Central Perk: Suzuki S-Presso GL

Half a million pesos won’t get you much  these days. What was once the price range for mid- or even high-grade compacts will now net you a no-frills micro car. This is as basic as motoring gets, a slight upgrade from having to settle for a second-hand jalopy or even taking public transportation. That said, Suzuki’s come up with a favorable reputation in the segment—a streak it continues with the 2020 S-Presso.

To be fair to Suzuki Philippines, they aren’t calling the S-Presso a crossover. It’s a micro hatchback, or if you prefer the Japanese term, a kei car. Still, with 180mm of ground clearance and visual tweaks to make it look even taller than it really is, it’s a crossover by my stylebook.

Being the spiritual successor to the Alto, and by association, Suzuki’s cheapest car locally, it tells you right to your face of where it stands in the lineup. There are blank plates  where fog lights or DRLs are supposed to be, there’s no rear wiper, and the wheels themselves are 14-inch steelies with hubcaps. Still, it’s neatly styled and cute—especially in this shade of Sizzle Orange.

The S-Presso’s SUV-like feel is echoed by the way the seats are mounted—they’re high off the car floor, like sitting on child boosters. It’s awkward during ingress, but once inside, they’re alright. The centrally-placed gauge cluster looks odd in photos, but falls within the driver’s line of sight. The steering column is fixed, and the driver’s seat moves only in four directions, but it’s still easy enough to get comfy. Millennials though will get flustered by the manually adjusted side view mirrors and the wind down rear windows. Thankfully, Suzuki’s given it a fairly modern touchscreen-based infotainment system, though there’s no smartphone mirroring of any kind.

The dashboard, with its bits of angles here and there, offers, a hint of style, but for the most part, it’s going for the straightforward approach. The plastics, too, are surprisingly well-textured and consistent throughout, though like the exterior, several blank switch plates are a constant reminder of the features Suzuki had to delete to arrive at the S-Presso’s price tag.

In terms of space, the S-Presso can ferry four adults easily (five in a squeeze). Though the front seats do lack a bit when it comes to headroom (and I’m just 170cm tall), the decision to move the window switches to the center, just like in the Jimny, gives more knee room. Towards the back, the cargo hold is squared-shaped enabling it to fit a couple of suitcases or grocery bags, but only after navigating the rather high load lip. The rear bench folds down as well to accommodate bulkier objects. There are cubbyholes scattered through the cabin, too.

With its small size and light weight (it tops out at just 770 kg), it doesn’t take much engine to propel the S-Presso. True enough, the 1.0-liter K10B three-cylinder engine’s 67hp and 90Nm of torque are more than enough to keep it singing on the open road. It’s not the fastest car out there, so there’s no need to whip out the stopwatch; subjectively though, it’s zippy and fun. It can reach 100 km/h easy, and can go up hilly terrain.

A big chunk of the S-Presso’s fun nature is down to its five-speed manual. While this limits its audience to those who can drive stick, it’s rewarding with its light, easy-to-modulate clutch and accurate shift feel. Fuel economy rests at a commendable 13.7 km/L, and that’s in stop-and-go traffic.

Another big plus is the S-Presso’s handling, especially in the urban confines. While most entry-level cars won’t be described as “fun to drive,” this Suzuki actually is. It changes directions quickly, and does so clearly and with a very nimble feel. Oh, and thanks to its small size, excellent visibility, and generous ground clearance, it can squeeze through all sorts of spaces with ease.

Now, the high center of gravity has one drawback: at higher speeds, any enthusiastic tug of the wheel will cause the entire car to roll and feel like it’s going to tip over (it never does though). The feeling is amplified by the steering which may have been quick around the center, but requires much more turns to stay responsive. But hey, at least the brakes are mighty good.

As one of the most affordable cars in the market, the S-Presso stays true to Suzuki’s philosophy of providing excellent value for money. Not only is this the most affordable crossover in the country, but it also comes reasonably loaded. It comes with dual SRS airbags and ABS with EBD, and it has a touchscreen audio system as well.

From an enthusiast’s point of view, it’s hard to get excited about entry-level cars such as the S-Presso. However, like its namesake, Suzuki’s managed to come up with a fine brew of style, zippiness, and most important of all, great value in this segment. It’s not the fastest or most luxurious car money can buy, but it still gives a good kick that’s hard to shake off.

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