IAIN ROBERTSON

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Had you told Iain Robertson that acquiring and running a 1.0-litre crossover motorcar was a rum idea, he might have agreed with you a couple of years ago but, today, 4,000 miles down the road, he can also tell you he’s never been happier!

The most frequent question that I am asked is, ‘You write about new cars, so what do you drive?’. My previous ownerships/stewardships (using my own money, prior to using another’s funding options for the past six years) have included a smattering of exotic machines, before donning a sensible hat and aligning my driving to Skoda for no less than 20 years. For the three years, I have returned to Suzuki, to take full advantage of its brand affordability and integrity.

While I love cars, I am not alone in being a realist. They are a costly means to mobility and independence, afflicted by a perpetually climbing overheads graph and scarily dipping residual values, the factor that led me into the leasing arena, although PCPs (and their like) are no longer part of my recommendation to others. I have never understood the accountant’s view of cars as being ‘assets’…unless you invest in certain classics, which raises a spectre related to reliability, practicality and slamming the miles onto something possessing age-induced fragility. Ignore most dealerships’ promises; a filing cabinet can retain better second-hand value, in some cases!

My last three cars have been powered by three-cylinder engines displacing 1.0-litre capacities: Skoda Citigo (non-turbo), Suzukis Baleno and Vitara (turbocharged). I love their gutsiness, eagerness and fascinatingly supportive performance envelopes. As means of personal transport, whether for private, or business use, they remain unbeatable, as they dent neither the environment, nor my back pocket, both of which are vital traits. However, they are also characterful. Naturally, small capacity engines can lead to ‘overdriving’ but, treated judiciously, they can be hustled along at disrespectfully indecent but non-damaging rates, which adds immensely to their fun appeal.

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‘My’ Vitara is fun. I parenthesise the possession, because the car has been funded by Arnold Clark, a major national car leasing specialist. It costs me £180/month, which includes road tax, all servicing and tyres for three years. There was no up-front deposit and, at the end of the term, the Vitara is handed back to the lease company, without additional cash penalties. Actual ownership is an old-fashioned, ‘Englishman’s-home-is-his-castle’ ethos, into which I no longer place any stock.

Thus far, six months after collecting the car from Luscombe Suzuki (the Leeds-based multiple ‘Suzuki Dealer of the Year Award’ winner), it has covered a modest 4,069 miles. It costs me £209 annually for fully comprehensive insurance and returns a consistent 46.8mpg on 2-star petrol. The only additional cost incurred has been for the transfer of my private, non-dating registration plates. Hassle-free was my intention; hassle-free is what I have.

However, with the hard facts out of the way, I can inform you that the Suzuki Vitara 1.0SZ-T is pleasing to the eye, its LED lighting signature and tasteful chrome appliques gifting it an upmarket stance, while providing me with a first-class and comfortably supportive driving position in a refined, well-built and generously equipped cabin. Having endured a recent, one-way, First Class train journey (Newark on Trent to London Kings Cross), I can confirm that I hope I shall never require rail travel again; the Vitara does it more involvingly, convincingly, at less expenditure and the ‘time-saving’ is an irrelevance.

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Excellent Suzuki cabin packaging is a key benefit across the entire range of its models and even though my two metres of height dictates the rearmost/lowest driver’s seat setting in Vitara, there is still space behind me for another tall occupant. Its boot, with bumper level load height, is very accommodating (375-litres) and there are plenty of useful storage slots around the vehicle (door pockets, glove box, centre console and either side of the boot).

Driving through a 5-speed manual gearbox, the 109bhp motor delivers a punchy mid-range and the crispest of change quality. Moderately tall gearing means that 70mph demands not quite 2,700rpm but the engine emits a distant thrum and steep hills require only a throttle squeeze, as abundant torque (125lbs ft) belies the unit’s small displacement, aided by a kerbweight of just over 1.1-tonnes. Incidentally, the car is rated for towing up to 1.2-tonnes.

One of the great joys of Vitara motoring lies in its relaxed mile-eating potential. Based on the same platform as my previous Baleno model (shared with the Swift), the car’s handling and road-holding envelope is exemplary. Both minimal body-roll and pitch-free, supported by exquisite damping, communicative steering and outstanding grip levels, Vitara’s lane-changing agility and fluent progress are no less than marvellous and a lesson to other carmakers of how to achieve impeccable balance.

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My only disappointment lies with the power of its headlights on dipped beam; while the light cast is well-defined, its reach is inadequate and is tempting me to research the aftermarket potential for greater illumination for the frequent early-morning and late-night drives that I undertake. The Xenon headlamps of my previous Baleno were excellent by comparison. Yet, as that is the only enduring ‘annoyance’ of the past six months, it has not been insurmountable, as the front foglamps have been drawn into use, when no other road users are in my vicinity (it is only illegal, if you get caught, ask any Renault owner!).

Suzuki has developed its Vitara hatch into a lively and well-positioned model. It is the Japanese firm’s best-seller in the UK by a long chalk and, while I believe that its recent removal of the 1.0-litre engine option is akin to also cutting off its nose to spite its face, while I am more than contented to run this example for the next two-and-a-half years of its rental term, I am also looking forward to what its replacement might be…from Suzuki and probably badged Vitara!

Conclusion:      Driver satisfaction means many things to many people. After six months of delightful usage, I have no qualms about recommending a Suzuki Vitara to drivers of all types.