Suzuki makes sense

Suzuki’s Vitara may not be the most refined SUV, but it has enough allure for its price to remain a main prop in the Suzuki catalogue since, well, last century when it helped pioneer the category.

Suzuki says the Vitara is its most technically advanced car.

The original Vitara was in the 4x4 style of the 1990s – viz, the Daihatsu Fourtrak and Toyota’s RAV4. Today’s Vitara is just as capable for light to medium off-road duty, in a body shape more in tune with the high street. Suzuki says it is its most technically advanced car.

Suzuki’s UK team ended 2018 with a 4.5 per cent drop in sales. The average market drop was 6.8 per cent so it could have been worse, but it still shifted nearly 40,000 cars. The market in 2019 is still finding its feet – stumbling over diesel’s decline and the slippery sands of Brexit. The latest Vitara is overshadowed by the garlands heaped on its little brother, the all-new and very photogenic Jimny which won best 4x4 from the UK Car of the Year panel and is a finalist in three categories in the World Car of the Year awards, including the overall title. It follows nominations for the Suzuki Ignis in 2017 and the Swift in 2018.

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The casual observer may be ignorant of the proliferation of these “best of” awards. The seasoned car man may be immune, or at least cynical of the marketing push behind many Car Of The Year accolades, acronym COTY. The daddy is the European COTY – judged by several dozen eminent car writers. However, you do get some cross-pollination (aka national contamination) and you, a Briton, may want a car chosen by your peers – hence the UK COTY.

The upshot: Suzuki makes popular small cars and from personal experience their customers stick with the brand. I could make a case for any of them. The headline maker at the moment is the Jimny, a jack in the box of a 4x4, with proper traction systems and, importantly, a light footprint.

I sense it going through a fashionable phase, a cosmetic trophy for the user and much easier to park than, say, a posh Land Rover.

The Suzuki you see here makes sense for most of us. The Vitara is a full five-seater. Prices start at £16,999 for the SZ4, available only with the three-cylinder one-litre petrol turbo, a model which has most of what you want including climate control and Bluetooth but not navigation which comes on the higher models. If you want Suzuki’s option of Allgrip 4x4 traction you’ll need to get the one-litre SZ-T (£20,799) or the SZ5 (£24,299) with a138bhp 1.4 petrol engine.

Drivers looking for automatic gears can have the six-speed SZ-T at £20,349 or the SZ5 at £23,849. The SZ5 is also offered with automatic gears and Allgrip for £25,649. Diesel engines are not an option.

Sampled here is the one-litre SZ-T with Allgrip: £20,799 plus £800 for the grey metallic paint and black roof. It is a competent all-rounder, with Allgrip giving confident progress on slippery or snowy roads. A rotary dial makes selection between automatic engagement and settings for snow, or sport, plus a differential lock.

The interior is habitable, with some surfaces finished in soft-touch and some in hard-touch material. The picture is darkly respectable, with the expected furnishings of cupholders and roomy door pockets. Moving to this grade brings a collision warning alert and automatic safety braking, a reversing camera and reliable navigation.

Performance is no longer a surprise from a one-litre engine. The 110bhp and 125 ib ft are not going to impress the casual punter in the Camshaft Arms but in use the Vitara does not feel underpowered. The 0-62mph time is 12 seconds. Otherwise, move up to the 1.4 litre engine.

Green affairs: Suzuki quotes 129g under the old EU ratings, and 162g under the more realistic and tougher real-world ratings.

There is similar disparity between the old combined rating of 49.5mpg and the new one of 39.4mpg. Happily, then, my use showed between 40 and 50 miles a gallon – which by coincidence matched the readings from a Focus 1.5 diesel automatic. This is an indication of how competitive a modern petrol engine can be. Plus, petrol is around 45p a gallon cheaper than diesel.

Road manners are fine but coarse surfaces can make the ride noisy – louder than something like a Focus Active. The car was on Continental Ecocontact tyres – 215/55 on 17-inch rims.

Verdict: The Vitara would be on my “might buy” list because it is an all-year, mixed terrain car with a sound reputation at a fair price.