BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Suzuki Wagon R+ might raise a little mirth amongst those who view such citycars as little more than toys, but the second-generation cars are more than the urban buzz boxes the early versions represented. With a 1.3-litre engine to power a car that weighs virtually nothing, it returns superb fuel economy and has a reasonable turn of speed to boot. The general public never really took to the car, however, preferring more conventional tots like the Fiat Seicento and the Ford Ka. Even the Wagon R's close cousin, the Vauxhall Agila, was met with a distinctly cool reception. As a used buy the Wagon R+ makes a great deal of sense as long as you can get along with the looks. If you can't, no amount of logic is going to sway you from something a bit more mainstream, a concept the little Suzuki struggles to come to terms with.
Models Covered: SECOND GENERATION: (5DR 1.3 GL, 1.2 GL)
Although the Wagon R+ was introduced in October 1997 in 1.0-litre form, this 64bhp engine was only really suited for urban use, getting a bit lost amid flowing traffic. Suzuki realised the Wagon R+ needed to be a more versatile proposition and in summer 2000 they launched a second-generation version with smoother styling and a bigger engine. Although the basic dimensions were unchanged, the look was more rounded off, mature and acceptable to the European eye. The engine was changed to a 1.3-litre unit, which although only generating 75bhp, nonetheless did a good job of propelling the lightweight body. This car was manufactured in Hungary, and spawned the General Motors offshoot, marketed in the UK as the Vauxhall Agila, albeit with a smaller engine. A limited edition Wagon R+ Special is also available. Towards the end of 2002, the Wagon R+ was slightly modified, Suzuki fitting a centre seat belt and headrest to counter claims that it wasn't a proper five seater. From the middle of 2006, the Wagon R+ was sold with a new 1.2-litre engine capable of 47mpg compared to the 40mpg you'd get from the of 1.3.
What You Get
Although the relatively recent addition of a 3-point ELR seatbelt and a third head restraint to the back seat may have boosted the Wagon R's claims to be a five seater, it's not a place you'd choose to spend much time sandwiched between a couple of burly blokes. The cabin is fairly narrow and you'd need to be on familiar terms. Other incremental improvements have included a 'solid-type' hinged and removable rear parcel shelf to enclose a luggage compartment accessed by a redesigned tailgate opening handle. There are also more interior stowage spaces, fresh trim colours and redesigned 'clear lens' headlamps so that Suzuki anoraks can recognise the latest car. Otherwise, it's as you were, this being the car that was originally designed by General Motors. The American giant owns a substantial shareholding in Suzuki and demanded an involvement when the time came to upgrade the appeal of the original first generation Wagon R+ for the demands of a new Millennium. The extra money and resource shows in the finished product, also being sold by GM's British subsidiary Vauxhall with 'Agila' badging and a slightly different engine. Though four inches longer and two inches wider than its predecessor, the second generation Wagon R+ is still a tiny little thing, 4.7 inches shorter than the dinky little Ford Ka. Nevertheless, it still has five doors, can easily accommodate four full-sized adults and boasts enough versatility to qualify for a place amongst the new breed of supermini-based micro-MPVs. Though the profile of the car looks little different from the quirky original, the edges have been smoothed, making it look less like something assembled from a Meccano kit. There's a much greater feeling of quality about the interior too - though plastic is still the dominant theme. Whether you like the boxy looks or not, you have to admit that packaging - getting the maximum amount out of very limited dimensions - is one of the car's major strong points. According to the designers, the idea is to "combine the compact dimensions of a weekday runabout with the versatility of an estate car for weekend trips away or shopping expeditions." Don't take that to mean that you can go too far afield, but certainly the little Suzuki's compact, wheel-at-each-corner styling gives it a surprisingly roomy interior. So roomy in fact that you can even create a double bed should you get a wild flight of fancy and be tempted to spend the night in your Wagon R+. Of more relevance to most owners of course will be the sheer roominess that has come from the designer's efforts to make this interior as flexible as possible. Headroom, for example, is enormous thanks to the upright styling. In the unlikely event that you should want to wear a top hat at the wheel, you can. That box-like shape also means an abundance of shoulder space - a rare feature in cute and curvy small cars. As for safety, Suzuki have done their best to impress; twin airbags, side-impact bars in the front doors and seat-belt pre-tensioners come on every car. Having said that, there's no denying the feeling of vulnerability some drivers may feel behind the wheel, due mostly to the car's diminutive size. You just have to get used to it. Whether the Wagon R + will ever be the sell-out success in Europe that it continues to be Japan remains to be seen. Buyers looking for an easy-to-park, roomy and slightly offbeat alternative to the more mainstream small car options should certainly check one out.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Wagon R+ is a pretty durable little car and the 1.3-litre cars will probably cover higher mileages than their more limited predecessors. That said, they'll still largely have been used for city driving and ferrying kids around - a true test of durability if ever there was one. Check the interiors for signs of damage to fittings, rips or stains on the upholstery and damage in the load bay caused by bulky objects (the seat backs are rather vulnerable). Check tyre wear and also the condition of the exhaust, and make sure all gears engage cleanly and do not jump out. Otherwise insist on a service record and buy with confidence.
(approx based on a 2001 1.3-litre Wagon R+) A mix of surprisingly expensive and reassuringly affordable. With many parts interchangeable with the Vauxhall Agila, it may be worth giving your Vauxhall dealer a call to see if you can find some cheaper, but engine specific parts force you to buy Suzuki bits. And they're not particularly cheap. An alternator will cost you the thick end of £400 and a starter motor is around £300. An exhaust will set you back £400. Other bits aren't too pricey. A new clutch assembly is about £130, a new radiator £200 and front brake pads are about £50 a pair.
On the Road
Progress being what it is, the 75bhp 1.3-litre 16-valve petrol engine is both more powerful and more frugal than its 1.2-litre predecessor. Expect over 36mpg, even around town. Though there's an automatic alternative, there's no diesel option - though to be honest, it wouldn't go amiss on a car like this. After all, you'd hardly buy a Wagon R+ to drive like Damon Hill. Not that it makes too bad a job of things on the performance front, with rest to sixty occupying 12.5s on the way to a maximum of 96mph. That isn't the only area of improvement over the old model: ride and handling are also much better - for the type of model this is. Given that the car is 5ft 7in tall, it's not surprising that you feel the cross winds (though not to an alarming extent) and that there's a little more body roll (and a little less handling precision) than you'd find in a more conventional citycar or supermini. Still, try fitting a family and their luggage in one of those. In any case, since this Suzuki will probably spend most of its time in urban areas, handling issues are largely irrelevant.
The Suzuki Wagon R+ is a car that makes a good deal more sense after you've used it for a while. The amount of space inside, the no-nonsense mechanicals and the low running costs make it a very practical urban scoot that's not averse to the longer journey. If you can find a nearly new 1.3-litre second-generation car, take it for a test drive. They're genuinely good fun, and you may become a convert. And the looks? Well, if you're on the inside.