There was a time, not that long ago, when your choice of a small SUV was a pretty simple one: you'd trot down to your local Nissan dealer, tick the box marked 'Qashqai', and join a lengthy waiting list for the car that defined a whole new mode of family transport.
These days, thankfully, there's a bit more choice - and we thought it would be good to get one of the more appealing alternatives onto the What Car? fleet. Enter the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, a model that impressed us enough to actually beat the outgoing Qashqai in a twin test.
We've chosen our pick of the range, which merits a full star more than the rest of the line-up; it's a front-wheel-drive 1.6 diesel in SZ4 trim, with a six-speed manual gearbox (the automatic option is a CVT, and it’s best avoided). The official numbers are average fuel consumption of 67.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 110g/km, which makes the S-Cross a neat option for company car choosers.
Each of the four trim levels is well equipped; even the entry-level SZ3 brings seven airbags, alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, electric windows all round, heated door mirrors and a USB socket. However, our SZ4 also gets keyless entry, a leather covering on the steering wheel, dual-zone air-con, folding door mirrors, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass.
The list price of our car is £18,249, although a few options took it up to £18,942. That’s nearly £4000 more than the £14,999 starting price for the range, but when the cheapest diesel model of the new Qashqai is £19,290, the S-Cross starts to look better value.
During the twin test against the outgoing Qashqai, we praised the S-Cross's value for money, generous equipment list and low running costs, but criticised its rear cabin space and firm ride. We're likely to focus in on those negative points over the next 12,000 miles or so, because our car's nominated custodian is What Car?'s deputy art editor Michele Hall.
Not only does Michele rack up plenty of miles around the pothole-strewn streets of south London, she also has two sons aged seven and five. Regular use as a 'kid taxi' to everything from guitar lessons to sleepovers will allow the entire family to put the S-Cross's practicality to the test, while keeping a close eye on the fuel bills.
Perhaps the sternest real-world test of all will come in a few months, when we add a 2014 Nissan Qashqai to the fleet - and find out if Suzuki's offering can hold its own against the new generation of the 'original'.
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross
1.6 DDiS SZ4
List price £18,249
Target Price £17,815
Upgraded alloy wheels (£733)
Official fuel economy 67.2mpg
True MPG 55.7mpg
CO2/tax liability 110g/km/17%
Contract hire tbc
Cost per mile tbc
Insurance group 20
Typical quote £595