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Suzuki Vitara Reviews

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Suzuki brings back a favourite nameplate with its Vitara compact crossover. Andy Enright reports.

The Vitara, Suzuki's latest compact crossover, aims to build a lot of talent into four metres. With a choice of petrol or diesel, front or all-wheel drive and styling that's more assured than anything Suzuki has brought us before, it looks to be a competitive proposition.

It's good to see the Vitara badge being rehabilitated after the indignities it suffered at the hands of fashion in the early nineties. You'll probably shudder as you recall those wide-wheelarched horrors, usually so mercilessly colour-keyed in white that it looked as if they'd emerged from a peroxide bath. The windsurfing or rollerblading rhino on the spare wheel cover and the booming stereo from within were all rather 'of their time'. The easy thing to have done after suffering these ministrations would have been to quietly drop the Vitara name and think up a new badge for their next generation of compact crossovers but Suzuki stuck with it, probably to their cost, in this country at least. As the market grew more sophisticated, Suzuki was rather left behind. The thing is, the Grand Vitaras it subsequently built were actually pretty good. Sure, they were short of a bit of polish, but they were tough, reliable and practical. Then something happened and that something was called the Nissan Qashqai. It hogged that particular section of the market and the Grand Vitara was doomed. Suzuki's back in the crossover segment with a smaller and slicker offering. The Vitara is back.

The mechanicals aren't anything too surprising, shared as they are with the existing SX-4 S-Cross. That means buyers get to choose between either a 1.6-litre petrol engine or a much preferable Fiat-sourced 118bhp 1.6 diesel, both being offered in front or four-wheel drive guises. The petrol engine is fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard with an optional CVT transmission also offered. Go diesel and you get a six-speed manual 'box. The short overhangs will help with off-roading but the 185mm ground clearance isn't that generous. The ALLGRIP four-wheel-drive transmission features an electronically controlled clutch pack, controlled by a four-position switch on the centre console. Choose 'Auto' and it'll stick to driving the front wheels unless slip is detected, whereupon the rear wheels are pressed into action. 'Sport' diverts up to 20 per cent of torque to the rear wheels to give livelier handling. 'Snow' offers permanent four-wheel drive with the system choosing how much torque to split front and rear, while 'Lock' splits the torque equally between front and rear.

With tight proportions and a front end that has more than a hint of current Land Rover design about it, the Vitara is quite an assured piece of design work. There's also a blacked-out floating glasshouse, heavily sculpted flanks and a very neat tail-lamp finish. Buyers can also specify a rugged package which adds front and rear skidplates as well as additional body side mouldings. Suzuki cabins have long been the marque's weak link but this Vitara shows the company pulling its socks up a bit. Okay, so the idea of body-coloured metal across the dash isn't a new one (many of you will recall the Fiat Coupe mining that trend way back in '93) but Suzuki also offers chrome around the gearlever and door trims, plus an analogue clock. It's by no means a large vehicle, breaking the tape at just over four metres long, but still features a features a 375-litre boot. That's competitive with the rival Renault Captur, although the Suzuki lacks the Renault's sliding rear bench seats.

Prices start at around £14,000 for the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol version, but you'll need a £20,000 budget for the petrol ALLGRIP 4WD version. 1.6 DDiS diesel model pricing starts at around £17,000. All variants get seven airbags, 16-inch alloy wheels, a DAB Radio with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control with a speed limiter, auto air conditioning, front and rear electric windows and projector headlamps. The plusher SZ-T trim level adds 17-inch silver painted alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, Smartphone link audio and a navigation system. Moving up to SZ5 adds LED Projector headlights, 17-inch polished alloy wheels, suede seat fabric, keyless entry with start button, Adaptive Cruise Control, Radar Brake Support and a Panaoramic sunroof. There's a range of personalisation options and two key extra-cost packages. The 'Urban' package consists of fog lamp bezels (chrome-plated), body-side mouldings, and a roof spoiler. The 'Rugged' package delivers front and rear skid plates, fog lamp bezels, body-side mouldings and loading edge protection.

The Vitara's CO2 emissions are low thanks to the use of high tensile steel and other weight saving measures in the body plus an Engine Auto Stop Start system which shuts down the engine when stationary. The CO2 emissions for the petrol engine with two wheel drive / manual transmission are 123g/km and 127g/km for the petrol engine with two-wheel drive / six-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is typically seen as detrimental to fuel economy and emissions performance. By contrast, Suzuki's ALLGRIP system enables CO2 emissions that are remarkably low for a four-wheel drive SUV, with figures of 130g/km with five-speed manual transmission and 131g/km with six-speed automatic transmission. Residual values might well stack up better than the industry average if the current crop of Suzuki models is anything to go by. Strong reliability records and modest optional equipment lists have helped to keep 'real world' residuals buoyant. The Vitara shouldn't divert too far from that template even if it does promise additional personalisation options.

The portents look promising for this Vitara. Pricing, after all, pitches this car against much less capable crossover models. If you want a vehicle of this kind that's fashionable without being fake, this Suzuki might certainly appeal.For success here, Suzuki will have to contend with the usual issues, namely a small dealer network, a modest promotional budget and the vagaries of fluctuating exchange rates. All of that can be overcome if the basic product is strong enough though - and in this case, it seems to be. Sales of the SX4 S-Cross have been modest to date, so the company will be hoping that the look and feel of the Vitara will turn the heads of a new group of buyers. It's in there with a real chance.

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