When Suzuki launched the S-Presso last year, I was eager to try it out, but a bit worried that it would disappoint me. It’s nothing but an Alto on stilts, right? Not just an Alto, but a Maruti Alto, based on a 20-year-old Japanese design. While Japan gets honest-to-goodness all-wheel-drive kei SUVs, we get a tarted-up Indian hatchback.
But the S-Presso isn’t based on the Maruti Alto. Rather, it’s a clean-sheet design based on the same HEARTECT architecture underneath the fantastic new Swift and Ertiga. But does that make it any good? Let’s find out.
The S-Presso may be small, but it isn’t lacking in road presence. The Maruti-designed crossover boasts a rugged look that manages to be completely different from the Japan-designed Jimny. Tall shoulders and boxy lines give it a lot of swagger, and black-lined fenders serve to emphasize the S-Presso’s relatively tall 180 mm ride height.
Up front, the S-Presso features a beautifully sculpted grille that pays homage to the previous Jimny. A grille so nice that Suzuki Japan has stolen it for the Ignis facelift. Turnabout is fair play, of course, as the rear shoulder and beltline kink seem inspired by the previous Ignis.
But the S-Presso has a personality all its own. It’s a wonderful design, only let down slightly by the small 14-inch wheels with their snap-on hubcaps, and the blank cutouts where the front foglights should go. At least the rather plain looks of the launch variant have been addressed with additional guard bits and side cladding. All the better to survive parking lot scrapes with!
Despite its Indian roots, the S-Presso feels very much the modern Kei car. Full of chunky and purposeful shapes rendered in durable plastics. Seats sit cartoonishly high off the floor, giving you a commanding view out the windshield. The vertically stacked dashboard leaves lots of knee room, but the driver’s pedal box puts your right knee up against the center console.
While there’s a lot of hard plastic here, it feels sturdy and nothing wiggles or rattles. A big central binnacle houses digital instrumentation, a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, and window and door controls. This leaves the door cards themselves feeling rather plain, and the thin plastic on the lower doors are about the only objectionable material in here. Still, thin door cards mean extra elbow room, and there’s noticeably more in here than in the older Alto or Jimny, but it’s harder to sit three across the back than in the Celerio.
On the other hand, the S-Presso boasts a usefully larger trunk, at 239 liters versus the Celerio’s 235. While it’s still a shade smaller than those in other competitors, none of them have anything to match the S-Presso big, sturdy tonneau cover parcel shelf.
The S-Presso uses the same 67hp three-cylinder K10B engine and five-speed gearbox as in the Celerio, equipped with a taller final drive to make up for the taller tires. This gives it incredibly short gearing, with first topping out at just 35kph. Combined with an ultralight 770kg curb weight, this allows the S-Presso to do 0-100kph in 12.5sec, about half a second faster than the Celerio or the old K10 Alto. Shift action is precise but notchy, and the clutch is springy but light. With no tachometer, you’ve got to shift by ear, which isn’t difficult, as the engine isn’t particularly quiet.
The short gearing and bluff body shape limit fuel economy to 25-27km/L at 80kph, compared to the Celerio’s 29+km/L. But that should get better as the engine breaks in. Consumption in light traffic hovers around 13km/L, which isn’t bad at all.
Ride and handling
The S-Presso is a joy to drive in traffic. Combining the compact dimensions of the Alto with the commanding height of a crossover, it filters through traffic with ease, fitting wherever a tricycle can fit. Short overhangs give it Jimny-rivaling approach and departure angles, which makes jumping curbs ridiculously easy. Not that you should drive on the sidewalk, mind you. Tidy dimensions, a tiny turning circle, and standard parking sensors allow you to slip into parking spaces too small for anything else.
The S-Presso is a bit less impressive out on the open road. Wind noise around the pillars at 100kph is considerable, and buffeting can push you around on the highway. The steering is relatively steady, however, and the Indian-made 165/70R14 MRF ZVTV ‘ecotred’ tires prove relatively quiet and grippy. Body roll in corners remind you that this car is taller than it is wide, but the featherlight curb weight and well-controlled suspension make the S-Presso pleasingly nimble and secure, even over the worst roads.
The S-Presso’s standard kit is pretty good for the price. The seven-inch touchscreen has Bluetooth connectivity and gets two rather average speakers, remote locking, and—uh—not much else. On the bright side, it gets extra safety kit compared to the Indian version launched last year, which scored poorly in crash testing due to a lack of airbags and seatbelt force limiters.
Our local version comes with seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, dual airbags, and even ISOFIX latch points in the rear for child seats—something also missing on the Indian version. It hasn’t been tested yet, but the Celerio—which also fared poorly in Indian testing—managed to score three to four stars in Europe and Australia with the same safety upgrades. Expect the S-Presso to get retested as it rolls out in more Asian and Latin American markets over the coming years.
Though Suzuki’s high-spec Japanese Kei cars remain forbidden fruit to the rest of the world, Maruti-Suzuki is leveraging their access to Suzuki technology to export small, affordable and quirky products to the global market. While this erstwhile “SUV” may lack such technologies as all-wheel drive and turbocharging, it combines surprising refinement and utility with some of the most dramatic-looking sheetmetal on the road.
So the S-Presso may not be as spacious as the Mirage-Wigo-Celerio set, it boasts superior utility and day-to-day usability. And an entertainment factor that far exceeds its humble specs and price. For those who want a taste of the Kei lifestyle, the S-Presso is perhaps the closest you can get on the local market.
SPECS: 2021 Suzuki S-Presso GL MT
Engine: 1.0-liter gasoline I3
Power: 67hp @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 90Nm @3,500rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Drive layout: FWD