I had a chance to drive the facelifted Suzuki Ertiga GL with a manual transmission last Sunday. We went to Calatagan, Batangas with a few friends. I must say that I missed driving a stick shift car. It was a really enjoyable experience, especially because of the precise driving controls of the Ertiga. The preciseness of the car was remarkable, particularly at this price point.
The steering was light, and a bit muted. It was so boosted that I could not feel the road that much. However, it was very precise. There was absolutely no "sneeze zone", or dead spot in the center. A small flick of the wrist and the car will turn. You definitely would not want to take your hands off the steering wheel or even drive with one hand while cruising (which is bad practice, anyway).
The gear shift was tight, and accurate. Not once did I miss a shift or grind gears. It was very smooth as well. The pedals were spaced properly, and the action was light. Even in standstill traffic, I did not have problems modulating the accelerator and clutch. The pedals did not have any slack. It was easy to start from inclined roads.
The suspension is one of the best I've experienced in this segment, ride quality-wise. Bumps were well damped, and it did not permeate through the cabin. Even on with six passengers on board, it did not bottom out. It's tuned more for comfort, though, as it felt quite wallowy. Body roll was not that evident during highway runs, but going through some unpaved roads, I felt that the suspension was anchored on jello. I think that sport-oriented tires and gas shocks would solve most of my complaints.
My only real gripe is the engine, which is actually just perfect for city driving. On out of town trips, though, you will find that the Ertiga is underpowered. With a full load (six people and about 100 pounds of luggage), you'll have to rev hard and shift late to get moving. I found myself close to the redline a couple of times while overtaking. I normally wouldn't mind, but the engine is quite noisy at high RPM.
The interior space is quite tight, which is understandable for a short, three-row car. The habitable space seemed as big as the Livina's. In a Nissan Livina, I could fit in the last row, though. I didn't try with the Ertiga, but looking at my 5-foot daughter in the last row, I doubt that my 6-foot frame would fit. The other edge that the Livina has is that it has a bit more cargo space. With the Ertiga's third row seats up, there's only a shoebox-sized space left for your things. We only put one seat up for the third row so that we could fit our things.
Overall, the Suzuki Ertiga is a nice car. I totally understand why it's so popular these days. I would choose this over the Toyota Avanza even if the Avanza has more space. It's not every day that I'll get to use the third row, but it's there when I need to ferry more people. Ride-wise, it's just slightly behind a Honda Mobilio. I would maybe even choose the Ertiga over the Mobilio because of the creature comforts. The Ertiga's interior is way better than the 90s-inspired interior of the Mobilio and the Ertiga is also better equipped, but the Mobilio has way more legroom.