A FACELIFT on a car can sometimes mean a splash of extra chrome, restyled headlights and a slightly larger glovebox.

Changes to the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross are not like that. Three years after its launch, the car packs a much stronger punch on every level.

That is obvious, even at first glance, thanks to more distinctive, upright, bolder front end styling and increased ground clearance.

While its rivals, including the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage, have grown, the S-Cross remains comfortably between those larger cars and the smaller supermini-sized crossovers.

On the move it drives more like a hatchback than a sports utility vehicle and, despite lightweight steering, delivers a pretty sharp drive. It might not soak up the bumps on uneven country roads in the same way that a Nissan Qashqai can, but its lightweight handling suits the car's compact feel to a tee.

The S-Cross, which is built in Hungary, was created as a combination of Suzuki's expertise in building compact cars combined with real off-road ability and it is when you move up the range with four-wheel-drive and automatic gearbox that things get really interesting.

The four-wheel-drive system is available with both petrol and diesel variants, and either automatic or manual gearbox.

Four modes can be selected at the flick of a switch that sits between the front seats. Auto mode prioritises fuel economy in typical driving conditions and uses two-wheel drive by default. It switches to four wheel drive if it detects wheel spin; sport mode is set up to make the most of twisty roads; snow mode deals best with snowy, unpaved, and other slippery surfaces and lock is for extricating the car from snow, mud, or sand.

A neat helper is the standard hill hold control that makes hill starts easier by preventing the car from rolling backwards for two seconds after you take your foot off the brake pedal.

With prices starting at about £14,000, the S-Cross is one of the best value cars in its class. Entry-level models come with two-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, and an interior offering air conditioning, cruise control, electronic stability programme, Bluetooth, seven airbags, stop/start and steering-wheel mounted controls.

Move up to the mid-grade SZ-T and in come LED headlamps, satellite navigation, rear parking camera, front and rear parking sensors, twin-zone automatic air conditioning and plenty more.

If you are determined to pack in every available piece of equipment, then there is the pricey, top-of-the-range SZ5 model, tested here, that includes everything from the likes of leather seats and heated front seats, to a double sliding panoramic sunroof, larger alloy wheels and aluminium roof rails.

The interior, like the boot, is spacious and front seatbacks are shaped to give rear passengers plenty of knee clearance. Rear passengers can set their seatbacks at one of two angles – one allows more laidback travel and the other creates some extra luggage space.

Engine choice is straightforward with either 1.0-litre or 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol or a 1.6-litre turbodiesel engines, all of which deliver improvements in fuel consumption and cuts in emissions.

The test model's safety equipment included a radar-based system that detects a risk of collision with the vehicle in front, and warns you to apply the brakes. At higher speeds if it senses the possibility of a collision, it sounds a buzzer and flashes up a warning.

If the probability of a collision has increased, the system activates brake assist which increases braking force during emergency braking. If the system determines that a collision is unavoidable, it automatically applies the brakes.

It is a serious step forward in helping to improve road safety and another illustration of how the facelifted S-Cross is much more than just a pretty face.

Auto facts

Model: Suzuki SX4 S-Cross 1.4 SZ5

Price: £24,199

Insurance group: 26

Fuel consumption (Combined): 49.5mpg

Top speed: 124mph

Length: 430cm/169.3in

Width: 178.5cm/70.3in

Luggage capacity: 15.2 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 10.3 gallons/47 litres

CO2 emissions: 128g/km

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles