A GOOD friend has been raving about his latest car - a Suzuki Vitara - for a couple of months, telling me how good it is, so I thought I'd better drive one myself to see why he was so bowled over.
He's right, it is a brilliant family car in almost every way - comfortable, refined and with excellent road manners and cornering safety.
There is a raft of these smaller off-road lookalikes on the market now, some of which are only available with two wheel drive.
But of course, Suzuki has been making proper 4x4s for many years and so the Vitara is available both with and without.
I drove the 1.4 S with four-wheel-drive (4WD) and the optional twin clutch six-speed automatic gearbox, and for a long haul with country roads and traffic clogged town centres, it was just as good as my friend had told me.
The 1.4 S has a 1.4 turbo petrol engine as opposed to the standard Vitara's 1.6 petrol or diesel and not only does it give improved performance, it ups the economy of the 1.6 petrol too.
But it's the comfort and refinement.of this one that really puts it right at the top of the smaller SUV class.
It took every kind of potholed surface and the speed humps in its stride around town and then everything from rough country lanes to dual carriageways on that cross country trip.
It just rolls over all the undulations and blemishes as if they're not there.
Yet, despite this excellent ride, the road holding was also very good, with strong grip and good balance despite some roll.
The steering is positive and gives plenty of feedback through the corners and the brakes are brilliant.
It has a wonderfully easy driving nature in traffic and the engine is smooth and quiet at all speeds until it's pressed for higher revs. Even then it remains smooth and sounds good.
The automatic gearbox takes all the strain, but reacts a little slowly to the kickdown sometimes in normal Drive.
It comes with Drive, Sport and Manual settings and Sport ups all the gearchange points to give better acceleration.
In Manual mode, there are paddles behind the steering wheel to make the changes, but they are a little small for my taste and they move with the wheel, making them difficult to use in sharper corners.
The 4x4 system has Auto, Snow, Sport And Lock settings. Auto is the one most of the time and Lock makes it possible to lock the centre differential to give best traction off-road.
It managed 42 miles per gallon over a week of varied driving, and for an all wheel drive petrol model, that is excellent.
Equipment in the S model includes seven airbags, hill holder, stability control, tyre pressure monitoring, and part leather upholstery.
It also has parking sensors front and rear with a camera, radar brake support, hill descent control, cruise, stop start, climate control, pollen filter and keyless entry and starting.
A seven inch touch screen takes care of sat nav and linked phone functions, and it also has a DAB stereo.