Does the range-topping version of Suzuki’s compact and affordable SUV make any sense? We test it to find out
What do we have here?
Originally launched in 1988, the first-generation Vitara was a rugged and rather playful small 4x4.
With its Ken and Barbie Jeep looks and low asking price, the Vitara was a popular buy.
However, over the years, and a bit like Ken no doubt, it’s lost its way, put on weight and those chiselled good looks became a distant memory.
Suzuki is looking to reverse that trend with the all-new fourth-generation model. Ok, there’s no three door or convertible version anymore but the new model is certainly a huge improvement on what went before, visually at least.
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Gone are the bloated surfaces, replaced by sharp lines, flat panels and rugged SUV body trim.
It comes with five doors, a choice of two petrol and one diesel engines and is offered in four trim levels, with prices starting from just £14,999.
Pick between the entry-level 1.6-litre 120PS or a range-topping 1.4-litre Boosterjet 140PS petrol engines, the first of which gets a five-speed manual gearbox and the latter gets a six-speed version.
If you’re after a diesel then choose carefully between a 1.6-litre DDIS with a six-speed manual, or, oh sorry, that’s your lot.
Depending on which engine you go, you can choose between front wheel drive or go for full traction mode with Suzuki’s all-wheel drive ALLGRIP in exchange for a little more dosh, although it is standard on the Boosterjet version.
Once you have your powertrains chosen, there are four trims on offer; SZ4, SZ-T, SZ5 and S.
We’re testing the range-topping 1.4-litre Boosterjet in S trim which costs from £22,249 on the road.
On the outside, the S, a sporty version, gets plenty of visual enhancements to justify its sporting credentials including a roof-mounted spoiler, 17in alloy wheels finished in gloss black, a unique grille, front and rear skid plates finished in silver, silver wing mirror caps and side skirts, plus projector headlights compete with attractive red cap.
The red theme is continued inside on the air vent surrounds, dials and contrasting stitching.
It gets plenty of standard kit including automatic air conditioning, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and start, auto lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control, radar brake assist, front and rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera.
How does it drive?
There’s 138bhp and 162lb ft of torque being pumped out from under the bonnet and distributed to all four rubbery corners of the Vitara.
While figures of 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds don’t sound too impressive, on the road it feels much quicker. Keen to accelerated away from junctions and roundabouts, it leaves you in little doubt that it has the mid-range torque to slingshot past slower vehicles ahead that are holding up your day.
It feels quick to react with much of that being down the to kerb weight of the Vitara. It’s so light you might want to consider tethering it down like a hot air balloon in during strong winds. The scales are tipped at just 1,210kg. To put that into perspective that’s just 45kg more than a three-door Mini in entry-level One trim. And the Vitara has five-doors, a big boot and four-wheel drive.
However, bear in mind that when in fifth gear, you may need to downshift for steeper hills or overtaking as has been geared long for better economy and can bog down at lower speeds.
The six-speed manual has a short throw, clunks nicely into gear and has a light clutch, meaning flicking between the gear is easy.
That light body weight is no more evident than when a straight road gives way to some snaking blacktop. Given its SUV status, it handles more keenly than many a family hatchback, feeling light and keen to entertain. It holds its line well through the bends with body lean well under control.
Its steering can’t quite match up to the handling prowess, however. It’s accurate and decently weighted, just not quite on par with handling.
The good news is that the sharp handling isn’t at the detriment to ride quality. Yes, you can feel a firmer sporting undertone but on most roads, it remains comfortable. There is a limitation to its abilities and that’s when you hit a larger pothole or speedbump, both of which will create a crash through the cabin more.
Refinement is good with only a little wind noise at motorway speeds, however, the engine remains quiet on the move making long distance travelling no problem at all.
What's it like inside?
Thanks to a neat and tidy design, coupled with some well-placed and chosen trims, the Vitara’s interior is a pleasant place to be.
Across the dash is an attractive slab of brushed chrome trim, there are piano black surrounds, some chrome detailing and the red trim surrounds.
Plastics are hard to the touch but feel of decent quality and pretty robust.
You sit in comfortable and figure hugging suede sports seats which offer excellent height adjustment through a pump level while a second lever allows you to adjust the angle of the backrest.
In the lowest position, there’s plenty of head room, while shoulder and elbow room is also good, giving you a sense of space.
The steering wheel adjusts well for reach and tilt adjustment meaning most should be able to find a comfortable driving position.
There’s a well-sized door bin which will also take a large bottle. Ahead of the gear lever, there’s a split shelf, two cupholders between the seats and a large bin towards the rear. None of these are covered so you’ll need to remove any valuables from sight when leaving the car, however, the glovebox is well sized to assist with this.
Access to the rear is through two light feeling doors with good sized openings. Once there you get good head, leg and knee room. There’s enough room for a bottle in the door but no fold down central armrest or no USB connectors.
The boot door is light in feel and opens to create a large wide portal. There is a low-level boot threshold and small lip making loading and unloading much easier. The boot offers 375-litres of capacity and has a large flat floor.
The floor is adjustable and can be lowered significantly. However, leave it in place and there’s plenty of the underfloor storage.
On an official combined cycle, the Boosterjet will return 52.3mpg and emits 127g/km of CO2.
For company car users, of qualifies for the 24% BIK band for 2017/2018.
It falls into insurance group 16E.
The Vitara comes with Suzuki’s three-year or 60,000-miles warranty.
Servicing is required every 9,000 miles.
On so many levels the Vitara impresses.
It has spirited performance, entertaining handling and a comfortable ride. It’ll take five adults and has a big boot.
Add to that low running costs and an impressive asking price, few rivals can stack up to Vitara’s all round package.