NEW CARS - SUZUKI CAPPUCCINO

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Coffee with cream

Rarely, if ever, has a road-taxable car looked quite so much like something which belongs in a Scalextric set.

Month in, month out, we criticise the absence of flair and originality in contemporary car design. Hence the blast of fresh air that follows in the slipstream of Suzuki’s Cappuccino.

It looks like nothing else, and the design of its four-piece hardtop, which can be disassembled in a variety of ways, is a touch of genius. It takes longer to remove and refit than more conventional cabriolet tops, but it does provide added security and weather protection, and it also includes a heated rear window, which slips away neatly behind the seats as and when required.

From a practical viewpoint, of course, the Cappuccino borders on the futile. Once the rear window section has been folded away, the remaining roof panels occupy the entire boot space. If you want to carry luggage, therefore, you either leave the top up, or at home. . .

Dynamically, the Cappuccino is equally distinctive. Its turbocharged, three-cylinder, dohc, 654 cc engine provides punchy bottom-end acceleration, which makes negotiation of urban traffic a positive joy. In Mini Cooperesque fashion, the Cappuccino exploits gaps that are usually the preserve of motorcycles. The Suzuki just happens to be rather more comfortable than a Mini.

Its ride quality is such that it was a comfortable motorway companion. It cruises comfortably at 85 mph; at an indicated 87, a governor steps in to prevent further accelerative progress. The tacho goes all the way round to 12,000 rpm; a shame that it is red-lined at 8500. One is curious to know just what sort of performance might be available, if the technology was pushed to extremes.

Its handling is simply terrific. In the wet, it squirms a little, as you might expect of such a short wheelbase, but it is easily tamed via sharp, responsive steering. In the dry, it has bags of grip.

The cabin looks a bit of a squash, though it proved not to be the case. The driver’s seat was retracted as far as it would go to accommodate a driver of 5 ft 9 in, but a colleague who looks something akin to a red-headed version of the Eiffel Tower managed to fit behind the wheel without undue trouble, and could operate all the relevant controls with dexterity.

When we first tried a Cappuccino, via Rare Imports (January 1993), the asking price was in excess of £15,000. Now, Suzuki’s UK importer brings it in officially at just under £12,000 (plus a bit extra for a radio/cassette player). That’s a couple of thousand pounds cheaper than the base MX-5, or the Caterham K-series, both of which are ultimately more potent and, in the Mazda’s case, a little more practical. In that context, it still seems a fair price to pay for a bundle of fun, not to mention individuality. And if you’re still not convinced, you could always buy a Volvo estate and keep the Suzuki in the back, to be used whenever the mood grabs you. . . S A

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