Watch out small SUVs, the Suzuki Vitara is back

When the original Suzuki Vitara (known as the Escudo and Sidekick in some markets) was launched in the late 1980s it became an instant success with buyers who wanted a stylish small off-roader that stood out in a crowd. Indeed, a number capitalised on its eye-catching style to use the Vitara as a mobile billboard, emblazoned with company names and logos.

Suzuki Vitara

Although it might have been a style accessory for some, I well remember the Vitara’s genuine ability off road. This Vitara disappeared some time ago, with its name living on in the slightly larger Grand Vitara. But now, the Vitara is back.

Like its predecessor, the new Suzuki Vitara is clearly positioned at the small end of the off-road sector. But, where its predecessor came as standard with four-wheel-drive, Suzuki have recognised the growing market for vehicles with a tough 4x4 looks and stance, but without the higher price and running costs of four-wheel drive. So, this time round, you can have a Suzuki Vitara with front-wheel-drive only. So equipped, the SZ4 1.6 costs just under £14,000 on-the-road.

My road test car was the Suzuki Vitara SZ5 Allgrip which comes in at £20,299 on-the-road. There are four modes on the standard Allgrip four-wheel-drive system – normal, snow, sport and lock. Yes, this Vitara not only comes equipped with four-wheel-drive, but off-road aficionados will be delighted to see that it has a diff lock. At the lower price end of the market this element of serious off-road kit is a relative rarity.

Suzuki Vitara interior

The Vitara SZ5 Allgrip also has hill descent control to control the vehicle speed when descending slippery slopes, a situation where a panic touch on the brakes can prove disastrous.

The generosity of equipment extends into other aspects of the Vitara’s package. In SZ5 specification, the Vitara comes with sat-nav, a giant sunroof, cruise control, climate control, LED headlights, leather and suede-style upholstery, tyre pressure monitor and parking sensors. Suzuki also get extra gold stars for cruise control that is adaptive, using radar to maintain the gap from the car in front.

The radar system that drives the adaptive cruise control is also at the heart of the collision control system, also standard on the SZ5. If the radar senses an imminent collision and the driver does not react, the system will apply the brakes automatically to avoid or lessen the impact.

The one area in which the Suzuki Vitara is not so well equipped as others, is in the gear department. In petrol-engined form the Vitara comes with only five gears. In real terms that lack of ratios really does not seem to hamper the performance, or the economy. But, it does mean you have to remember not to look for sixth gear, because that is where the Vitara has reverse!

The performance is as lively as you are likely to expect in a car in this class with 0-62 mph taking 11.4 seconds and the Vitara feels reasonably lively through the gears, in ’sport’ setting. More remarkable is the economy. The official combined figure is 67.3 mpg. What impressed me was to find it easy to get better than 40 mpg on a four-wheel-drive SUV. Diesel Vitaras come with six gears.

The Vitara is based on the architecture of the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross and that means a lower stance than some off-roaders. Park it beside a Volkswagen Tiguan, for example, and it is notably less lofty.

This lower height probably contributes to the good body control and notably flat cornering. The Vitara is an easy car to drive in city and on country roads. The steering is light, but precise, with good turn in.

Refinement could be stronger and there is a notable amount of road and wind noise.

As I said, the original Suzuki Vitara stood out for its style. Some may argue that the new Suzuki Vitara is a tad bland, particularly in the muted colour scheme of the test car. But, perhaps because of this, Suzuki offer various options to personalise it with more adventurous colour schemes, grille treatments, wheel-arch finishers, or the ‘Urban’ and ‘Rugged’ packs.

Space inside the Vitara is surprisingly good given its fairly compact dimensions. That said, headroom in the back may be a bit restricted for tall passengers, thanks, I suspect, to that giant sunroof.

Suzuki Vitara

Load space is also good for the class, with a bit of additional space below the boot floor. This is where you will find the canister of sealant and tyre pump that take the place of a spare wheel.

Suzuki is known for no-nonsense interiors and so it is with the Vitara. Everything is straight forward and quite well laid out. The only sad thing is that the interior really could do with a lift. To eyes that are used to European standards of trim and materials, silver grey plastic highlights should be consigned to history along with the myriads of Japanese transistor radios that it used to adorn.

This rather dowdy interior is a shame, considering style was one of the attributes that earned the original Suzuki Vitara a place in the affections of owners in the 1980s and 1990s.

It is an interesting time for the new Suzuki Vitara to enter the market. There are strong competitors out there with cars like the Skoda Yeti and the Vauxhall Mokka. Undercutting the 4x4 Yeti and priced a little above the 4x4 Mokka, the Vitara has the potential edge when it comes to standard kit and off-road equipment.

Suzuki Vitara SZ5 Allgrip
£20,299 on the road
Carbon dioxide emissions: 111 g/km
Combined fuel economy 50.4 mpg
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62: 11.4 secs
Power 118 bhp
Engine size 1586cc petrol/diesel
Boot capacity 375/710 (back seats up/folded)
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