Suzuki Vitara 1.6

SZ5

Suzuki Vitara, front
Suzuki Vitara, side
Suzuki Vitara, rear
Suzuki Vitara, interior
Suzuki Vitara, boot
Suzuki Vitara, rear seats

SUZUKI may not sell vast numbers of cars in the UK but head across the Channel to Europe and they are far more plentiful.

They're most profligate in alpine mountainous regions, chiefly because a lot of Suzukis offer four-wheel drive capability.

Smaller cars with four-wheel drive at one point were relatively few and far between but Suzuki has always been at the forefront of producing them.

Four-wheel drive options are now far more plentiful though - it's no longer just the likes of Land Rover and Mitsubishi producing cavernous SUVs.

It's all down to the huge expansion of the SUV segment and the emergence of the crossover and now there are SUVs and crossovers of all shapes and sizes to choose from.

Given Suzuki's experience and expertise in the smaller 4x4 market one would expect them to be pace-setters in the crossover market.

So to the latest Vitara, a well-positioned crossover that has nods to Suzuki's track record in producing smaller SUVs but with an eye also on the current crossover boom.

In line with market trends the Vitara is very much more crossover than SUV, moving away from the more rugged Grand Vitara it once produced.

More curvy than chunky it offers an appealing profile that is both sporty and stylish.

Size-wise it's nice, kind of like an enlarged family hatchback or small estate, only one that sits a little bit higher off the road.

Therein lies the appeal of the crossover, a car that offers a higher driving position, SUV-inspired styling and - for those who want it - four-wheel drive.

In actual fact this car was a front-wheel drive model, though there is the option of Suzuki's excellent ALLGRIP four wheel drive system if you want, or need it.

I expect the majority of crossovers sold are two-wheel rather than four-wheel drive variants.

Let's be honest, for most UK day-to-day motoring needs four-wheel drive isn't really needed.

Yes, we all remember that winter of a few years' back when we had a bit more snow than normal and lots of people upgraded from two to four-wheel drive to be able to cope with such emergencies.

In terms of the smaller family car it's probably difficult to justify four-wheel drive as an essential, unless you include off-roading in your hobbies, live in an area where there's challenging rural terrain to tackle on a daily basis or need to tow a caravan or boat.

The Vitara is a nicely proportioned car both inside and out and has a decent sized cabin that is pretty much up to the needs of a family.

When it comes to fit and finish, instrumentation and switchgear it manages to mix ruggedness with simple sophistication quite nicely. Nothing fancy but perfectly acceptable and suitably user-friendly.

Anyone buying a smaller SUV or crossover in the UK probably tends to err towards diesel rather than petrol, but with the emergence of a raft of smaller petrol engines offering enhanced power and performance without sacrificing economy buying patterns may be changing.

The 1.6-litre engine fitted to this model packed a surprisingly potent punch it has to be said and had much more of the feel of a 2.0-litre.

It's also a noticeably smooth unit that helps make the Vitara a real pleasure to drive and is very easy to live with day-to-day.

And best of all, you shouldn't have to make too many visits to the pumps. This model has an official combined economy figure of 53.3mpg and in real world motoring it's actually possible to get quite close to that.

I also liked the fact that even though this Vitara was no souped-up crossover it had a sporty and agile feel to it.

I got into the habit of chucking it round the bends and it coped admirably, with very little pitch and roll at all.

It went over the lumps and bumps nicely too and felt at home on all manner of road surfaces.

With all the cars I live with temporarily I often ask myself ‘would I actually buy one'?

FAST FACTS

Suzuki Vitara 1.6 SZ5

Price: £18,499

Mechanical:118bhp, 1,586cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 11.5 seconds

Combined MPG: 53.3

Insurance Group: 11

C02 emissions: 123g/km

Bik rating: 19%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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