Suzuki’s new gen Ertiga is a versatile, practical SUV and fun to drive

Brian Joss – Suzuki’s new Ertiga will find a special place in the hearts of South Africans who love their SUVs and MPVs.

I just spent 10 days and 3 000 kilometres behind the wheel of the second generation Ertiga on a round trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg and it is one of the best SUVs that I have driven for a  long time and  not even the poor experiences on the trip,  which had nothing do with the car, could spoil the journey.

The second gen Ertiga from Suzuki is much more than a great leap forward.  South Africa saw Gen1 about nine years ago and while there are a few design similarities it is new and different in many ways.

Remains of the day: stale doughnuts at Protea Marriott Bloemfontein

It is a seven-seater people carrier but it could do double duty as a minivan because of its excellent cargo carrying capacity. If you’re a member of a parent-teachers’ association you could load it up with goodies for the school fete and earn brownie points for your children or help a friend to move house.

My heart sank when I opened the boot of the Ertiga and wondered how we were going to accommodate two suitcases, a cool box and several cartons packed to the brim, not to mention black bags full of stuff.  But I need not have worried. With a few pulls and pushes of the levers on the seats it opened to a cavernous 1 568 litres and if we were taking the kitchen sink, there would have been enough room too. A bonus is a stowage compartment underneath the boot board where you can hide some of your valuables.

Locked and loaded we were ready to roll. Turn the ignition key and the 1.5 litre motor sings to life.  It is a peppy and perky motor putting out 77Kw of power and torque of 138 N.m with, Suzuki says, a top speed of 175km/h.  The Ertiga also has a new 1.5 litre engine, the K15B and while it may not tear up the tarmac it won’t take long for the needle to nudge 175km/h and, at one stage, my wife swore blind that I hit the 180km mark. But you don’t really need to put pedal to the metal, the Ertiga is happy cruising at the legal limit of 120km/h, and it’s even happier tooling along at 140 km/h. Fuel consumption is excellent and I recorded figures of just over 6 litres/100km on the round trip and it included all sorts of road conditions, driving at the Reef and at sea level.

Raw: hasselback potatoes: not cooked, at the Protea Marriott Bloemfontein

When we arrived home the fuel tank was 70% full. The next day, the temptation was too great so we took the Ertiga for another spin to the Winelands and back. Which means that the 45-litre tank will easily take you more than 600km and you’ll be able to skip a few pumps before dipping into your wallet.

Putting foot but keeping to the legal limit the Suzuki Ertiga cut easily through the mid-morning traffic on the N1 heading to Worcester through the Huguenot Tunnel, after all these years, still an engineering marvel but beginning to show its age. The five-speed manual shifts smoothly and the gears are precise. The four-cylinder petrol engine is a lively beast and you hardly have to stir the pot. The drive to Bloemfontein through Touws River, Laingsburg, De Doorns and Beaufort West where we paused for an infrequent fuel stop,  passed without incident and the Suzuki Ertiga sailed over hill and down dale with consummate ease and I very seldom had to change from fifth gear to fourth, not even when overtaking. There were a lot of thumbs up from the odd stragglers on the road, walking to who knows where,  and kyk-daars. We enjoyed a brief coffee stop and then headed to our overnight destination, the Windmill Guest House in Pelliseur, Bloemfontein, which turned out to be one of the low points of the trip.  Up until we reached Windmill Guest House at about 9pm, the journey in the Ertiga was a breeze, and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. It’s a happy car.

The Ertiga took everything the night traffic threw at it. The lights are excellent and show up the road clearly. The owner sent us a few text messages asking where we were but she didn’t respond to our replies. It was dark when we got there,  and although the manager, Julia,  flashed the outside lights on and off, it wasn’t easy to see where we were walking. The room was pleasant enough but only one half of the electric blanket was working and the wall heater was not.  By the time we discovered this Julia had disappeared and there was no way of contacting her. Although we were told she was in the house and we could have knocked on the door. Talk about stumbling round in the dark. There was a sign on the fridge that said the tap water is not safe for drinking. We had hoped the hosts had left two bottles of water for us. We’d finished our supply on the road. But no such luck although there was water in the kettle so you could make tea, two Ouma rusks on the table, and if, you wanted to, you could use one of the four triangular cartons of milk. Other than that the fridge was as bare as old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.  I wasn’t expecting the equivalent of a suite at the Mount Nelson. But … The next time we saw Julia was in the morning when we were ready to go. 

