Suzuki Ignis Sport – The Story Begins…

5 10 2009

The Japanese car industry enjoys a pretty good reputation on the whole.  In some ways they have become the Channel 4 of the automotive world, initially offering numb facsimiles of European cars, which turned out to be rather better screwed together than the originals.  During the 1980s Japan became progressively more adventurous, putting down the Sketch-a-Graph and replacing it with an Etch-a-Sketch.  Boxy but brilliant superminis started zipping around our towns, spawning some remarkably rewarding sports variants.  For example, Daihatsu’s meek little Charade spent a night alone in a big forest, returning with the whites of its eyes showing, t-shirt covered in blood and a maniacal cackle in the form of the GTti.  This tiny blown triple held the claim of the first production car to breach 100bhp per litre, and was the fastest 1-litre car in production for a short while.  This was aided of course by being made of metal so thin you could receive new panels by fax.  Probably.

Which brings me rather neatly onto the bright white ’04 Suzuki Ignis Sport a good friend of mine has just bought.  Historically a fan of compact power, this is the latest in a long line of frothy-mouthed Japanese toys to grace his driveway.  His plan is to tweak and hone it into a road-rally car, certified for use in private auto club rallies.  My plan is much cheaper: to write about the Ignis’ progress, and how each modification changes the feel of the car.  Think of this as Entry 001 in an ongoing series…

Suzuki Ignis Sport

Suzuki Ignis Sport

I must admit I was sceptical at first.  I’ve always thought of the Ignis as slightly ungainly, a supermini with the faintest whiff of 4×4 styling.  The tall profile and chunky flared arches do little to quash that theory, but in the metal it’s much more resolved than it looks on camera.  The Ignis is utilitarian in its appearance, with a lofty ride height and even an all-wheel-drive variant.  This was a supermini you could throw across a field if required.  Visually the Sport adds beefier bumpers, side skirts, a roof spoiler and a set of white 15” ten-spoke alloys (replaced by the previous owner with some aftermarket six-spokes).

The addition of the Sport to the Ignis range in 2003 was a direct result of Suzuki’s entry into the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC).  Typically for a small Japanese hot hatch, the engine and drivetrain were the most fettled areas of the whole car.  A derivative of the engines used in the Super 1600 JWRC cars, the 1.5 litre VVT engine boasts 107bhp at 6400rpm, whilst peak torque of 103lb ft is punched out at 4100rpm, endowing the Sport with considerable mid-range shove.  At town speeds this extra muscle barely shows itself, but give the Sport a little provocation and hold the gear towards the 7000rpm redline and the rewards come thick and fast.  This particular car has had some fairly serious modification, namely the removal of every non-essential piece of interior trim (and a couple of more annoying ones like the sun visors), and the installation of a suspiciously simple roll-cage welded to the rear wheelarches.  The immediate and understandable effect of this brutal diet is considerable noise in the cabin, where every tarmac imperfection is translated through the bodywork, manifesting itself as an alarming metallic resonance.  The flip-side is an immersive experience, surrounding the driver with tactile and very vocal feedback from each corner of the car.

Suzuki Ignis Sport

Suzuki Ignis Sport

Turn off the big, sweeping A-roads and the Ignis Sport starts to show some darker sides to its character.  The ride quality is quite poor, allowing far too much disturbance through the wheel, and larger bumps tend to catch out the dampers, causing the car to skip and bounce across uneven surfaces.  The direct result is a lack of confidence in what is otherwise a very well-sorted car.  Steering is direct and quick, if a little devoid of feel, and would benefit from more weight.  Speaking of weight, the centre of mass for the Sport is 50mm lower than the standard Ignis, belying the car’s inherent height and allowing for some enthusiastic cornering, as long as the road is smooth.  Understeer is forever waiting to pounce, but is easily abated by lifting the throttle slightly, and mechanical grip is sufficient to plant your foot early and let the rack unwind in your fingertips.

The Ignis is a characterful, chubby and intriguing car.  Most UK drivers won’t have even heard of it, and the bland styling of the basic car helps to maintain this anonymity.  The Sport adds a rich vein of motorsport knowledge from the best small-engine tuning nation on Earth, and despite a few niggles with composure and comfort, manages to surprise and delight with delicate road-holding and an engine with enough fizz to genuinely feel fast.  It’s not quite a pocket-rocket, but it’ll certainly put a huge smile on your face.

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