Paris Motor Show: One of the coolest retro cars on the market is now made by Suzuki

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To most of the media at the Paris Motor Show going on right now, the Suzuki Ignis is probably just a small but practical compact crossover. What few probably realize is that its one of the best incarnations of Japanese retro design on the market right now. 

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Germany has the VW Beetle, Italy has the Fiat 500, and Britain has the Mini. Japan has had a long history of retro design, but examples have been scarce in recent years. Sure, there are cars like the Honda S660Toyota 86 and even the Nissan GT-R, but they don’t really look like the originals they were inspired by.

In true retro design, it’s less important what the car is powered by than what it looks like. The best example that comes to mind is the Honda N-One, but it isn’t sold outside of Japan. Another great example was not a car at all but a truck, and anyway the Toyota FJ Cruiser has been discontinued.

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Suzuki probably isn’t the first, second, or even ninth marque that one normally thinks when considering brands with a deep well of recognizable classics to draw from. That’s why Suzuki parked a classic Cervo next to it.

The rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive kei car was the evolution of an earlier, nearly identical, rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive Suzuki that was called, ironically, the Fronte. The Fronte was introduced in 1971, but in 1976, the Japanese government allowed kei cars to increase displacement from 360cc to 550cc. The resulting revamp of the Fronte included a larger engine, as well as a name change to Cervo, but its sloping roofline and 2-door styling that made it a hit as the sporty coupe of the kei car world remained largely the same.

Today, that styling is expressed throughout the Ignis — which was based on the 2015 Suzuki IM-4 concept — starting with the headlights. The outside curvature and kink as it blends into the grille was taken from the overall shape of the grille of the Fronte/Cervo.

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While the Ignis is considerably larger, the proportion of the grille to the headlights match perfectly that of the Cervo’s. Look closely at the Ignis’s grille detail, and it’s made up of tiny radiused rectangles that look like the Ignis’s grille-embedded fog lights.

The C-pillar has probably the most visible design cue of them all, three lines that invoke the functional cabin vents of the Cervo.

Even the Ignis’s wheels were inspired by the Cervo’s hubcaps, with five indentations forming a pentagon in the middle — a very clever and modern take on the original.

Here, just for the hell of it, are some side-by-sides of other details. The trained eye might be able to find some similarities between the door handle shapes and mirrors, but there’s nothing official from Suzuki about these items.

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There is one more heritage cue from the Ignis, but it’s not shared with the Fronte/Cervo. The clamshell hood and vent integrated into the shut line are taken straight from the Suzuki Escudo (aka Vitara, Geo Tracker).

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With a 1.2-liter, 90-horsepower engine, the Ignis is no kei car. The engine is more traditionally mounted in the front, too, and mated to either a 5-speed automatic or 5-speed manual. Both front- and all-wheel-drive are available, but sadly, not in the US. Intended markets are Japan, Europe, and India.

While the original Cervo was exported to Europe and the UK as the SC100 or Whizzkid, it’s not something well-known on the Old Continent, and in India cars weren’t even really a thing when the Cervo was new. Suzuki could have easily designed an clean sheet, generic crossover to fill this niche and likely no one would’ve cared. That’s why we applaud the fact that designers went they extra mile to imbue the Ignis with these cool heritage cues. We hope other Japanese automakers follow suit.

Ronan Glon is an automotive journalist and photographer living in France, and founder of Ran When Parked.

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16 Responses to Paris Motor Show: One of the coolest retro cars on the market is now made by Suzuki

  1. Car Nut Seattle said:

    Comparing the two Suzukis, I’m afraid I fail to see the resemblance. I find the older Suzuki more attractive than the new Suzuki.

  2. Mark Newton-John said:

    Uh, no. Yes, some aspects are inspired by the older car, but others are not. The mirrors and especially the door handles are pretty generic, compare it to a Ford Fusion. And no, the little rectangles in the grille do not invoke fog lights. Sure, the wheels (maybe), surely the vent in the C-pillar, but not much else in my opinion. If it had round headlights, yeah, but it doesn’t have that. And to be really retro, the interior must be inspired by the original.

  3. Ant said:

    I think the best thing about the Ignis is that it *isn’t* a retro design. It’s a thoroughly modern one that looks great in its own way, but has something for those of us with an eye for older vehicles too, by bringing back cues from cars that most of the public probably neither remember nor care about.

    Never noticed the similarity in the wheels though – that’s a really neat touch. Just got back from Paris myself – have to say, that little display with the Ignis and Cervo was comfortably one of my highlights of the show.

  4. Kuroneko said:

    … well, I’ve been seeing Ignis on the street now for a while, and have done a double-take a number of times thinking it was, if not a Cervo, something of a similar era.

    It works well on the roads of Japan, and fits with its sisters in the Suzuki lineup (like the Hustler) well.

  5. ajeesh said:

    while suzuki not put up rear ac vent in this segment

  6. Punto8 said:

    I completely agree with the last post on this! There is little to no resemblance aside from a few cosmetic nice nods to the original. Is it even the same drive platform or class of car? BTW the door handles and side mirrors look closer to my wife’s 2010 Corolla than its intended predecessor. In the end, this car/crossover thing is not a big deal. It’s not even really appealing. It just is. Tip to Suzuki: Bring back the Samurai!!!! It’s the car that put you on the map and the brand’s only vintage people still seek and still pay top dollar for.

    • Negishi no Keibajo said:

      I own a few cars but the car that gets the most reaction, hands down, is my restored ’86 Samurai Tin-Top. Wildly across the board, I get thumbs up, buy offers stuck under the windshield wipers and just plain, where did you get THAT?! F-250 Bro’s, women in SUV’s, guy’s that retired in ’86… It’s been the most practical car in not only in snow, but the greatest city car in its 11 & a half foot glory (and of course a JNC sticker on the window). Yep… “Like A Boss”.

    • Nakazoto said:

      The Samurai/Jimny never actually died in Japan, so we still get to see these awesome little off-road beasts rolling around!
      http://www.suzuki.co.jp/car/jimny/
      Switch it to LHD, open a few dealers in the US selling just these and I think suddenly, Suzuki will be a hit again!
      We actually have an old Samurai we use as a ranch car and that thing is easily the most capable vehicle I have ever driven. Pop it in 4-Lo and lock the front axles and there is almost nothing it can’t pull itself out of.

  7. Viraf k. said:

    The looks of car from inside of any suzuki from inside are not at all extraodinary

  8. Nakazoto said:

    Having seen quite a few of these on the road here in Nagoya, I can say that they don’t speak to me on any level. I think the main problem is rooted in that it isn’t a kei car, but it feels very heavily based off of the modern Alto kei car, which i actually quite like. The proportions of the new Alto look right and balanced, while the Ignis looks wonky and slightly weird.

  9. Socarboy said:

    It’s too bad Suzuki no longer sells in the USA mainly stemming from being gang raped by GM and then VW. The Ignis is an interesting little runabout that would probably be a hit in the US with a 1.6 to 2.0 liter engine. The JDM made Suzukis were great cars which is why I’m still hanging on to my 2008 SX4

    • Car Nut Seattle said:

      I agree. My favourite Suzuki was the Vitara and Grand Vitara of the 90s and early 00s. I like JDM Japanese cars. That’s why I subscribed to this site.

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