Gareth Butterfield reviews the latest version of the Suzuki Vitara
IF you’re as old as I am you might be able to cast your mind back more than 30 years to the original Suzuki Vitara.
It was a bit of a ground-breaking thing in a way, a vehicle designed to behave like any other hatchback on the road, but with off-roading capabilities including jacked-up suspension and four-wheel drive.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because just about every mainstream car in today’s industry works to the same brief. Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka, Range Rover Evoque, (I could go on) they’re all road cars that are chosen by people who presumably fear they might encounter a ploughed field on the school run.
So was the Vitara a trend-setter? Not exactly. Was it before its time? Well, perhaps not, because it sold pretty well back in the 80s and 90s.
In fact the Vitara carried on selling, evolving and developing and it’s now in its fourth generation. It’s recently been facelifted and improved, too, which is why I was keen to try it out.
Funnily enough, when this version was launched back in 2015 it returned the Vitara to the current crossover brief. The balance shifted from off-road credentials but uninspiring on-road ability, to a more road-focused car which could still perform off road if it was absolutely necessary. And It’s certainly the best Vitara yet.
The exterior is now more car-like than ever before and it’s now front-wheel drive only, with four-wheel drive as an option. So basically, Suzuki has realised that although people want to be seen driving around in an off-roader, they actually secretly want a car. And it’s made them a pretend off-roader. It’s just like the Nissan Juke, in that respect. What a weird journey the Vitara has been on.
Having said that, in recent years, Suzuki has become very adept at quietly getting on with producing rivals to the more mainstream, obvious offerings that are actually, in many ways, better options.
And I’d include the current Vitara in that crop.
Sure, there’s a few cheap touches inside, and the ride and handling are a bit unsophisticated, but performance from the tiddly 1.0 or 1.4 petrol engines is good enough and it’s light enough to feel “nippy”, which is a compliment you’d not normally give to a crossover.
The dashboard layout is very simple and functional. Everything works well enough, but there are nicer places to sit in this sector. That said, it’s comfortable, there’s a good driving position, visibility is good and you’ll not feel short-changed on interior space or room for luggage.
And then there’s the price. This is where the Vitara really starts to make the most sense. Skimp on the spec and you could have one for just under £17,500. For that you’ll get an SZ-T with LED lights, a reversing camera, bluetooth setup, sat nav, smartphone connectivity and cruise control. There’s also a decent amount of safety kit bundled in.
Hop up to the SZ5 and, especially once you tick a few boxes, the price becomes less competitive, but you still get a lot for your money.
The marvellous thing about the Vitara, and this is true of a lot of the Suzuki range though, is that it’s un-fussy and competent in a non-glamorous way.
Yes, there might be cooler small SUVs out there and some might be better built, but the Vitara does everything it’s supposed to do very well and its price reflects its relatively back-to-basics approach.
It’s fun, practical, functional and cheap. There’s little I can say to put it down.
Have a look at one for yourself if you don’t believe me, you might be surprised. I was.