Suzuki is a Japanese company that is good at making small cars. The brilliant little Swift supermini, a former Irish Motoring Writers' Association (IMWA) Irish Car of the Year winner, is a prime example. But when it comes to making compact four-wheel drive machines, Suzuki is even more respected.

The SX4 crossover now has a lifestyle model in its range, the S-Cross. Similar to the Peugeot 2008, the SX4 S-Cross is a niche player designed to deliver the load-carrying ability of a small estate car and is chunky to look at, too. The five-door is available in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive forms (AllDrive) with either a 1.6 diesel (six-speed) or 1.6 petrol (five-speed) engine. Both two and four-wheel drive versions are available.

Outside, C-Cross features a distinctive front end that is dominated by large headlight clusters and a clamshell bonnet that slopes down to a unique front grille that looks a little bit droopy. The proportions of the relatively tall five-door car are pretty decent. The side-on view uses paint and trim visual trickery to reduce the amount of metal on show. The rear end of the S-Cross could be from any of the current crop of rivals.

Inside, the driving position is taller than a supermini's and this makes visibility good. The cabin seats five, at a push, but S-Cross is better suited to four. The interior is airy and if you specify the top of the range model with the large sunroof, the cabin becomes very bright. The boot holds a respectable 430 litres and is accessed easily via the one-piece tailgate. There is a split boot floor tray for added convenience and a spare wheel.

Seven airbags and ESP are standard, but the most interesting dial in our test car was the new 'AllGrip' 4WD selector mounted near the handbrake. This offers the driver the choice of four driving modes. 'Automatic' uses 2WD by default to maximise fuel economy but if there is any wheel spin it will select 4WD automatically. 'Sport' sharpens the throttle response and makes the engine perform with real gusto. Sport also puts a bias towards the rear wheels for enthusiastic driving. 'Snow' dulls down the driver's inputs to maximise traction in slippy conditions. Finally, 'Lock' allows you lock the four-wheel system to give each wheel the same amount of turning power – the ideal setting for getting out of mud etc.
On the road the diesel GLX model we had on test had plenty of pulling power with 320nm of torque and 120hp. The ride comfort was fine and the cabin reasonably quiet, but the engine can be noisy when pushed. The three specifications in the range (GL, GL+ and GLX) offer the usual array of options but one families will like is the large twin sunroof that unlike so many glass roofs actually opens! My kids enjoyed standing up through it and playing tank commander at the school pick up (while stationary, I hasten to add).

Overall, SX4 S-Cross offers a break from the usual in terms of compact family motoring. The diesel in 'AllGrip' 4WD form is particularly interesting.

Michael Sheridan