Suzuki is a company that loves its niches - small cars and four-wheel-drives to name but two. In fact, it loves them so much, it creates niches within niches. The Swift is somewhat smaller than much of its supermini competition, but is a consistent top-seller nevertheless. You'd think that would be enough for Suzuki to say it's happy and focus on that one model.
But no, Suzuki New Zealand also sells the Alto, a smaller-again city car. And in the hitherto-unseen market segment for those who want something very slightly larger than an Alto but very slightly smaller than a Swift, there's this: the Suzuki Splash.
I'd like to pretend I don't understand why this car exists, but in fact I do. It's not because there's a desperate need for a tiny hatchback that's priced in between the $17,250 Alto and $20,500 Swift (although that's exactly where the Splash sits, priced from $18,500).
In fact, it's all in the proportion. One of the great things about Swift is that it looks and feels sporty: the waistline is high, the roof low. Inside, you're enveloped in a driver-centred cabin. No wonder it provides such a good base for the Sport model.
The Splash is 75mm shorter than the Swift, but also 80mm taller.
These are not great differences in themselves, but when you put them together you end up with a vehicle that has a different sense of proportion. The Splash has much larger glass areas and a high H-point for the seats, which results in what the company claims is a walk-in cabin.
So if I understand my niches like I think I do, the Splash is only a bit smaller and cheaper than a Swift (in fact, our $21,500 Splash Limited test car overlaps the entry Swift on price), but a whole lot more suitable for a certain demographic for whom easy access, a high seating position and good visibility are key selling points. Nothing wrong with that.
Splash is a small car that fills a niche formerly occupied by a mini-people mover (the Wagon R many years ago) and once you understand that it makes more sense.
What's new, then? The previous-generation Splash was infamously one of the very few new passenger cars to lack electronic stability control. That's been rectified in the new model, which is one important tick. The 69kW/118Nm 1.2-litre engine has been slightly modified and the four-speed automatic version now achieves 5.7 litres per 100km in the Combined cycle.
Styling changes include a new bumper, grille and bonnet, plus trim changes. The top Limited model features keyless entry/start, more body-colour trim and 15-inch alloys.
Exciting it ain't. Nor do its intended buyers expect or want it to be. Aside from the obvious access and space virtues, the Splash does have a nicely put together interior (better than the Swift, I think) and vice-free chassis.
The 1.2-litre engine is perky enough and four-speed automatic is smooth. It would be smoother still with an extra ratio but that's probably asking a little too much of a car of this size, at this price level.
The Bottom Line
Splash will seem like cheap chic to a certain demographic. But if you don't want that high seating and extra visibility, it's only a short step up to the proper supermini class.By David Linklater Email David