Having raved about the Vitara model since its inception, it was only a matter of time before Iain Robertson would commit his own funds to acquiring an example and, having weighed up the prices and running costs, he made a realistic decision.
Since the current Vitara was launched, I have gained experience of driving various examples on racing circuits, on rally stages and on several continental jaunts. In each instance, the car has impressed me with its broad range of strengths. Having been given a mid-life round of upgrades earlier this year, which amounted to dropping the diesel engine option, replacing it with a 1.0-litre petrol unit (as used in the Swift and Baleno models) and making the truly excellent 1.4-litre BoosterJet engine its top power unit, its appeal has simply continued to grow.
To be fair, I would have moved heaven and earth to acquire a 1.4-litre model, believing, as I do, that it is one of the finest four-cylinder turbo-petrol engines in existence. Kicking out what seems like a very modest 137bhp, it turns Vitara into a veritable powerhouse that is as enjoyable to punt around like a well-engineered hot hatch, as it is to cruise in mile-eating mode on any open road trek.
However, let’s face it, we are all assaulted by runaway overheads on our cars and, whether the taxman, or the local garage, is chasing you for more ‘spondoolicks’, trying to place a lid on them is becoming increasingly tough. While the 1.4-litre falls into a hyper-efficient classification, the latest crop of 1.0-litre compact crossovers is certainly one route to avoiding perdition and the best by far comes from Suzuki’s stable, in the Vitara.
When you consider typical family car parameters, the practicality of a five-door hatchback is likely to be a prime requirement. A wieldy chassis would make it a liveable, fun proposition, for those moments when you desire quality motoring thrills. However, low running costs (insurance, road tax, servicing and fuel) should confirm the deal. Slam dunk that lot into your computations and a Suzuki Vitara 1.0 SZ-T comes out on the top of my heap.
Its 1.0-litre, 109bhp, three-cylinder power unit, backed up with 125lbs ft of torque, may seem like an unlikely contender for a 4.175m long, 1.61m tall car but the far from vocal power unit delivers a healthy top speed of around 111mph, having despatched the 0-60mph dash in a modest 11.1s, while emitting just 121g/km CO2 (NEDC rating) and a stated fuel return of 53.2mpg. Suzuki uses lightweight construction as its means to an end, tipping the scales at a mere 1,160kgs. However, this is not by way of cutting corners and ruining structural integrity, Suzuki having decided to engage finite computer analysis and the use of strengthening in all the right areas of the sub-structure. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, the car is so singularly undemanding of the driver, yet so eminently rewarding to drive, that you wonder why you had not contemplated sensible downsizing before.
Equipped with ISG, Suzuki’s lightweight but efficient integrated starter-generator, it stop:starts obligingly and imperceptibly at traffic signals and junctions. To be frank, I used to worry about this technology, as I feared that cylinder bore ‘wash’ might lead to the engine’s early demise. However, my concerns were unfounded and the benefits, in terms of reduced noise and the potential of reduced hydrocarbons being pumped into the cityscape somehow seems right.
The car’s ride and handling that you might expect to be compromised by virtue of its SUV-like dimensions is not and, riding supremely quietly on 215/65 section tyres, fitted to easy-to-clean 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels (finished in a smoke grey colour), it provides front-wheel drive grip in abundance. Yes. I have opted for a non-4x4 version, because however ‘smart’ is Suzuki’s drivetrain, the extra driven axles merely factor-in extra on-costs. Beautifully weighted steering provides an assured handling envelope and good suspension damping (by Monroe) gifts the car truly exceptional handling overall.
In SZ-T trim, one down from the top SZ5, it is exceedingly well-equipped, with climate control, rear privacy glass, a reversing camera and full connectivity options for mobiles and music. My outgone Baleno was in SZ5 trim and I thought that I might miss the various ‘automatic’ elements (auto-on headlamps and wipers; autonomous braking; distance cruise; lane control and keyless entry/start), except that I do not. It is zero hardship to switch the headlights on and off and, despite having accepted the occasional buzzer warnings issued by Baleno, in truth, I prefer to use my innate driving skills, rather than become too reliant on the car telling me what to do.
Vitara is also a good-looking family car, with its slightly wedged profile and excellent, easy access cabin space. Its false-floored boot provides 375-litres of space that can be extended to 710-litres by folding forwards the 60:40-split rear seats, with good out-of-sight stowage for personal possessions. The ‘soft-touch’ dashboard moulding is detailed with a fillet of metallised trim that looks and feels satisfyingly high-class and within which is set the touchscreen and, ahead of the driver, a typically clean instrument display. A colourful graphic information screen is located between the twin rev-counter and speedometer dials.
Do not turn up your nose at the prospect of living with a mere 1.0-litre crossover. This Suzuki more than proves its case in several important ways, not least with its sheer on-road eagerness, appealing all-round comfort and a driving position that is multi-adjustable (both driver’s seat and steering column provide a huge range of movement to suit all sizes of occupant). It is probably the strongest card in Suzuki’s hand and its sheer popularity suggests that the company has got the mix just right. I have dipped into its range of capabilities in just the first week of ownership, knowing from past experience that the engine is more than competent.
Priced at £18,999, a Suzuki Vitara in 1.0-litre SZ-T guise is a consummate all-round performer that can also be obtained in all-wheel drive and automatic forms. Although the three years’ contract hire funding (£183/month with full service package) has been arranged through Arnold Clark, I requested that Luscombe Suzuki (Leeds) be the handing over dealer, due to its highly-rated status, and I shall provide a series of running reports on the car in the coming months.