Caption: Dish served cold: meat balls and spaghetti, at the Protea Marriott Bloemfontein

However, I digress, so back to the Ertiga.  The new SUV is longer and wider than the Gen1. There is a new front design and rear lights while the imposing Suzuki emblem stands out proud on the large upright cross-cut grille. Headlights are situated in new housings while driving and high beam lights are individually packaged.  The lower air intake is bigger, at the rear, the designers have aped the front grille and the whole is of a pleasant sculpted look.  Rear light clusters add to the panache. Some clever engineering touches give the impression of a floating roof. The new Ertiga has been stretched by 130mm to 4 395mm and it stands 1 690 mm tall. All this adds up to impressive head and leg room.  There’s more than enough space to swing a cat, and plenty of shoulder room in the three rows of seats,  which was amply demonstrated when we unloaded the baggage in Johannesburg. Despite the extra length, width and height the Ertiga shares a  turning circle of 5.2 metres with Gen1.

It is extremely comfortable inside and the seat spring design provides plenty of support.  The second and third row of seats can fold down to create storage of up to 2 820 metres when the front passenger seat is also folded flat.  A bonus is that the load floor can adjust to two different heights. With the expectation of a full house of passengers, creature comforts are not lacking.

In front, the driver has a new instrument cluster with chrome bezels and a multi-information trip display. It is housed in an upright dashboard with integrated radio, with USB and Bluetooth connectivity. But oh dear, oh dear, you cannot read the figures in bright sunlight.  A nifty touch is a money bin for notes and coins and a tray to store your mobile devices. There are electric windows all round and the door mirrors also operate electrically.

Suzuki’s engineers have given a lot of thought into making the Ertiga a home away from home. They have added two air-conditioned cup-holders and a 12V charging socket, which proved to be extremely useful, and another one, for the middle row of passengers. The cabin is quiet with no wind noise to speak of and build quality was excellent. There were no unexplained rattles or squeaks. Safety equipment includes ABS with EBD, two airbags for the driver and front passenger and Isofix child-seat anchors are standard across the range. The GL model includes rear parking sensors.

The drive from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg was uneventful and I was sad to reach our destination because I really enjoyed driving the Eritga, even negotiating the notorious Johannesburg traffic, proved to be a snap. We went on two excursions in the Ertiga carrying seven up and there were no complaints from the peanut gallery about being squashed or cramped. Everyone had enough head, leg and shoulder room and the seats were comfortable. The seats have also been cleverly designed to make getting in and out easier: no gymnastic contortions required.

All too soon it was time to make our way back to Cape Town.  Just then the house cat decided to give the Ertiga the once-over and it took some time to coax her out and when she finally emerged she looked like the cat that swallowed the cream.

As on the journey down, the Ertiga did everything, and more, we asked of it. Being a Sunday the drive to our overnight destination, the Protea-Marriott Bloemfontein was a  breeze. And we were looking forward to a nap, a shower, and supper at the restaurant. What a let-down: the only offering was a buffet and one of the worst tables  I have seen.

There wasn’t much to tempt the palate: pasta and meatballs, pork and spaghetti, a scattering of canapes, some kind of vegetable stew and what appeared to be a malva pudding which was spoiled by lumpy and congealed custard. The food was cold and generally tasteless. Definitely not worthy of the four-stars the hotel boasts. Although we paid R315 instead of the R520 they wanted.  The only redeeming feature was the wine.

The setbacks at the Windmill Guest House and the Protea-Marriott Bloemfontein didn’t blight the Ertiga experience.

When we got home there was a message from the Windmill Guest House asking us to review our stay. We did, and I also pointed out that it wasn’t disabled friendly.

Owner Sunette Hertzog replied: “Sorry that you are disappointed. Please check your booking, our listing said we do not cater for disabled people, we do not have heaters or electric blankets. Even though we have in the room. I quickly phone the people who stayed there the night after you and they assure me that the heater, as well as the electric blanket, do work 100%. I also check it now and there is nothing wrong with it. I also check the cameras Julia helped you with your luggage when you arrive. I also see that she was in the house the whole time. Whey (sic) didn’t you knock on the door. And we did put water in the room, the listing said we do not supply bottel (sic) water.  If you read properly before you book you would have known all this things.”

I did read the listing carefully and apart from highlighting the fact that there was a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom with shower, there is no mention of disabled people nor do they say they don’t provide  “bottel” water.  We’ve chalked that one down to experience.

Suzuki has the knack of producing the kind of cars that people want: the Jimny, (The Gremlin, May 29),  the Swift, the Vitatara, to name some and now the Ertiga, which according to Wikipedia, is the production version of the R-III (R3) which was first showcased at the 2010 Indian Auto Show. The name, Ertiga, is apparently an adaptation of R-Tiga where Tiga means three in Indonesian. The R stands for rows and the Ertiga name is derived from “R3” which means swift with three rows.

The Suzuki Ertiga is a well-specced package and an excellent family car with no frills. It’s practical and versatile.

The price for the GL manual of R239 900 is just as compelling as the rest of the Ertiga.  It’s on my short list.

The Ertiga comes with Suzuki’s 5-year/200 000km warranty and a 4-year/60 000km service plan.

CAPTION:  A great leap forward: the Suzuki Ertiga. Picture: Motorpress

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