They were smirking, the members of the Trader Group smoking club as the Suzuki Ignis Sport and I eased out of the ACP Media Centre's visitors' carpark.
They seemed to find something amusing about this boxy little yellow car with the loud decals proclaiming Suzuki Motor Sport. Something ludicrous, maybe.
"Well," I mumbled to myself - one of my problems, I'm told, talking to myself.
"Come with us and you'll be laughing on the other sides of your collective face."
To be fair, I'd almost had a fit when I clambered out of the taxi and found the test car was festooned with loud decals. It's one of the things that irritate we motoring journalists, being offered cars that advertise their presence that loudly. I guess we prefer the anonymity, the Q-car ethos.
But I came to rather like the decals, took a sort of pride in driving a car that carried Suzuki Motor Sport logos. But I don't think that if I were buying a Suzuki Ignis Sport I'd shell out the $450 for the signage.
But if I were looking for a fun small car to use as a city commuter/hack and occasional country road blaster, I'd definitely have the Ignis Sport on my shortlist - with one major reservation
I've got one or two other reservations about the car, but the overall impression was more than favourable; favourable enough to have me smirking about those people who smirked about the little Suzuki.
Sometimes it can take a few days for a car to make an impression.
With the Ignis Sport it took less than 10 kilometres, and the impression was favourable.
Even trundling through the suburbs the steering felt communicative, the chassis' responses sharp, the power delivery brisk. The clutch was a little heavy and the ride firm, but those are common qualities in sporting cars.
For this is no hack commuter flossied-up with go-faster decals. This is a serious small sporty.
The gearshift is light and direct, the synchromesh unbeatable.
The motor revs freely. Maximum power of 83kW is developed at 6400rpm, peak torque of 143Nm at a relatively heady 4100 revs. They add up to brisk, lively performance. Suzuki quotes 8.9 seconds for the sprint to 100km/h and the standing 400 metres in 16.5s. Top speed is 185km/h.
Those are respectable numbers for a 1.5-litre car weighing 945kg.
But the car feels quicker, helped by a nicely sporting exhaust note and a finely-matched set of gear ratios - once you're past second gear.
The gap between first and second is simply too great, and the motor drops around 2000rpm. That leads causes a momentary sluggishness till you make the slick change into third and the engine note hardly alters. It sings the same song into fourth and fifth. In fact, going up the gearbox from third to fifth is extremely satisfying, the close ratios ensuring a smooth power delivery and a continuous, delightful noise from the motor. Handling is very good, the car turning-in crisply and changing direction on a winding road with great precision and nimbleness.
It enjoys being thrown around as much as you enjoy throwing it around. I'd defy anyone to come back from an afternoon sprinting the Ignis Sport along winding country roads with anything other than a huge grin.
Ultimately the car will understeer, but front-end sledging is well-controlled and not particularly apparent till you're pushing the car hard into slowish corners. The balance is so good, in fact, that you can occasionally get the car four-wheel drifting.
Though the Ignis is tall (1525mm) and short (3620mm in overall length), its wide track (1420mm front; 1405mm rear) and relatively long wheelbase (2360mm) give it excellent stability. There's no feeling of top-heaviness and the car is pleasingly unfazed by strong crosswinds.
Refinement levels are strictly small car with some road and wind noise from around the hatchback door.
Ride can be choppy on uneven surfaces and the Ignis' solid rear axle doesn't like coming down off speed humps.
Safety equipment includes dual front airbags, and ABS anti-skid braking with Electronic Brake Force Distribution. Unfortunately there's only a lap belt in the centre rear seating position. The frequent square-off that cars this size seldom carry three rear seat passengers doesn't wash with us. If they intended only four passengers why fit five seatbelts?
The Ignis has good storage space, air-conditioning, a Compact Disc sound system, power windows and exterior mirrors, luggage space cover, and an attractive price of $21,800, drive away.
Its upright, boxy looks belie its very good chassis and composed road manners. Add in crisp steering, a good if upright driving position, and strong performance, and you have an excellent package. If it had three lap/sash seatbelts on the split-folding rear seat, it would be well in contention as the best small car we've driven this year.
- story and photographs by Mike Stock.
Besides the Suzuki Motor Sport decals, the test Ignis had a bunch of other extras. One seemed a must-have, a pair of powerful driving lights that come complete with moulded pods and throw a good spread of light. A stylish and worthwhile add-on for $750.
There were a set of fitted mats, nicely done but I could have done without them and used their $100 cost for petrol.
And there were the currently fashionable alloy pedals - again a $100 extra. They look great but I could probably live happily with an Ignis that didn't have them.
There's one extra that wasn't on the car and is not readily available here - a sports-style mesh grille, price unknown. It looks smart but isn't part of the works rally car's kit. So if you want to identify with the Suzuki Super 1600 rally car, stick with the body-coloured slatted grille.