First off, I need to let you know what a kei car is. In the circles I run in the term isn't uncommon when discussing JDM cars, but most out there, even car types, might not know the term. The phrase kei car (or k-car) is an abbreviation for kei jidōsha, which loosely translated from Japanese means: "light automobile". If a car is going to be light, then you can be sure it's going to be small, and that's the point of a kei car - not to take up space. Cars under a certain size (11.2ft x 4.9ft) with an engine under a certain capacity (600cc, although these days we're seeing them double that size) benefit from better tax and insurance rates, and when people can save money, they generally will. This has lead to a huge, hotly contested market in Japan, and over the years we've been seeing more and more kei cars hitting South African shores from a few manufacturers. The latest to arrive is the diminutive Suzuki Ignis, a car that will be marketed as a compact crossover, and if we're taking bets, I'll put money on it becoming one of the most popular cars in the segment and a best-seller for the brand.
If there's one thing Suzuki knows how to do, that's to make a good kei car. They have a few models that conform to the regulations in the Japanese market, and some of these have made their way to S.A. like the Alto, but the automaker has plenty more in their Japanese model lineup, one of which has been the best-selling kei car since 2003, the Suzuki Wagon R. Most of the model lineup in S.A. is made up of compact cars, but the Ignus is among the smaller offerings. Usually people shy away from the smaller stuff, often making the mistake of thinking the smaller size to mean inferior quality. Small cars made of lightweight materials can feel just as solid and purposeful as the bigger cars, and this Ignis is a perfect example of this. As small as it is, the Ignis can comfortably seat four adults, as hard as that is to imagine. There's not heaps of power on tap, but the 1,200cc 4-cylinder lump is sprightly enough to carry those aforementioned adults, although the sweet spot would indeed be with two occupants. 61kW and 113Nm won't exactly really win any races, but when the car tips the scales at just 850kg it certainly feels more than nippy enough and manages to get to 100km/h in 11.6-seconds, while being able to top out at 165km/h. The small capacity engine and lightweight, compact body equates to a rather frugal setup when it comes to fuel efficiency, something common to most Suzuki models. The Suzuki Ignis is claimed to return figures of 5.1-litres/100km for the manual version and 4.9-litres/100km for the AMT (auto) version.
Once inside the Suzuki Ignis, you'll see an interior that perfectly compliments the quirky exterior styling. It's colourful, futuristic, funky and sort of minimalist all rolled into one. It's mainly black and white, but the exterior colour comes through on the centre console and the inside door handles. There's a 3-spoke multifunction steering wheel that has a space for cruise control buttons, but they're absent because that's not an option on the local Ignis, but it may be one in the future. Another missing feature is the infotainment unit as seen in international models, but to keep locals happy there is an optional unit that can be had which greatly improves the stand-out section in the centre of the dash. That said, the base-spec model also looks ok, but I recommend that if you do want an Ignis, to take that optional extra unit. The dash layout looks great, and the gauge cluster is one of the better ones seen in a budget car - the big speedo and ambient lighting are great.
Seats are quite comfortable with the front being in a bucket-style while a bench is found at the rear, which features the usual 60:40 split to increase cargo capacity when needed. Even with the compact dimensions of the Ignis, there's a decent amount of boot space, a full 260 litres (469 litres with seats folded flat), enough for a full complement of photographic gear and an overnight bag. Spec differs between the GL and GLX models, but not by too much. As the names suggest, the GLX is the higher-spec version and it has a list of most of today's mod-cons that are expected in a new car, even one at this price point. The GL features electric windows all round, electronically adjustable exterior mirrors, remote central locking, manual air-con, a basic radio with a pair of speaker, a USB socket and a 12V power outlet. The GLX steps up to offer keyless start, auto climate control, six speakers and Bluetooth connectivity. Some trim pieces get paint matching the exterior too.
Of course, the point of every car is to drive it, and the Suzuki Ignis offers up a pretty decent drive. As mentioned, the car is put together very well, so even though it's light, it doesn't feel like it will bounce off the road when you hit a bump. The steering feedback is good, it's no Swift Sport but it's not totally devoid of feel either. Being touted as a compact crossover means it's meant to be able to navigate gravel roads, and it's rather good at that task. It sort of floats above the very soft sand and maneuvers great on the harder gravel, probably also thanks to the narrower 175 profile tyres. Both models feature the same engine and transmission setup with an automatic manual also on offer. On the launch I was only able to drive the manual version, and it's great, the 5-speed 'box slots into gear with purpose and ease. It's actually a fun drive, the way the Ignis looks inside and out makes you smile, that's never a bad thing. On roads through the Cape winelands, the little Ignis was the perfect runaround, and attracted a fair amount of attention. I guess that could have also been because there were quite a few of them in convoy too though. As for that claimed fuel consumption, once again it's wrong. I had the manual at 4.9-litres/100km more than once,and if we weren't on a launch sharing the car between two journos, that could get even better.
While the Suzuki Ignis is a small car, it's also a safe car. The base Ignis GL features dual front airbags, front and rear head restraints, and inertia seat belts for front and rear occupants. The middle seating position on the rear bench seat is fitted with a two-point lap belt. ABS with EBD and EBA is also standard equipment, as are IsoFix child seat anchors, child-proof rear door locks and an alarm and immobiliser. The GLX sees extras including PDC and a height-adjustable driver's seat for the interior while the exterior sees better lighting in the form of projector LED lighting. For those that want to win bets, the Ignis employs Suzuki's TECT (Total Effective Control Technology) with a rigid passenger safety cell and impact absorbing crumple zones to give the Ignis a great Euro NCAP 4-star safety rating - that's like a million points higher than a Datsun Go. Actually, you're probably safer using a skateboard on the highway than one of those things...
The Suzuki Ignis can be had in a choice of four colours and a pair of two-tone combos. The GL comes in Uptown Red Pearl Metallic, Arctic White Pearl Metallic, Silky Silver Metallic, and Glistening Grey Metallic, while the GLX is available in Arctic White Pearl Metallic, Silky Silver Metallic, and Glistening Grey Metallic, as well as Uptown Red Pearl Metallic with a black roof, and Tinsel Blue Pearl Metallic with a white roof. I can't pick a favourite oddly enough. Both models come with a standard 3-year/100 000km warranty, as well as a 2-year/30 000km service plan and services are at 15 000 km/12-month intervals. Yes, that could be longer, but these cars are intended for urban use, so racking up that amount of mileage should take quite a while. Pricing is good, better than I expected anyway. The base model GL comes in at R168 900 and the GLX at R189 900. For the lazy chaps, the GLX AMT will cost R204 900.
As far as kei cars go, the Suzuki Ignis is absolutely brilliant, and as far as affordable cars go, it's equally as brilliant. Someone mentioned that Suzuki SA would like to shift around 40 of these cars a month, but I reckon that once buyers become aware of the Ignis, it will quickly become one of their best selling models. I guestimate more than double of those projected monthly figures. The tagline for the car is: "Like no other" which is just about perfect for it. This thing is A-OKei!
Deetlefs Wine Estate
The main venue visited on the Suzuki Ignis launch was Deetlefs Wine Estate where we were treated to a tour of the facility as well as a wine tasting. I loved this, I thought I knew how wine was made, but there's a lot more to it. I learned a lot from the tour, not just about Deetlefs, but the Cape winelands and the market itself. Old places are always amazing to me, and this farm is one of the oldest. It's actually the second-oldest wine estate in South Africa to be owned by the same family, and so Deetlefs has been around since 1822. Click the link above for more detailed info, in the meantime, here's some pics snapped from the tour.