THERE was a time when few heads would be turned by a Suzuki announcement about its cars - after all it's a brand that makes motorbikes and speedboat engines, right?
Well, yes. But add cars to that list too because these days Suzuki is a marque that demands respect, so when it claims its latest Vitara is the most technically advanced model to date, rival manufacturers are sitting up and taking note.
The latest generation Vitara was launched in 2015, but it has recently undergone a major makeover that introduces fresh new styling, improved safety features, more efficient engines and a far more upmarket interior design.
The Vitara has always been easy on the eye, but revisions see a new front grille and bumper, restyled LED lights to complement the stylish upright design, privacy glass, a chrome lower grille, roof rails, wheel arch extensions and 17-inch alloys. In fact it looks quite grown up these days.
We tried the mid-range SZ-T model powered by an efficient, yet punchy 1.0-litre three-cylinder Boosterjet petrol engine matched to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Costing £20,799 (£21,599 with options), the Vitara could reach 62mph from a standing start in 12.0 seconds, topped out at 111mph and, according to WLTP figures, can deliver combined fuel economy of 39.4mpg with carbon emissions of 162g/km.
During our drive covering almost 400 miles on a variety of roads we were seeing an average of 42.5mpg which is above the official rating.
Creature comforts are plentiful and the Vitara is kitted out with all the latest techno treats to make life on the move all the easier.
Features include a smartphone link that offers a mirror image of your mobile phone, DAB radio, sat nav, a four-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel audio controls, automatic air conditioning, a rear parking camera and lots more besides.
The Vitara offers five-door practicality and the cabin is both bright and spacious with room for a couple of adults in the back - add a third and it gets a bit too cosy. Storage options also impress with a boot capacity that ranges from 375 to 710 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat.
A double boot floor is handy so items, such as muddy boots, can be kept separated. There is also a glovebox, door bins, front cup holders, a console box and a pocket in the back of the front passenger seat.
The interior is more upmarket on new Vitara with soft-touch surfaces and more comfortable seating. And when it comes to performance, the Vitara is a great performer with plenty of zip from the three-pot engine.
The driver benefits from excellent all-round visibility thanks to the elevated driving position and all dials, controls and instrumentation is easy to use on the move.
Out on the open road the Vitara was fun to push around the sweeping bends provided you are not too heavy with your right foot.
The road-holding is good and there is little sign of any body sway unless driven really ‘enthusiastically'. I clocked up more than 200 miles on motorways and the Vitara could easily reach and maintain the national speed limit cruising with ease at 70mph.
In city centres it was agile in its handling and the rearview camera is a bonus when reversing into a tight parking space.
Our car also featured Suzuki's Four-mode c system. In auto mode, fuel efficiency is prioritised with the car using two-wheel drive. Sport mode is great for fast country lanes with lots of twists and turns with the system making the maximum use of four-wheel drive delivering optimal torque.
Snow mode is fairly self explanatory and introduces four-wheel drive by default. And finally, the lock mode is for getting out of trouble and can be used to get the car out of mud, snow or sand whereby the slip differential helps to brake any slipping wheel and transfer the torque to those with grip.
When the 2015 Vitara was tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating it was awarded the maximum five stars and Suzuki has introduced addition safety kit to the latest car making it a safe choice for any active family who want to be seen in a stylish vehicle without breaking the bank.