By Mike Torpey on 2021-07-05 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
100 years of Suzuki
A CENTURY may sound like a mighty long time - unless you happen to be 100 years old, in which it will no doubt have flashed by in a heartbeat.
During that exact timescale the Japanese automotive giant Suzuki has evolved from a small family enterprise that pioneered new ways of weaving textiles into one of the world's top ten car companies.
But the brand's success hasn't been confined just to cars. It has become a huge player in the world of motorcycles, outboard marine engines and ATV (all-terrain vehicle) products like quad bikes too.
For instance Suzuki are current holders of the MotoGP world championship, have been represented by champions like Barry Sheene, Kevin Schwantz and current champion Joan Mir, added to countless TT race victories on the Isle of Man.
Suzuki innovation has seen everything from snowmobiles and motorised wheelchairs to prefabricated houses and a range of no less than 30 outboard engines.
These include the DF350A - the most technically advanced product that Suzuki builds - using a whopping 4.4-litre V6 engine and also a system for tackling the problem of plastic waste in the oceans.
It's a simple yet effective device that filters the sea water used to cool the engine and in the process collects and stores micro plastic from the ocean, without affecting engine performance.
As for ATVs it was the company's QuadRunner 125 from 1982 that started an industry by becoming the first production 4-wheel quad bike as well as a top seller.
Today the KingQuad 500, costing £9,359 including VAT, is the entry level ATV in a three-model line-up aimed at farming, estate management and on equestrian properties.
Looking to the next hundred years the plan is to follow a philosophy of customer care and value that has been the basis of Suzuki manufacturing since its foundation.
That manufacturing, backed by the slogan of ‘small cars for a big future', is accelerating the shift towards carbon neutrality and electrification, also backed by Suzuki's alliance with fellow Japanese brand Toyota.
And to demonstrate some of the diverse models on offer Suzuki set up a 100 Years Brand Event based on Cardiff Bay and including more than 100 miles of mixed city, rural and motorway driving plus a substantial off-road course.
The line-up included Hybrid versions of the Swift supermini, which was facelifted for 2021, the compact crossover S-Cross model, Ignis city car and Vitara SUV as well as the new Suzuki Across - a result of the Toyota partnership and based on the RAV4.
All of these models featured ALLGRIP 4-wheel drive and our tested model was the Vitara 1.4 petrol Hybrid in top spec SZ5 trim costing £28,399.
The car's Boosterjet petrol engine is supported by a lightweight 48V lithium-ion battery, larger than the 12V system used in the smaller cars, feels comfortable, positive and relaxing to drive and has an official Combined fuel consumption figure of 45.2 miles per gallon.
Our own return of exactly 42mpg was impressive in the circumstances, given that parts of the route involved stop-start city traffic and two circuits of a bleak yet fascinating landscape known as Walters Arena.
Once a 4,000-acre opencast coal surface mine, it was home to some of the largest earthmoving gear ever seen on the UK mainland before being topsoiled, planted with conifers and evolving into a major international motorsport complex.
The woodland trails, gravel paths and rock-strewn dirt roads, including some steep drops, were dealt with routinely by the Vitara SZ5, which has the selectable drive modes of Auto, Sport and Snow plus a Lock setting for extricating the car from snow, mud or sand.
A limited slip differential is also fitted to help brake any slipping wheel and transfer torque to the gripping wheels.
For many years Suzuki was known as the small car specialist and while these will remain the brands bread and butter products there's a move towards slightly larger and more premium vehicles too.
The Across, for instance, feels every bit as upmarket and capable as its Toyota cousin and the new Swace estate is based on the popular Toyota Corolla. Both have hybrid powertrains.
Exciting times then for Suzuki - and another 100 years of innovation.
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