JAPANESE car manufacturer Suzuki has achieved a top reputation for producing four wheel drive vehicles and the Vitara which was first launched over a quarter of a century ago helped the family owned firm to achieve this coveted position writes Bryan Longworth.
Now the latest version of the Vitara with its distinctive styling that resembles the Range Rover Evoque has just been launched in the compact SUV market where the competition includes the Nissan Juke and Citroen C4 Cactus.
In fact the similarity is so close that one admirer actually asked me if it was a Range Rover when parked at my local supermarket and I had to assure him that it was in fact the all new European built Suzuki Vitara which is available with two or four wheel drive.
My test car which was built at the Suzuki factory in Hungary was the Vitara 1.6 SZ5 costing £18,499 on the road with two wheel drive and statistics of a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a top speed of 112mph, zero to 62mph time of 11.5 seconds a combined fuel consumption of 53.3mpg and emissions of 123g/km.
The Vitara is available with 1.6 petrol and diesel engines and three grades with the SZ5 like my test car being the top grade which includes a huge amount of standard equipment such as the double sliding panoramic sunroof and very effective LED projector headlights.
Also standard on this model is radar brake support which warns the driver of the risk of a collision with the vehicle in front and if it senses that a collision is highly likely it automatically applies the brakes which is a very useful piece of kit for preventing expensive shunts and is worthy of consideration for an insurance premium reduction!
On the road I liked the light steering and the slick and easy to change five speed manual gearbox with the handling and ride comfort level making the latest Vitara a very satisfying car especially for owners who really enjoy driving.
There is a roomy and comfortable cabin and the switchgear and instruments are well designed and easy to see and use but I was really impressed by the analogue clock on the fascia which must be the largest on any current car and is much easier to see than the diminutive digital clocks that are now on the majority of cars.
The luggage area has a capacity of 375 litres with the rear seat in an upright position but under the load area there is no spare wheel and just a puncture repair kit which sadly now seems to be the norm on most cars and is not to the liking of many owners.
I was not too keen on the touch screen controls for the radio which were not very user friendly and rather distracting when driving compared to manual controls which I would have preferred but when the screen is used in conjunction with the rear view camera for reversing it offers the best rear view of any such device I have ever come across with remarkable clarity.
Overall the Suzuki designers have done a good job on updating the latest Vitara and I found that apart from those who thought it was a Range Rover hardly any recognised it as being a Suzuki.
This market sector is far more competitive than when the first Vitara was launched in 1988 but the latest model should sell well because of its distinctive styling which provides it with plenty of street appeal.
Verdict: New Vitara is a real looker.
Model: New Suzuki Vitara 1.6 SZ5 2 wheel drive.
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol.
Output: 120PS @ 6000rpm.
Transmission: Five speed manual.
Top speed: 112mph.
Acceleration: 0 to 62mph 11.5 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 53.3mpg combined.
CO2 emissions: 123g/km.
Price: £18,499 on the road.