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for Suzuki Vitara

Suzuki Vitara, front
Suzuki Vitara, front
Suzuki Vitara, side
Suzuki Vitara, rear
Suzuki Vitara, interior
Suzuki Vitara S, interior
Suzuki Vitara, boot
Suzuki Vitara, interior
Suzuki Vitara S, engine, Boosterjet 1.4

IT seems incredible that a car model is still going strong more than 18 years since it first appeared in showrooms here and remains as popular as ever despite it being in a niche sector of the market.

The original Suzuki Vitara was a chunky, squat-like shaped small car that offered four-wheel-drive for those who wanted (or needed) to drive across fields and along mud-rutted farm tracks and it even had a rather crude canvas roof that could be hauled down should the sun come out.

Back in 1988 it became a bit of cult car for those happy to drive such a waggon with few home comforts on board and quite happy to bounce along off-roading when needed.

Move the clock on to today and with the ever expanding Sports Utility Vehicle sector Suzuki too have kept up with the times, so much so that their latest Vitara is packed to the gunnels with new technology and naturally a few more comforts for both driver and passenger.

This new S model is certainly a bit more sophisticated and offers what today's SUV drivers now expect in terms of being compact but reasonably spacious inside, decent levels of standard equipment on board even on the entry-level model, plus that all important 4WD with what Suzuki describe as ALLGRIP.

This Hungarian-made five-door, five-seater Vitara, available in trim and equipment levels of SZ4, SZ-T, SZ5 and S while perhaps adding to would-be buyers initial confusion is that there are further model choices with urban pack, rugged pack, ALLGRIP editions added meaning there's still a choice of 2WD or 4WD.

Crucially though prices across the range are realistic, an important factor in this crowded sector of the marker where this Vitara goes head-to-head with the likes of the Citroen Cactus, Skoda Yeti and Nissan Juke to mention a few.

Cheapest is the SZ4 coming in at £13,999 and the range stretches through a variety of models up the top spec version costing £23,999.

There's also a choice of more engines now with Suzuki's excellent new three-cylinder 1.4-litre 138bhp Boosterjet recently fitted to the Vitara alongside a normally aspirated but much improved 1.6-litre petrol engine and a similar size diesel engine.

Driving the 1.4-litre 138bhp petrol engine in this new S model was quiet and responsive with a five-speed manual gear change that had easy and short changes up and down the box and in my book is a preference to the six-speed automatic gearbox on offer.

The car had the ALLGRIP system on board which naturally offers a choice of driving modes - auto, sport, snow and lock - all operated from a simple control in front of the gearlever.

For most of the time it will remain in auto with two-wheel drive - it only switches automatically into four-wheel if it detects wheel spin - and it also has better fuel economy than previously with a CO2 figure of 127g/km.

Driving some 500 miles on both motorways and some trekking across rough parts of the Yorkshire Moors it still returned an overall commendable consumption of 42.1mpg, almost close to the official combined figure of 52.3mpg.

The ride itself was supple with well dampened suspension and not put off by riding rough-shod over bumpy moorland lanes and with this particular model sitting on 17-inch alloy wheels there was always plenty of grip when needed while the steering had plenty of feedback and felt more positive than most rivals.

Inside improvements to the cabin are noticeable with more comfortable seats, which are adjustable for height, and like all SUVs the seating position is high and with plenty of all round glass area vision is exceptionally good.

Add to that with the controls and conventional dials and switches all sensibly laid out it makes it an easy car to drive - simple and uncomplicated which is a lesson to some rival car makers who seem to go out of their way nowadays to make them harder and more difficult to use.

The infotainment system is likewise easy to use and even with more new technology on board makes life easier and there's the usual list of impressive standard features here, such as DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connector while from the mid spec SZ-T an upwards there's a full media system with sat nav and a touch screen display.

Nice too in that standard across the whole Vitara range are steering wheel mounted audio controls and it's quite pleasing in my view to see the more traditional analogue clock on the dashboard.

Naturally the plastic interior finish is more practical for family use and in terms of head and leg room that's ample enough with the rear seats suited to fit two adults in comfort.

The rear seats naturally fold down to give more luggage space - up from 430 litres to 875 litres - make it one of the best in class for load space while there are as in previous models plenty of cubby-hole storage spaces.

One plus point and one minus point though - the rear door gives a wide access for loading and there's no lip either but none of these Vitaras have a spare wheel as standard on board but you can now order one for just £148 which is well worth it in my view.

These latest Vitaras have a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating with seven airbags on board as standard along with hill hold control, electric stability system and speed limiter.

The Vitara has certainly come a long way in its evolving and a far cry from some 15 years ago when I rented one on a Canary Island holiday that never let me down but looking back the ride rattled every bone in the body touring around on and off-road, there was no canvas hood so allowing the sun to blaze down and the interior was pretty frugal too.

But it was fun to drive as is this latest model which naturally is more sophisticated, comfortable and has loads of the latest car technology on board.

Which model to choose as a buyer might be a dilemma for some but in my book the new 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine is the one to have under the bonnet.

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