Festooned with camera speed traps, the long chug up Marbug hill on the road to Kokstad is even less enthralling than watching paint dry and, when you throw trucks and taxis into the mix, it is invariably a gear-grinding ascent.
Depending on engine capacity, first gear is often too much and second too little in the 1,5-litre and below range, so the hill works out as a great test of tractability for these road reviews with the Suzuki Ertiga the latest to be sent to the hinterland via the hill.
For this review I did it twice – once unladen and once with all seats occupied by adults – and came away impressed the uprated power output of the 1,5-litre engine actually does make the kind of valuable difference that was difficult to gauge on the launch run in Johannesburg.
The revised Ertiga is wider, taller and longer than its first-generation predecessor – stretched by 130 mm to 4 395 mm, while the roof is raised by 5 mm to give the vehicle a total height of 1 690 mm. The Ertiga is also 40 mm wider, which translates almost directly into more shoulder room for passengers in all three rows of seats.
Despite the extra length and width, Suzuki has kept the wheelbase unchanged at 2 740 mm.
The dark cloth seats are both more supportive – thanks to a new seat spring design – roomier and the second (60/40) and third row (50/50) of seats can fold flat to create flat storage of up to 2,820 metres with the front passenger seat also folded flat.
The middle row has been redesigned to tilt and slide further forward to allow for easy ingress to and egress from the rearmost two seats and on the GL model there is a new roof-mounted second air-conditioning unit for improved airflow to rear passengers.
With the seats up, the luggage compartment offers 199 litres of storage space, with a load floor that can adjust to two different heights. With the seats down, the load space is more hard wearing and sturdier than before, thanks to metal plates in all the folding seatbacks.
As with most things in life compromises have to be made and, with the Ertiga, it is in the lack of boot space with a full complement of passengers. However, as choice for hotels, city tour operators, staff transport or anything similar that does not demand cavernous luggage space, the Ertiga makes a fine choice.
With an overall test average fuel consumption of 7,4 l/100 km, the Ertiga is a touch heavier than smaller-engined opposition such as the Toyota Avanza 1.3 and Volkswagen Caddy 1.0 TFSI, but it is significantly cheaper than both of those.
Power from the K15B 1,5-litre engine is 77 kW at 6 000 r/min and 138 Nm of torque at 4 400 r/min and, while slightly more than the opposition we have selected, remains very close for the purpose of comparison.
Claimed top speeds are within 5 km/h of each other from 170 km/h to 175 km/h and all offer very much the same level of basic specification including anti-lock braking with EBD, a minimum of dual front crash bags, power steering and an on-board computer among the items.
Viewed directly from the front, the Ertiga has a large upright and cross-cut grille with Suzuki S-emblem and large new headlights in clear housings and individually packaged driving and high-beam lights.
The lower air intake is also significantly larger than before and the sheet metal is significantly more sculpted than before.
At the rear of the Ertiga, the designers have mimicked the upright front grille with a slightly slanted upright section on the rear tailgate, directly above the number plate holder. The rear lights reach towards the roof and contain LED combination brake- and driving lights.
The steering wheel on GL models also features chrome highlights and steering controls, while all models benefit from the D-shaped steering wheel with height adjustment that allows for ease of getting in and out.
The instrument cluster is housed in an upright dashboard with integrated radio, with USB and Bluetooth connectivity. There is also a money bin for notes and coins and a special mobile phone tray to store connected or charging phones.
In the lower section of the centre console, Suzuki has added two air-conditioned cup holders and a 12V charging socket, with a second charging socket located behind the front seats for the middle row of passengers.
Driving the Ertiga is easy – the steering is light enough for inner city manouvrability and all-round visibility more than ample to easily negotiate in and out of miniscule parking spaces. Although the steering remains light as the speed picks up, it tracks well and is accurate when turned into corners.
The 1,5-litre engine is a tad rev-happy in first gear when unladen, requiring a quick flick to second as soon as possible. Thereafter the ratios are neatly spaced and it will tootle along happily in top gear for most of the journey.
Up the Marbug hill in the morning traffic, second was plenty to keep it moving at the standard snail’s pace of the surrounding traffic, with plenty in reserve to make a quick overtake when the opportunity presented itself.
On the open road it was less affected by crosswinds than might be expected and the revised seats meant noticeably greater long-haul driving comfort. It is obviously not intended to be pressed hard into corners but the Ertiga handles fairly neutrally when pushed, easing into a predictable understeer that can be quickly corrected by easing off the throttle.
Used and driven as ‘fit for purpose’ the Ertiga has plenty going for it – the relative low cost of entry also translating into an overall low cents per kilometre ownership.