IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Having hinted at it previously, in testing the latest Suzuki Vitara, now powered by the firm’s unfeasibly teensy petrol engine, Iain Robertson can confirm that it is the world’s greatest power unit bar none and underscores Suzuki’s lack of diesel engine availability.

When Suzuki announced around 18 months ago that it was dropping diesel engines from its UK model range, I shall admit to feeling a frisson of ‘kneejerk’ about the decision. Let me make it quite clear: when our government decided to demonise diesel, it was a ‘kneejerk’ reaction from a typical body influenced by something else that is not always either truthful, or realistic. Let’s face it, the manner by which our so-called government has handled anything to do with the current ‘B-word’, sort of suggests that managing its way out of a moist paper bag is similarly outside its range of capabilities.

Here is a scientific fact for you: diesel engines are ‘cleaner’ than petrols. I am not suggesting that some filtration and particulate issues did not exist in the past but VW’s ill-directed ‘dieselgate’ problems should never have led to worldwide environmental blackballing.

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This leads to an intriguing question. What makes a good car these days? Sound engineering, responsive handling, low running costs and remarkable performance seem like a decent combination. Suppose I told you that a Suzuki Vitara (list prices, pre-desperate-dealer-discounting, start at £16,999; the test car is £20,349) is the most tremendous and capable all-rounder? It is an SUV/crossover class of car. It has bags of interior space, easy entry and exit and a simply outstanding level of grip, engaging handling and assured roadholding.

Now, consider that the same Vitara is powered by a 1.0-litre (yes, 998cc), three-cylinder (yes, not four), petrol-turbo engine. You might find the details hard to swallow, when contrasted with the Vitara’s dimensions and market intentions. However, this phenomenal Suzuki engine delivers no less than 109bhp, 125lbs ft of torque, a posted 49.5mpg (although I attained 53.8mpg with a little extra effort) and emits a modest 129g/km CO2. These figures are excellent, considering that the test example drives through a six-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifts) and is lugging around 1,180kgs kerbweight.

DSCOf course, I would love to punt around all day long in a hot hatchback but the reality is that most of them are too compromised for me to live with…harsh suspenders, non-compliant ride quality and being too demanding for today’s crowded and increasingly speed-restricted roads. My personal demands dictate first-class handling and damping as a priority, because chucking the car around is significantly more fun than a 140mph top whack. Now, that is unfeasible. Speed is virtually a worthless criterion these days. Yet, I want to drive an engine that still plays gainfully. I want to hear it working and it needs to produce a pleasant noise, with the revs rising and falling harmoniously. The 1.0-litre Suzuki unit does it and more.

For the past (almost) three years, I have been spoilt by driving a Suzuki Baleno. It is powered by the same engine as this Vitara in a somewhat more compact and lighter weight package. I also enjoy its regular 50+mpg frugality, almost regardless of the velocity at which I drive it (when I can get away with it). Therefore, you can imagine my surprise in discovering that this Vitara can deliver an easy 50mpg in regular use. If anything, its handling envelope is even better than that of my Baleno, which serves only to underscore what I have stated about the high competence levels of the current Vitara since its introduction.

DSCPut simply, the cocktail of a remarkable 1.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, allied to unrivalled chassis engineering results in a car of such sky-high dynamic competence that I am unable to name a better one. In test car form, you start the engine, depress the throttle pedal, steer and go like the wind! Minor road surface irregularities are dealt with imperiously by the 215/55 section tyres fitted on attractive 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, while potentially damaging transverse ridges and non-linear road surface imperfections are muscled over without so much as a minor body tremor. Yet, the driver benefits from the superior damping and perfectly weighted springs. I promise you confidently, this Suzuki possesses zero rivals. Go test one. See and feel for yourself.

Interestingly, as a driver who enjoys his creature comforts, I am exceptionally well catered for by the test car’s businesslike SZ-T trim level. Okay, I miss the extra timepiece located between the two airvents in the soft-touch top-dash-centre…except there is a digital clock in the main instrument pod and another unit (unsynchronised, because it is of an ‘aftermarket’ type) in the infotainment touch-screen, which also features a reversing camera. While the base-level SZ4 trim does provide owners with a useful CD-player slot, SZ-T and SZ5 variants make do without one; a factor that Suzuki has never addressed for those of us possessing CD collections (a grave omission, in my book!). I also miss slightly the pushbutton starter (and stopper) but turning a key in the steering lock is not a major effort. SZ-T trim also does without rain-sensing wipers, auto-on headlamps, plus several of the electronic driver aids, about which I am fairly nonchalant anyway.

DSCMy mobile pairs-up rapidly with the touch-screen, allowing me to play some of my music collection, as stored on it, through the car’s first-rate digital stereo system. The in-built sat-nav works efficiently, complete with ‘pinch’ adjustment, although ‘google maps’ on my mobile is also available, should I need it. The air-con (not climate control) works efficaciously and the cloth upholstery is high-quality, comfortable and supportive. Vitara’s adjustable-floor boot is accommodating, with up to 710-litres of space available (rear seats folded down).

However, it is the tremendously engaging and neutral, front-wheel-drive, on-road behaviour that is the car’s major attraction. Its tiny engine never appears to struggle and, given its head and a ‘German motorway’, a seemingly unfeasible 125mph is possible, after despatching the 0-60mph sprint in around 11.9s (which reads slower than it is) and enjoying the engine’s perfectly matched torque and gearing. What’s not to love?

Conclusion:      Extraordinarily impressive, the Suzuki Vitara 1.0SZ-T Auto is unquestionably the car that I have no issues in recommending to potential buyers seeking an ideal blend of frugality, performance, handling, ease of driving and space-conscious packaging. It is a consummate car for today.

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