DO you remember the Whizzkid? Suzuki’s dinky coupe was the first kei car to make it big outside of Japan. Introduced to these shores in 1979, the Whizzkid (also known by its more prosaic name SC100) almost instantly gained a cult following.

Why? Because in an era of me-too front drive hatchbacks the Whizzkid stashed its engine behind the back seats. It was a bit like a MicroMachines version of a Porsche 911. Don't know what MicroMachines were? Ask your dad.

The Northern Echo:

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The UK’s Whizzkid differed from its Japanese cousin in several ways, not least its adoption of a 970cc four-cylinder engine in place of the kei mandated 540cc three-cylinder.

How Suzuki must be hoping the new Ignis can become the Whizzkid’s spiritual successor.

The Japanese mini car specialist is certainly trying to evoke memories of its well-loved coupe.

Look at the boxy crossover’s shape and you’ll see the Whizzkid’s sloped rear C pillar. It even has a trio of fake cooling outlets in honour of its predecessor.

The Ignis isn't rear engined (that distinction is now being upheld by the Renault Twingo) but Suzuki maintains that it's just as much fun to drive.

The 1.2-litre dualjet petrol engine is a little marvel.

ON THE ROAD: There is, of course one big difference between the Whizzkid coupe and the Ignis - the new car isn't a coupe. It’s a compact crossover - a very compact crossover. Even parked next to a Nissan Juke or a Ford EcoSport the Ignis looks small. It reminded me of a four-wheel rollerskate.

Switching from coupe to compact crossover is a very smart move on Suzuki’s part, though.

The market for small coupes is pretty much moribund these days, whereas buyers can’t get enough of crossovers.

And Suzuki has an enviable history of making small off-roaders. In fact, it pretty much kicked off the modern fad for compact SUVs with the Vitara nearly 30 years ago.

To be fair the Ignis is more of an SUV than many of its mainstream competitors. It adopts Suzuki’s Allgrip auto four-wheel drive system, first introduced on the Swift hatchback, which shuffles power to the rear wheels via a viscous coupling when the fronts start to slip.

Suzuki has added hill descent control (which maintains speed on a tricky descent) and grip control (which brakes a spinning wheel to prevent slippage) on the Ignis to give it a more than decent chance of tackling something a bit more challenging than a gravel driveway.

Impressively, the all-wheel drive gubbins added just 50kg to the 2WD model and CO2 emissions are only 9g/km higher (at 109g/km).

Potential buyers might be surprised by the lack of a diesel engine - but they shouldn’t be.

The 1.2-litre dualjet petrol engine is a little marvel.

Suzuki has applied some of the lessons learned in its motorcycle engine division to the four-cylinder powerplant.The piston crowns are modified to achieve higher turbulence just like the twin-swirl combustion chambers pioneered on the GSX 1100 and the little pistons are cooled by oil jets - a technique first used on the GSXR superbikes of the late 1980s.

The result of all this close attention to detail is a beautifully balanced power plant that loves to rev. There’s almost no flywheel effect when you come off the accelerator (indeed, going downhill on a trailing throttle you have to watch your speed) and even the mechanically sympathetic won’t flinch at piling on the revs because the engine just eats them up.

Maximum power is 90bhp, but it feels like more, and the Ignis will sit all day on the motorway without the need for a downchange.

The high-sides mean there’s a bit of wind buffeting and the stiff suspension sometimes struggles to cope with the worst of British roads (despite Suzuki UK’s best efforts at fine tuning it for us before launching the car here) but the handling is generally okay if you don’t go mad.

The Northern Echo:

ON THE INSIDE: Although the interior misses out on posh soft-touch plastics Suzuki has tried hard to disguise its modest origins.

Colourful plastic trims help lift the interior, as do the Mini-style switches beneath the air conditioning and the chunky leather steering wheel.

The front seat passengers have plenty of legroom and the seats are a cinch to adjust. They don’t have particularly deep side bolsters but I found them comfortable on long trips and after a couple of hours I experienced no aches or pains.

The rear seats split and slide for maximum versatility.

WHAT DO YOU GET: The Pioneer infotainment unit looks great. It has a big 7.0-inch touch sensitive screen and colourful graphics. It also integrates with a smartphone (Apple Car Play and its Android counterpart) and displays clear satellite navigation instructions. But… the powerful amp overwhelms the  modest speakers. Anything over half volume produces so much distortion that listening to speech for an extended time is a test of your nerve. Playing with the equalizer settings helps but doesn't banish the boom entirely. The unit also had an irritating tendency to drop the USB connection after a few minutes.

Otherwise the SZ5 model sent for testing included plenty of goodies including electric windows, camera emergency brake warning, colour reversing monitors and lane deviation/ lane weaving warning which shakes the steering to wake you up.

The Northern Echo:

HOW PRACTICAL IS IT?

The boot is on the small side - 267 litres in the 2WD car but just 204 litres in the All Grip because of the rear differential - but there are plenty of cubbies in the cabin and the doors can accommodate drink cans in the front and back.

The Ignis isn’t as tall as many crossovers and older people will love the way it’s possible to walk into the cabin without having to step up. Four doors boost practicality.

RUNNING COSTS: I’ve grown used to taking manufacturer fuel statistics with a pinch of salt. So when Suzuki claimed a combined fuel consumption of just under 61 mpg for the Ignis I figured mid to high 40s would be a more realistic return.

I was wrong. At the end of a week and nearly 800 miles the little trip computer confirmed that the Ignis had, on average, stretched a gallon of unleaded nearly 60 miles. This was confirmed when I filled up and the petrol pump clicked off after a modest £23-worth of fuel had gone into the tank.

That’s a remarkable result which makes the Ignis one of the cheapest to run compact crossovers you can buy.

The Ignis is classed as a mild hybrid because it has a small lithium ion battery beneath the front passenger seat which is called into action to boost acceleration and start the engine when the start/stop system is activated in busy urban traffic conditions.

Believe me, motoring doesn’t get any cheaper than this.

VERDICT: Looks-wise the new Ignis polarises opinion: you either love it or hate it, there’s no in-between, but as a small compact crossover I reckon it’s a great addition to the UK market. The 1.2-litre engine, in particular, is a beauty and I’d love to see it installed in a sportier body. A coupe perhaps? Now that would be a worthy successor to the little Whizzkid

Spec: Engine: 1.2-litre/four-cyl Power: 90 bhp Torque: 88Nm Top speed: 106 mph 0-62mph: 11.8 seconds Fuel cons: (Official combined) CO2: 106 g/km