The Suzuki Vitara shares its platform with the SX4 S-Cross, the other mid-sized crossover in Suzuki’s range. Thanks to a raised ride height and more rugged angular styling, the Vitara is the more overtly off-road looking model, but a 100mm shorter wheelbase and a smaller boot mean it’s more of a Nissan Juke rival, while the S-Cross takes on the Nissan Qashqai.

Suzuki has a long history of building hard-wearing, affordable small 4x4s, so its no surprise that the Vitara is offered in both front and four-wheel drive configurations. There’s a choice of a 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel engines, both of which fell surprisingly sporty, as well as manual and automatic gearboxes.

A wide choice of exterior paint, a contrasting roof and a variety of interior trim colours add a high level of personalisation, while safety equipment includes an auto braking function, adaptive cruise control and seven airbags as standard. 

Our choice: Suzuki Vitara 1.6 VVT ALLGRIP

Styling

Park the Vitara side by side with the SX4 S-Cross and they look virtually the same size, but the stat sheet reveals the Vitara is actually 125mm shorter overall with a 100mm shorter wheelbase.

It’s still 40mm longer, 10mm wider and 45mm taller than the Nissan Juke though so it has a sizeable presence on the road. The chunky styling is modern and fresh and we particularly like the chrome grille that lines up perfectly with the headlights, the squared off rear wheel arch and the interchangeable front and rear bumpers.

Customers can choose between a sleeker look with more chrome trim around the bodywork, or a more rugged package with front and rear skid plates and more utilitarian plastic moulding along the doors.

Inside, the interior design is lifted by a large central clock and a smart, seven-inch touchscreen that’s standard on mid-grade trims and above. The instrument cluster is simple and easy to rear, while a strip of plastic that stretches across the dash can be ordered in a variety of colours and textures.

There are still an abundance of hard, scratchy plastic all over the cabin but they al feel built to last rather than flimsy. If you want to emphasise the feeling of space, a panoramic roof with a large 560mm opening is offered as an option.

Driving

Suzuki says its aim with the Vitara was to make it drive like the Swift supermini, and it’s not as far off as you might think. The extra weight and higher centre of gravity means it doesn’t change direction quite as quickly and rolls a little more, but it still clings on to the road eagerly when you up the pace.

The diesel model sounds but rough on anything more than half throttle, but provides plenty of punch and a broad spread of torque, while the petrol engine sounds sporty and loves to be revved. Curiously, the diesel model has a slightly softer suspension setup than the petrol so it’s the one to go for if comfort is top of your list of priorities, but both models ride well and deliver decent refinement at motorway speeds.

The raised driving position and light steering make it well-suited to driving around town, but if you do order the optional ALLGRIP four-wheel drive system and fancy some light off-roading, it’s more than happy to oblige.

Four transmission settings - Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock – change where the power is sent, ranging from a two-wheel drive fuel-saving mode when you’re cruising in Auto, to permanent four-wheel drive modes like Snow and Lock that help extricate you from sticky spots. Sport sends power to the rear tyres when needed, according to throttle inputs.

Reliability

Although some of the interior plastics feel quite cheap, the overall quality of the Vitarta is impressive - it feels rugged and built to last as a family car.

Traditionally Suzuki SUVs are tough cars, that will take a few knocks and keep going, and there’s no reason to think the Vitara is any different. Our 2014 Driver Power satisfaction survey backed that up with Suzuki coming 12th overall for reliability, with a score of 92.3 per cent. It’s too early to tell whether the Vitara’s electrics are as reliable as its mechanicals though, and it is a high-spec car.

A range of advanced safety systems, previously only seen in more premium models, are available. These include adaptive cruise control, seven airbags as standard and an auto braking function that scans the road ahead (when travelling above 4mph) and applies the brakes automatically if it senses a collision is imminent. 

Practicality

Because it’s 125mm shorter overall, and with a 100mm shorter wheelbase than the SX4 S-Cross, the Vitara doesn’t have the same amount of interior space, but is still a spacious family car.

The high-sided design means there’s lots of rear headroom and legroom is generous enough for all but the tallest adults. The boot space of 375 litres (increasing to 1,120 litres with the rear seats folded) is 55 litres less than the S-Cross, but 21 litres more than its main rival, the Nissan Juke.

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It’s a well-thought-out shape to, square with a wide opening and a moveable boot floor creates a loading area that’s level with the boot lip, plus a covered storage space underneath. Up front, there’s large storage bins in the doors , although the glove box is a bit on the small side.

As an all-seasons car, the four-wheel drive version is a practical choice – it might not climb a mountain or cross a river like the Land Rover Defender, but it’s perfectly capable of crossing a muddy field or finding traction when two-wheel drive cars will be scrabbling for grip on icy roads.

Running Costs

Because it weighs relatively little (1,160kg in four-wheel drive petrol guise, and 65kg less for the two-wheel drive version), the Vitara’s running costs should be among the lowest in the class. It can’t quite dip under the 100g/km barrier for CO2 emissions, but it’s close – the most efficient 1.6 DDiS diesel returns CO2 emissions of 106g/km with the six-speed manual transmission, or 111g/km if you order it with ALLGRIP four-wheel drive.

The two-wheel drive petrol model returns 53.3mpg with the five-speed manual transmission (51.3mpg with the six-speed automatic), while the four-wheel drive petrol model returns 50.4mpg and 134g/km with the manual ‘box and 49.5mpg and 138g/km with the auto.

Suzuki offers a range of fixed-cost servicing packages, and by fitting even the entry-level models with air-conditioning, Bluetooth, DAB radio and alloys it’s working hard on improving residual values. 

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