Suzuki Across: Plug-in hybrid family SUV broadens badge appeal – at a cost

The Suzuki Across is a rebadged Toyota RAV4 – and it’s no worse for that. It faces strong competition in the plug-in family SUV market.

“BADGE” engineering is nothing new in the automotive industry, with automakers regularly slapping a different badge on a given model to broaden its appeal to another part of the market, wrote William Scholes.

Perhaps the most prolific – some would say cynical – practitioner of the art of rebadging was the sprawling and now defunct British Motor Corporation. So the humble Austin 1100 you might have bought in the 1960s was also offered with Morris, MG, Riley, Vanden Plas and Wolseley badges. Each variant was more or less identical and could only be distinguished by its different grille, the number of carburettors bolted to the engine or its chrome trim.

Lately, the giant Volkswagen Group has taken a different approach to badge engineering, becoming masters of making different designs from a shared set of mechanical bases. It’s a more subtle approach to practice than BMC has ever employed, with more obvious and significant differences between a VW and a Skoda than there have ever been between a Morris 1100 and an Austin 1100. Nevertheless, the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3, Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon, to take just one joint example from the VW Group’s model catalog, are essentially the same thing.

We can expect to see more of this as automakers adapt to the demands of adding electric vehicles to their lineups. The nature of EV platforms means that where distinctive brand attributes are needed, they can largely be achieved through software tweaks and styling sleight of hand.

This has more in common with the “open source” philosophy familiar in the software and computing worlds than with traditional car manufacturing. So Ford will build European-market electric cars – the first is slated for next year – on a VW platform.

Here and now, some of the most egregious badge engineering can be found at your local Suzuki showroom.

We’ve already written about the Suzuki Swace, which is a Toyota Corolla estate. The car on this page is the Suzuki Across, but is also available as the Toyota RAV4.

The Suzuki badge proudly adorns the front of the Across, a Toyota RAV4 lookalike.

Suzuki is a specialist in small cars – here at Conduct we’re big fans of the Swift and the Ignis – which is why Toyota enlisted their help in developing vehicles for the Indian and Asian markets. In return, Toyota is helping Suzuki solve the problem it faces in the European market to meet ever-tighter emissions targets.

The short-term solution has been to add hybrids to the Suzuki fleet – thus the Swace/Corolla, which is a so-called “regular” self-charging hybrid, and now the Across/RAV4.

All RAV4 models are hybrids, but the Across gets Toyota’s high-end, highly efficient plug-in hybrid drivetrain.

Being a large plug-in family SUV means the Across is an expensive car by Suzuki standards, with a price tag of £46,629. There’s only one trim level offered, whereas Toyota currently has two for the RAV4 plug-in, each cheaper than the Across at £43,635 and £45,250. There was a more lavishly trimmed RAV4 that pushed £50,000 but fell down the price lists.

The differences between the two extend to the grille and badge on the steering wheel. Oddly, the Suzuki does without Toyota’s built-in sat nav, which sounds a little naughty on a £40,000 car. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mean this shouldn’t really be a problem, but still…

As a family car, the Across is easy to recommend. It’s a substantial size, and there’s a commensurate amount of space for passengers and luggage. The build quality is excellent, and the sturdiness of the controls – the rubberized heating knobs, for example – make the Across feel like it’s built to last. The driving position is also first class.

Drawbacks include the haphazard positioning of some buttons and the central display screen feels last-gen – neither its graphics nor its operation are as crisp as you’ll find elsewhere.

Of course, family friendliness isn’t the only reason someone will care about the Across. Its plug-in powertrain is the main attraction and the reason it costs £46,000.

You get a 2.5-liter gas engine and two electric motors, one in the front and one in the rear, giving the Across traditional Suzuki four-wheel-drive capability. Keen drivers won’t be thrilled that a CVT transmission is in the mix, with characteristic sustained high revs during hard acceleration.

They will, however, appreciate the fact that the Across’ complex drivetrain produces 300bhp, making it a really fast car. The 0-62mph time is rated at 6.0 seconds, which is quicker than a VW Golf GTI, and the electrically-assisted acceleration rush is pretty addictive.

At least in a straight line… It’s still a 2-tonne, high-output family SUV, so it doesn’t handle quite with the verve one would hope. In that regard, it’s quite different from Suzuki. The ride is also firm.

It takes less than three hours to recharge the Suzuki Across battery, which is good for over 40 miles of zero-emissions driving.

Much of the blame for the Across’s weight surely has to fall on its relatively large – for a plug-in – 18.1kWh battery. The trade-off, however, is a battery-only range of 46 miles. This will be more relevant to buyers than back road capability, and I found I could easily get over 40 miles on a charge. In my experience with plug-ins, it’s pretty impressive. Driven like this, the Across is quiet, refined, comfortable and feels like it would make a lot of sense for a family not yet ready or able to make the EV leap. It will take approximately three hours to fully charge the battery from a home charging point.

Decent battery-only range and CO2 emissions of 22g/km mean a company car user will pay an 8% in-kind benefit. Fuel economy is rated at 282.4 mpg, the kind of laughable and unachievable figure that all plug-ins report in officially mandated economy tests. What you get in the real world will entirely depend on how often you plug in to recharge and how much you lean on the combustion engine.

As a private purchase, the Across feels pricey. The plug-in Range Rover Evoque (from £47,000) isn’t significantly more expensive, but is a more premium – albeit a bit smaller – product, while plug-in versions of the Ford Kuga (£37,000) and the Volkswagen Tiguan (£40,000) are a bit cheaper. I also like the Kia Sorento, which is pretty much the same as the Suzuki and comes with seven seats.

In this part of the market, you have many badges to choose from. The Suzuki Across is a beautiful family car with an accomplished drivetrain, surprising pace and superb build quality. Whether that’s the badge for you, I suspect, will largely come down to personal tax and financial calculations.

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