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09 August 2012

Adventures in Cube-Space | 2011 Suzuki APV Type II

Words and photos by Niky Tamayo
It’s an odd sensation, puttering along in traffic, head and shoulders above everyone else... to look down upon lowly SUV drivers, as you sit at the stoplights. Sir, you do know you have a bald spot, right? No, I mean the one where the paint’s flaked away on your roof.
This sensation is made even odder by the fact that the car I’m driving weighs less than most cars. You’re towering over the crowd, yes, but like that tall, skinny kid in high school, that won’t keep you from getting beaten up at recess. Thus, you don’t get the swelled head that most SUV drivers and van drivers get from the rarefied air at this altitude. That’s a good thing, by the way. All cars on the road should be shaped like this. Perhaps thinking outside the box means putting wheels on it. 
Cube Roots
The Suzuki APV is not a new car. This second-generation “Type II” model has slightly more headroom, legroom and insulation than the old model. It also has a stronger chassis and a better suspension, but it’s still basically a ladder-frame, cab-forward van. The important distinction here is that it’s a tall and narrow cab-forward van. That tallness means that everyone inside can sit upright, if they want to, and the narrowness means that you won’t be scraping door mirrors off of every jeepney you pass. 
Add the two together, with the panoramic windows afforded by the high roof and low-beltline and you have what is perhaps the easiest van in the world to navigate from. I would venture to say it makes you feel much like a land-going sea captain, but the APV drives much better than that. While it still defaults to nannying understeer when push comes to shove, the APV is quite stable and predictable in most situations. The ride is stiffer than in an Avanza or Grand Livina thanks to this, but it’s not too bad, all things considered. 
Boxing Clever
All that vertical space means room for second row captain’s chairs and a pass-through to the third row. While the APV may be narrow compared to other vans, at 1,7 meters, it’s as wide as most compact cars of yore, which means sitting three across in the back isn’t too much of a pain. It also has a compact-car footprint. At 1,340 kilograms and just 4.2 meters in length, the APV is light and easy to drive in traffic. 
The APV manages to pack generous legroom for three rows into such a short package because the engine package sits right underneath the driver’s package. Old wives’ tales would have you believe that such a set-up leads to fried eggs, but don’t you believe it. Thanks to engine insulation, your manhood stays perfectly cool. It’s your legs that get toasty from the heat coming off the front of the engine bay. Yet, even in heavy traffic, the temperature gauge never twitched. The real issue here is that the oddly shaped engine cover makes the driver’s perch an awkward one for taller or shorter drivers, and the intrusive front wheel wells make for tight pedal spacing. 
Penalty Box
While we’re picking nits, the automatic transmission is a big one. It’s an ancient four-speed box, and the slurred shifts and low fourth gear (3,200 rpm at 100 km/h) hurt both performance and fuel economy. In our time with it, we managed a measly 7 to 8 km/l in mixed driving. That’s as bad as an automatic-equipped crossover. The five-speed manual makes more sense in every way. 
The interior is also rather dated, down to the economy-grade plastics, mouse-fur headliner and fuzzy-fabric seats. The only thing going for the SGX over the lower tier models, in fact, is the second row captain’s chairs, an unexpected luxury at this price point. 
A Square Deal
While our top-of-the-line tester tops out at P810,000, the base APV Type II (8 seater) comes in at just P700,000, while the APV GA, which is a continuation of the older, slightly smaller model, starts at just P565,000. That’s an absolute bargain for a roomy eight-seater. Sure, it has its faults, and for many, a diesel AUV makes more sense, but the P150,000 to 300,000 difference to the cheapest diesel AUVs buys you a lot of fuel.
It’s possible that, in a few year’s time, the SGX will be discontinued to make way for the (presumably) more refined and more car-like Ertiga, but I have no doubt that the bargain-priced base commercial passenger model will continue on. The APV, like the much-imitated Carry van, is just too useful to ignore.