stream music. Customers demand safety, so the S-Presso comes with dual airbags and, more importantly, anti-lock brakes. Of course, this isn't a car we would call fully loaded, but it's got the essentials. Oh, and one more thing: being an Indian-made car means that the horn of this vehicle (while tinny and high pitched) will have been engineered to last 10 times longer than most. That tidbit of information was shared to me by a Japanese executive who was stationed there with another carmaker; they have to build horns to endure the exuberant horn usage patterns of Indian drivers.
So, onto the engine: this S-Presso is powered by the three-cylinder K10B, basically, the same engine found in other Suzuki models like the Celerio and the previous Alto K10 which this one replaces. The version in the S-Presso makes 67 PS and 90 Nm and is bolted onto a 5-speed manual gearbox. There is no option for an automatic from Suzuki Philippines because the only two-pedal system for the S-Presso in India is the AGS unit, or the Auto Gear Shift automated manual transmission, or AMT. Those take a bit of getting used to, and since Suzuki was aiming for an entry-level market anyway, the manual may be the logical way to go, though it might turn away those that learned to drive on two pedals exclusively.
There's a certain gruffness about the way the Suzuki S-Presso gets going. There's also a little noise when you try to accelerate. If anything it actually feels a little throaty when it accelerates, which is nice, but not expected of a little car.
The engine being a three-cylinder doesn't feel as refined, but that was to be expected. Actually, with the hood (or bonnet) open, you can see the engine appears to be shaking just that little bit more at idle, and that's because three-cylinder engines aren't as well balanced compared to four-cylinder engines. In straight 4 engines, the pistons cancel each other out in terms of vibration, but that's not possible with an engine with an odd number of cylinders. You can mitigate, but it only goes so far.
The clutch pedal may be short in travel, but it's nice and light for urban driving and traffic. The transmission is actually quite neat too with shifts that feel very positive when you throw it into gear. I was expecting quite a bit of mushiness, but it felt a lot better than expected. Also, the rather close ratio gearset compensated for the low power figures; if you step on the throttle in second gear, the S-Presso actually goes.
As an urban runabout is where the S-Presso excels, and you may actually enjoy it. It was, after all, made in India for India, and their roads are tight and traffic is at another level, so our roads shouldn't be a problem. Being 1.5-meters wide means you can squeeze into tight roads without a problem and you can zip around traffic; just be sure to tap the lane change indicator (the three blinks) when you do. The ground clearance and short overhangs make quick work of steep parking ramps, though you'll have to rev up a bit more to get up there.
You can park so very easily given the size, so much so that I'm questioning the decision to have rear parking sensors. I'm guessing they're expecting a lot of newly licensed first-time drivers to be their customers, which makes sense. And as for fuel economy, we were able to achieve an average of 17 kilometers per liter in urban conditions, albeit that was under MECQ so traffic wasn't too bad. Don't be surprised if you get around 12 km/l when things start to truly normalize.
What you do have to keep in mind with the S-Presso is that it's a lightweight car with a very short wheelbase at 2380mm. When you combine those two factors, you have to expect that comfort over roads like EDSA will not be its forte, as the wheelbase means the car won't ride as comfortably, and the 770-kilogram curb weight means those same bumps will toss it up a bit more. That's just the sacrifice of such small cars.
At higher speeds on a smoother highway, the S-Presso's manners improve. It's smoother, and the wind noise wasn't much of a factor at 80 km/h. What you will feel are crosswinds, as the taller, slab-sided nature of the S-Presso means you'll have to correct the steering once in a while to stay in the middle of a lane.
I did want to get a feel for the handling of the S-Presso, but our usual roads in the east were unavailable due to the MECQ and the heavy rain on our filming day made it tricky, so we just carved out a little figure-8 course in our compound. And yeah, the S-Presso proved to be fun.
Mash the throttle in first gear and the tires actually chirp a bit, which is nice. Cornering isn't really exceptional; there was significant body roll when you try to take a tight corner a bit too fast, so once we dialed down the entry speed, it was alright. That's what you get when you raise a hatchback a bit more. But still, it was good fun tossing it around in heavy rain. I can actually imagine driving this in a little one make race; that'll be a sight to see.
Some may think that in our line of work, we prefer to review opulent SUVs and performance cars. Of course, we do have that privilege, but I've always had a soft spot for very affordable vehicles. I was taught by one of my mentors as a newbie in the motoring beat that it's more difficult to build a good car to fit a tight and extremely competitive price point, as opposed to building a good car when the customer base isn't constrained by finances like a luxury saloon.
You have to omit some features without sacrificing overall usability. You have to be clever in your choices of materials. You have to design, engineer, or layout things a certain way to make things more affordable. Some may see it as cutting corners, I see it as being smarter in execution. That's why to me, building a good affordable car can commands as much (or even more) respect than building a supercar where the sky is the limit, budget-wise. That is something Suzuki does very well.
The S-Presso, in my book, is a solid effort at a basic but clever little car. This little Suzuki met my expectations of a first car, and then some. It may not impress customers who are used to driving something like a Vios or better, but it will be great for those who are looking at an affordable car and are stepping up from either an old second-hand compact that's become difficult to maintain or even a motorcycle. Or maybe even as a first car being gifted to a new grad.
At PhP 518,000, this little raised hatchback isn't a premium shot of espresso. It's more like 3-in-1. No, it's not fancy nor is it very Instagram-worthy, but it'll get the job done.