New Vitara smart move for Suzuki

Suzuki's smart Vitara crossover is good looking and good to drive with decent equipment levels and e

Suzuki's smart Vitara crossover is good looking and good to drive with decent equipment levels and economy adding to the appeal. - Credit: Suzuki

Suzuki's latest Vitara may not have the original model's trend-setting status but it's good to drive, easy to live with and still has a sense of fun, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

An icon reborn

A quarter of a century ago the Suzuki Vitara was all the rage. A real fashion statement, the popular three-door model played a big part in launching our love affair with sport utility vehicles.

With many owners boosting the chunky looks with big alloy wheels and lowered suspension, this was a little 4x4 that could take you off-road… few owners did but it was a case of they could if they wanted!

Now Suzuki has relaunched the Vitara. Smart and well-proportioned, this new model is available only with five doors but is as trendy as ever with a more grown-up feel and personalisation options that will appeal to a wide age range.

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Its clamshell bonnet curving down in the wings is almost Land Rover-esque from certain angles while strong curves are brought out in strong dark colours in the sunshine… the new turquoise pearl metallic was a hit with the ladies.

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Under the bonnet

Two 1.6-litre engines, petrol and turbo diesel, both produce 120PS and offer manual – five-speed petrol, six for diesel - or six-speed automatic gearboxes.

I thought the diesel would make most sense but the petrol unit won me over. It's £1,500 cheaper, averaged 45 to 50mpg in real-world driving even the range-topping SZ5 version with optional AllGrip four-wheel drive and CO2 emissions are still only 130g/km.

It's also very perky, especially in sport mode – there's also one for snow and slippery going, revving freely and smoothly at the top end when you make use of the snappy manual gearbox without being an assault on your ears.

How it drives

The ride is firm but generally composed in the way it deals with bumps and lumps, although you are always aware what is going on beneath the wheels, but it's not unpleasant and tyre noise on poor surfaces is more of an issue.

It also drives nicely with decent grip and body roll in check through corners but the steering is a little lifeless although it makes light work of parking.

It's not the sort of car you are going to throw around on twisty roads but is more than happy flowing through a series of bends on cross-country routes.

In the cabin

For a compact sport utility vehicle, the Vitara is quite accommodating inside, both for passengers and loads, with adequate legroom for adults in the back provided those up front don't shove their seats right back.

My SZ5 test car's panoramic, electric tilt/slide glass sunroof really eats into headroom to the point where tall passengers found their head touching, rather than brushing, it and you can't recline the seat backs to free up some space.

With the back seats in use, there a useful, 375 litres of boot space made more practical by a two-level floor, either at sill height with some storage beneath it or removed altogether to open up the full depth. Rear seats backs split 60/40 and fold level with the boot floor panel in its highest position but they slope slightly until weighted down.

At the wheel

I really like the simplicity of the fascia - big dials, inset fuel and temperature gauges and clear knobs and buttons for heating and ventilation. Some might say it's dated, I prefer traditional, but it works well and I like the round air vents with the clock set between them in the middle of the fascia.

A trim panel on the fascia and surrounds for the vents in body colour helps give the hard, dark plastics a welcome lift too.

But it's a shame that while the high-rise touchscreen for functions such as audio, phone and navigation, while clear, has small contact points which are tricky to use on the move.

Trims and kit

Available in SZ4, SZ-T and SZ5 – the latter with a four-wheel drive option – decent standard spec includes seven airbags, 16in alloy wheels, DAB radio with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control with speed limiter, automatic air conditioning, four electric windows and projector headlamps.

SZ-T adds 17in alloys, rear privacy glass and smartphone link audio and navigation system while SZ5 has LED headlamps, polished alloys, suede seat fabric, keyless entry and ignition, adaptive cruise control and panoramic sunroof.

Final say

The new Vitara is never going to have the cult following of the original but it is alive and well. The well-equipped entry-level, front-wheel drive models make the most sense financially but if you need the added reassurance of on-demand four-wheel drive that won't sacrifice economy still looks value and Suzuki has a strong reputation for reliability.

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