SINCE its launch in 2015 thousands of Brits have snapped up the latest award-winning Suzuki Vitara and that's no surprise - it's a little cracker.
And, though it may be one of the older designs in the compact SUV sector, it's now better equipped, greener and even safer.
The Vitara is available from £21,999 for the entry-level 1.4-litre Boosterjet Hybrid SZ4 model but even this gets you seven airbags, stability control, a collision avoidance system, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED projector headlamps, Bluetooth connectivity, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitor, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise control, air conditioning and auto headlights and wipers.
Leap to the range-topping SZ-5 and you also get 17-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, a reversing camera, keyless entry with start button, panoramic sunroof and a smartphone link audio and navigation system with an easy-to-use seven-inch touchscreen. There's also the option of Suzuki's ALLGRIP four-wheel drive system.
All models come with six-speed manual transmission and there's no auto option.
The key change is that mild hybrid electrification has been added to the company's redesigned 1.4-litre Boosterjet petrol engine. This means energy that would otherwise be lost when braking or cruising off-throttle is harvested via a kinetic energy recovery system and sent to a small lithium-ion battery beneath the front passenger seat.
This is used to drive a belt-driven Integrated Starter Generator - or ISG - unit and power the engine's stop/start system and lower voltage components such as lights, audio and aircon. It also assists the petrol engine during vehicle take off for a higher level of torque with 235Nm available from 2,000rpm and up to 3,000rpm. It also delivers the ability for the Vitara to idle and even coast on full-electric power.
The 375-litre luggage space - 710 litres with the rear seats folded - is impressive for its size and, crucially, easy to access because of the low loading lip.
On the road the Vitara is agile, engaging and drives well; the six-speed gearbox is a joy and the suspension is firm enough to keep body roll in check without being uncomfortable.
It hugs the road nicely when you pick up the pace on our more curvaceous roads. There's also plenty of leg room in the front and back and it is easy for drivers, even of my lankiness to get comfortable because of the range of seat and steering wheel adjustment.
While the SZ5 ALLGRIP officially returns 45.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 140g/km, I managed a respectable 40.2mpg.
It's no Land Rover Defender but the four-wheel drive version is very practical in all seasons providing plenty of traction on surfaces where other ‘soft-roaders' might struggle.
Suzuki's ALLGRIP system incorporates four driver-selectable modes - Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock - which changes where power is sent.
Auto is a two-wheel drive fuel-saving mode for everyday driving, especially on motorways. The auto mode prioritises fuel economy in typical driving conditions and uses two-wheel drive by default. It switches to four-wheel drive if it detects wheel spin. Lock brings into action a limited slip differential to boost the four-wheel drive in sticky and slippery situations.
You can guess what Snow is for, while Sport mode sends power to the rear wheels when needed, according to throttle inputs. Hill Descent Control is also usefully fitted as standard on SZ5 ALLGRIP models.
The good news is that the Vitara is also rated one of Europe 's safest cars according to independent crash testing results from Euro NCAP, receiving the maximum five-star rating.