First Drive: Suzuki Vitara
Sector: Crossover Price: £13,999–£21,299 Fuel: 50.4–67.2mpg CO2: 106–131g/km
Suzuki has clearly developed something of a Land Rover obsession of late, claiming the new Vitara looks like an Evoque.
No it doesn't. Elements of the frontal treatment and the sloping roofline are where all similarities end, because the Vitara, though visually inoffensive, lacks the daring of the chunky faux Range Rover.
Whatever your view, there was a delightful honesty about the robust, no nonsense Vitara which is now clearly deemed superfluous to ever-shifting SUV market requirements. Thing is, in replacing rural rugged with upmarket urban, has Suzuki thrown the baby out with the bath water?
Suzuki has taken an age to produce a car for this ever-burgeoning segment. And joining an increasingly crowded party so late would suggest that a fairly striking USP or two are needed to avoid the Vitara rising without trace. Especially since those unpasteurised milk and Kendal Mint Cake aficionados that favoured previous generations of the car may find less here to offer similar, mud-spattered appeal.
Priced from £13,999 to £21,299 and targeting the likes of Skoda's clever Yeti, the Renault Captur, Fiat's 500X and the Nissan Juke, the range includes a choice of 1.6 petrol or 1.6 diesel powerplants allied to either front or all-wheel drive, with automatic transmission available on petrol versions alone.
Based on the S-Cross, Suzuki suggests that UK punters will display a 60:40 favouritism for petrol over diesel. Moreover, given that all-wheel drive is only available on top of the range versions of both powertrains, the company is clearly all too cognisant of the scant 10% up-take of all-wheel drive in the SUV market.
On board, swathes of hard plastics abound, but the overall appearance is tidy enough, and Suzuki has been fairly artful in ensuring that the fingers always encounter higher quality and even soft touch materials whenever the hands drift into the vicinity of switchgear.
The driving position elicits no complaints, with reach and rake adjustment to the steering ganging up with more than adequate leather n' suede seat comfort to offer helm ergonomics that can't be bettered in the segment. And the standard equipment specification is notably lavish, especially higher up the grade ladder.
Sadly, a combination of petrol engine and six speed manual transmission wasn’t available, so we focussed on the top-of-the-range diesel, which, with CO2 emissions of only 111g/km, make the diesel all-wheel drive Vitara the cleanest non-hybrid 4×4 on the market.
Notchy manual gearshift aside, this is an otherwise entirely pleasant drive, steering tidily, and cornering with a flat stance and fine body control. Damping's very good and progress largely supple, though -in the interests of making the car handle with a pleasing agility and poise absent from anything previously sporting a rhino astern- it does feel a whisker over-sprung.
True off-road capability will inevitably be shackled by just 185mm of ground clearance and a prominent front overhang, but a transmission tunnel-mounted drive mode select switch makes operating a 4×4 system no one will ever use a doddle.
The Vitara's biggest problem could be competition from its own, slightly larger, better looking, AWD equippable and price-overlapping sibling, the S-Cross.