The logic behind Top Gear’s Liana
Placing a ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ was a master-stroke of television planning. The BBC’s most successful programme of the modern era commenced in 2002, in its most popular format, and the Suzuki Liana was chosen as the ideal vehicle for celebrities and racing drivers to use in a fastest lap challenge, when it was devised.
While it was replaced by a Chevrolet Lacetti (nee. Daewoo) for the 2006 season of shows, the Liana was retained and re-purposed strictly for racing drivers. In truth, nobody involved in the show ever expected the Suzuki to be as good as it was and they all hoped secretly that the car would be far more humorous than it turned out to be!
Yet, BBC needed to be careful of ‘product placement’, due the ‘no-advertising’ clause in its charter, which meant that the mickey was taken out of it at every available opportunity, working on the basis that, if the presenters believed the car to be a ‘joke’, then it could hardly become a promotional tool for the brand. However, the on-track antics (Liana was never driven on-road) seemed to prove to Suzuki’s customer base that it was a dependable, good handling and surprisingly competent (if ‘funny’) motorcar.
For over 1,600 laps of the Top Gear constructed circuit at Dunsfold Aerodrome (used by Lotus as a racing car test track for many years), the Liana delivered fail-safe and satisfying performance. Apart from the addition of a roll cage, racing harnesses and a pair of race car bucket seats, all with the intention of protecting the high-value occupants, the Liana was utterly bog-standard. In reality, the number of laps counted is higher, when practices are taken into account.
In reality, two cars were supplied to the Top Gear maintenance shed at Dunsfold but, apart from a few rare occasions, when the support car was drawn into use, there was a primary example that was worked hardest. Of course, to ensure that every celebrity driver was given an identical opportunity to record a fastest lap time, normal wear items were replaced regularly. The primary car endured over 100 tyre and brake pad changes, most of which were carried out on a preventative maintenance basis at Suzuki GB’s former Crawley HQ. However, the Liana also consumed six clutches, two replacement hubs, a pair of driveshafts, a couple of front suspension wishbones, four dampers, three gearbox linkages and a replacement door mirror.
When you consider the abuse that was doled out on the cars, with high-revving, wheel-spinning, standing-starts; the gear-lever being slammed into successive ratios, with minimal mechanical sympathy; its howling around the various radii bends; the occasional off-track foray and even hitting trackside ‘furniture’; for the Liana to continue to provide dependable service was a credit to Suzuki’s renowned engineering prowess.
Suzuki GB has disposed of the ‘spare’ car but holds the primary example in storage, to be called upon, should another F1 racing driver be encouraged to take the challenge.
Luscombe’s summary: Liana was replaced by the SX4 (shared with Fiat), before the current Baleno model was introduced in mid-2015. We remain proud of the association with Top Gear and that our little Liana never let anybody down.
Next week: What was Suzuki’s association with Fiat all about?
The Essence of Suzuki
Just like a bottle of exclusive perfume, or a pair of hand-lasted designer shoes, Suzuki is a brand that gives off something quite different to its mainstream rivals and Iain Robertson endeavours to explain Suzuki’s distinctive nuances.
When you consider that so few of us ever venture beneath our car’s bonnets, other than to top-up essential fluids, comprehending the integrity of Suzuki engineering is certainly not an aspect into which we can tap enthusiastically. Yet, this is a brand that is currently eighth largest in the world and has fingers in almost every motor-powered pie.
From outboards to quads and motorbikes to cars (and light commercials in some markets), the ability to share technology is enormous. All conventional internal combustion engines have a number of dynamic issues to deal with, such as cooling, torque delivery and, greatest of them all, reliability. Bike technology is tremendously exciting, mainly due to the extremes demanded of small capacity engines channelling everything through just a single driven wheel.
When Suzuki looked for a means to improve cooling requirements on its original 1.3-litre Swift GTi engine, which could rev safely to over 8,000rpm, it went to its bike division for hollow, sodium-filled, twin overhead camshafts that drove its 16-valves. Two problems were solved in one application. However, ingenious steel and alloy casting and manufacturing techniques are shared across the company’s model ranges, which gives Suzuki a market-leading advantage that most owners benefit from, while scarcely batting an eyelid.
While every other carmaker is charging off to produce hybrid and electrically-powered models, Suzuki, while working on the latter technology, is not ready to delve too deeply into it for the moment. In fact, its mild-hybrid technology that is already in use on Ignis, Swift and Baleno models, will be introduced onto other models very soon. The company’s strategic association with Toyota will witness the introduction of full-hybrid and EVs in due course.
Although it may seem that Suzuki is out-of-step with the rest of the motor industry, in truth, it is just biding its time, making its cars ever more economical and cleaner to use but not losing sight of a distinctive sporting edge, without overtness. Does it have competitors? Well, both yes and no. It maybe a sizeable firm but it can change direction quicker than any of the rest and each of Suzuki’s models is packed with customer-pleasing details that make its rivals reflect on how they might be able to compete…but simply cannot!
Luscombe’s summary: Playing the game but being able to change direction as part of a judicious plan is a core Suzuki strength. While Iain has been looking at the oily bits this time, he will tackle other aspects in due course.
Next week: Iain discusses the value of a low-ratio transfer gearbox on the Suzuki Jimny.
Did you like this article? Why not share it?