The all-new Suzuki Vitara – it lives!
"You feel at home very quickly"
“The all-new Suzuki Vitara takes exceptional SUV expertise - and builds on it. Rugged design, unique ALLGRIP 4-wheel Drive, Radar Brake Support, Euro NCAP 5-star safety rating and a voice-activated audio navigation system that links to your smartphone are fused with an abundance of exciting personalisation options. All this, and more, make the stylish new Vitara a thrilling SUV that you’ll want to drive, and drive, and drive.” – that’s the blurb on the Suzuki website. Now for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I’ve been looking around for a stylish replacement for my Jaguar XKR for a little while now, and replacing a beautiful classic like that has not been easy. Don’t get me wrong, my passion for my beloved Jag has not gone away. It is, was and always will be my beautiful baby, but my big black cat was never going to be for keeps. Basically, when you get to my age, the low-slung petrol guzzling ‘purrfect’ car just wasn’t practical for the long haul. It was lovely while it lasted.
On reflection, what I really need is a car that is reliable, big enough for passengers, the dog and the grandkids, but with light handling and a fun and funky drive. I may be over 50 but I am still a hip chick at heart, and justifying the sale to everyone else I know meant that anything less than funky wouldn’t cut it. Add to that my frequent visits to the Ortho department to glue my arthritic old frame back together, and anything too low slug or heavy with limited all-round visibility just couldn’t make the grade.
This month, Suzuki’s new family-friendly crossover has been put to the test. I tried out the auto, 1.6-litre, fully-loaded version first. Maybe it was because of my love affair with the (also automatic) Jag, but the gearbox wasn’t a patch on what I was used to. Perhaps a car of this size doesn’t really need an auto box. I nearly turned round and walked out, but as it was the only part of the car I was disappointed in, I thought I’d try out the manual version, and the difference for me was evident the minute I pulled into the road. The gears were smooth, the pick up through the changes were swift and the acceleration was exciting. The seat was comfortable, the ride was smooth and refined and the cornering was tight and completely on the money. I found it a dream to drive and with prices starting from £13,999 (1.6 SZ4 5-Speed Manual), it is certainly affordable and one of the best-priced crossovers - it’s over £4,000 less than the cheapest petrol Qashqai. Even a top of the range, 1.6-litre diesel costs less than any diesel variant of the Nissan. When even the base model is equipped with air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control, it becomes apparent just how much of a bargain the Vitara really is.
Suzuki says it wanted to replicate the fun handling of its Swift supermini for the Vitara, and it seems it’s done a fine job. The suspension is well controlled over bumps without being too firm, and body roll is kept under control as well. The Vitara is very easy to see out of which, combined with light, accurate steering, makes it a pleasant companion for city driving.
The inside of the cabin was very spacious and will seat 5 adults in comfort. With 375 litres of storage, plus the underfloor boot, getting about this summer will be hassle-free. The Vitara is a lesson in simplicity: It’s comfortable and easy to drive, yet is roomy enough for my growing sons to stretch out in the back with all of their assorted gadgets.
The satnav was very easy to programme, although I found the screen awkward to follow. The map appears in a letterbox, due to the additional information displayed at the top and bottom of the screen. So, whilst the system works fine, I can’t zoom in to an acceptable level to get all the information I want about my route.
The nav also seems a bit cheap, and it’s not the only part of the car that lacks a premium feel. The brake-assist system is a little frustrating: It’s designed to alert drivers of potential obstructions, but the system is very sensitive. It’s been set off by traffic islands, a roadside skip and even speed bumps. These hazards are worth being aware of, but the warning buzzer can get irritating. And yes, you can turn it off, although doing so is just asking for trouble.
Suzuki did recall the car for a recalibration of the radar sensor last month, and the software update only took an hour, but the system remains sensitive.
In terms of running costs, the Vitara is proving a hit. A fill-up is around £54, while economy of 50.1mpg is great news for the family budget.
Style-wise, the car has taken some serious design cues from the Range Rover Evoque. The wraparound headlamps and chrome grille bare a passing resemblance to the British crossover, while its straight edges and smart alloys give it a chunky, purposeful look. The back, however, isn’t as successful, with a raised rear and ungainly lights.
The Vitara’s off-road roots mean you get a high driving position, which provides an excellent view of the road ahead. It’s also really comfortable in the front and rear, and the cabin also feels light and airy due to the double sunroof that lets plenty of light in, although the trade-off is limited headroom for six-footers in the back due to the space needed for the panels to retract.
The sunroof only comes with the top-spec SZ5 model, but it’s part of a long equipment list. As well as safety essentials such as seven airbags and the aforementioned brake assist, you get satnav, DAB radio, a reversing camera, cruise control and more. Plus, many of these features come as standard across the range, which is even more impressive.
One issue I have with the interior is the cheap feel of some of the trim. While the Vitara is a budget model, the hard plastics make it feel like Suzuki has really scrimped. Still, in everyday use, the SUV is a well thought out and family-friendly car. It’s easy to load items into the boot, and there are no awkward lips or arches to catch bags on - there’s a hidden area under the floor too.
When driving the Suzuki, you feel at home very quickly. It’s still responsive, with a broad spread of power and decent motorway refinement. The handling is a bit light at speed, but it’s good fun on twisty roads.
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