Nine months in, Suzuki Vitara remains a total sweetie
Maintaining complete confidence in his choice of car and with 27 months left to run of its lease term, Iain Robertson reflects on his compact taller class of car and its innumerable positive attributes, none of which fall into a typical justification category.
When Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) developed its Escort RS2000 in 1974, it was powered by a cast-iron 2.0-litre ‘Pinto’, single overhead-camshaft engine that developed a cool 109bhp. Although very nose-heavy, a factor that hindered its dynamics somewhat, by inferring a tendency towards ‘plough-on’ understeer, the Escort was exceptionally light (around 800kgs), rear-wheel drive and delivered not only a meaty soundtrack but also a moderate turn of speed.
Of course, that sort of ‘punch’ from a fairly large capacity motor in a car powered normally by a choice of 1.1 to 1.6-litre ‘Kent’ pushrod engines was standout excellent in era. My first experience of the 3-cylinder, twin-cam, 12-valve 1.0-litre turbo engine in my former Suzuki Baleno convinced me of its stellar capabilities. It developed 109bhp in a car tipping the scales at 780kgs and, while notably lacking in ‘gruntiness’ (as a result of being half the cubic capacity of the Pinto), it could out-accelerate (0-60mph in 8.8s) and deliver a higher top speed (124mph) than the Escort…confirming truly the technological advancements made in the 44 years that separated the two cars.
The identical 1.0-litre unit powers my current Vitara. Under normal circumstances, it would be fair to question its slogging potential, after all, Vitara weighs around a tonne and features slightly more ‘barn-door’ aerodynamics than a compact, front-driven hatchback. Yet, ‘wee’ Hungarian-built Vitara gives a superb account of itself in daily driving. It does the 60mph dash in around 10.5s and tops out at around 118mph. However, its fuel return is seldom less than 55mpg in the usual daily cut-and-thrust, although that figure has crept up to nearer 60mpg on Covid-19 afflicted roads (markedly lighter traffic conditions), a figure that the Escort owner could never attain.
Driveability is the key. The turbocharger boosts from as low as 1,250rpm and top gear (5th) can be selected at little more than 30mph, without a grumble. Yet, its gearing is leggy enough to register less than 3,000rpm at an indicated 80mph motorway cruise. Inclines demand little more than a squeeze on the throttle pedal without a need to downshift to overcome the power-to-weight issue. The engine is a little gem. However, Suzuki has seen fit to delist the Vitara 1.0-litre from UK sale, for reasons related to its exhaust emissions, which can be beaten more readily by the latest 1.4-litre Boosterjet 4-cylinder unit, in conjunction with 48v mild-hybrid technology. Sad. Especially so, as the 1.4 cannot match the 1.0-litre’s frugality.
Something that I noticed on the Indian-built Baleno was its utterly amazing paint job. Over the two years that I leased that model, apart from washing it weekly, I applied car wax only twice during the term. Vitara will soon have its first coat of wax in my hands. Yet, it looks as though it hardly needs any. The finish still bubbles-up readily, when my local Latvians perform their foamy weekly task, and the paint finish’s resistance to scratches and stone-chips is almost legendary in my experience. The Baleno was precisely the same. Commonly regarded as a ‘budget brand’, Suzuki’s high standards in this respect are an example to many other carmakers of how to apply a pristine finish to a vehicle.
The interior is also wearing well, even though the Vitara is now showing almost 7,000 miles on its odometer. The cloth upholstery is very stain resistant, while the soft-touch dashboard moulding appears not to suffer from static dust attraction, demanding little more than a quick sweep every now and then of a microfibre/lint-free cloth that I keep in the driver’s door pocket. In SZ-T trim specification, one down from the top SZ5 level, there is a pleasant absence of blank switches and the standard sat-nav touchscreen (which works very well) and levels of connectivity (my iPod mostly, as I no longer use a mobile-phone) meet my requirements perfectly.
It is interesting to note that this front-wheel drive version of a car that can be ordered with all-wheel drive possesses the handling of a sports hatch. It never ceases to amaze me with the accuracy of its delightfully weighted steering and the accompanying lack of body-roll through bends. Push it too hard and a throttle-lift brings it back into order, without histrionics. Its throttle adjustability is exquisite. As a result, driver fatigue is simply not a problem and, as past reports have revealed, I can cover large mileages without complaints. Yet, the ride quality is sublime; the Vitara’s stability and poise, even on tramlined and rippled road surfaces, is a mark of excellence.
Factor in a low insurance premium (fully comprehensive, for me, is still less than £200 annually), low-cost annual maintenance and the fact that the tyres, on their 17.0-inch diameter five-spoke alloy wheels, are still barely worn, helped by a relatively lightweight construction, and you can see that operating a Suzuki Vitara, as a business vehicle, is a most cost-effective gesture. As a member of the six-foot-six ‘club’, I am able to inform you that the cabin is well-proportioned and more than spacious enough for my personal needs. Interestingly, there is space behind my driver’s seat setting for another six-footer and the boot is big enough, once again, for all of my baggage/shopping requirements.
The Vitara costs me just under £190 per month on an all-inclusive lease programme through Arnold Clark (no deposit, no end of term ‘balloon’ payment). While I cannot state that Arnold Clark is ‘the best’ of breed and I have spotted deals that are equally impressive at franchises like Leeds-based Luscombe Suzuki and Swindon-based Pebley Beach Suzuki, next time I need a new car, I shall shop around but you can be assured that it will be another Suzuki.
Conclusion: It is great to drive a car that places a smile on your face. The Suzuki Vitara’s consistency in this respect is immensely fulfilling. It is not a hybrid. It is not an EV. Yet, it is a low-cost, high-economy, low-polluting petrol alternative, which makes sense for the moment.