Suzuki has transformed its Vitara from a full-blown 4x4, into a sporty crossover. Geoff Ashcroft takes the new model for a test drive.
Suzuki’s latest Vitara is small, light and surprisingly fun to drive.
Once a utilitarian 4x4, Suzuki’s Vitara has been neatly transformed into a sporty crossover, with improved styling and better driving dynamics than its predecessor.
As a crossover, it now sits among good company, including Nissan’s Qashqai, Skoda’s Yeti and Vauxhall’s Mokka, so the stakes are high for the Japanese contender. And while it looks and sounds familiar – Suzuki has a long history of Vitara production – this latest model represents an all-new approach.
Its platform might be shared with the SX4 S-Cross sister car, yet the Vitara is more upright, square-cornered, just as a high-rise SUV should be. It also means lots of headroom and legroom inside too.
If you are coming to the new Vitara from an old Grand Vitara, then prepare yourself for a shock. Where the Grand Vitara was much more old-school, the young pretender is lower, lighter and less powerful, but far more entertaining to drive.
Under the bonnet is a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine which is enough to set pulses racing, despite its small size and 138hp.
Fuel efficiency and keen performance shine through, and my average of 42mpg was not to be sniffed at, given the entertainment it provided. Such sprightly performance is backed up with engaging handling, it is not what you would expect given the car’s lofty stance. This S version is almost heading towards hot-hatch territory.
Load space isn’t the most generous, though rear seats can be folded.
With AllGrip 4wd, the Vitara S combines enjoyment with modest off-road practicality. A rotary dial lets you choose from Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock modes.
While Auto is a fuel-saving front-drive format, Snow and Lock functions let you push the boundaries when heading off-road and make sure all four wheels do their bit. Sport mode sends power to the rear wheels when needed.
There is a bit of wind noise at higher road speeds, though the car remains light and easy to thread along country lanes.
For oil burner enthusiasts, there is a 118hp DDiS turbo diesel elsewhere in the range, but with up to 52mpg on the combined cycle, why would you?
Sporty interior brings plenty of detail - and comfort.
Our test car’s S level trim brings sportiness to the road, or farm track, and sees splashes of colour throughout the interior as standard.
While the red stitching on the seats and steering wheel does define the Vitara S interior, those anodised air vents seem to emit a shade of pink in certain light and might not be to everyone’s taste.
Spec levels are impressive and this model includes DAB radio, navigation system, keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, LED projector headlamps and electrically adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors.
Safety kit has not been scrimped on either. ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution with brake assist, hill hold and hill descent control, multiple airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, alarm, immobiliser and deadlocks are part of the standard kit list.
Given its £20,000 price tag, the Vitara S is certainly worth a closer look. The only downside could be the annual or 9,000-mile service intervals.