► Vitara with 1.4 turbo
► AWD as standard
► Good spec in stylish package
Bigger Suzukis have come and gone, but the Vitara is still going strong. The Vitara S sits at the top of Suzuki’s Vitara range and a very fine car it is too.
There is one problem with using one model name for such a long time, though – the first Vitara debuted in 1988, by the way – and it’s that the casual onlooker could easily fail to notice that behind the badge lurks a completely different vehicle from whichever Vitara they’re thinking of… probably a frumpy budget 4×4.
Fast-forward to this current-shape Vitara, with us since 2015, and you’ll find a neat, elegant, road-orientated SUV with genuine off-road 4×4 ability. And this range-topping S sprinkles a slightly higher level of equipment and a tremendous engine on the formula.
Think the Suzuki Vitara isn’t your sort of thing? You may want to reassess.
Tell us bout that ‘tremendous’ engine then
The heart of the Hungarian-built Vitara S is the non-laggy turbocharged four-cylinder 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine, which it bagged two years before the new Swift Sport.
It’s a modern, efficient engine that gets a lot from a little, and delivers it when and where you need it: it’s responsive and lively, pulls well from low revs and is smooth however hard you push it. Its efficiency manifests itself in impressive fuel figures: in several days with the Vitara S, we weren’t far short of the offical combined figure of 52.3mpg for the six-speed manual. (The six-speed auto gets 51.3.)
All-wheel drive is standard on the Vitara S. It’s Suzuki’s Allgrip system, which can automatically anticipate situations when all-wheel drive is needed, but also comes with four driver-selectable modes. In Auto, it defaults to front-wheel drive and switches to all four if there’s wheelspin. Sport mode uses four-wheel drive for maximum on-road traction. Snow mode is set up for low-grip surfaces. And Lock engages permanent four-wheel drive to help you get out of a mess off-road.
It works harmoniously with the usual electronic support systems (ABS, traction control, brake assist) and, for off-roading, Hill Descent Control.
It actually looks, okay?
The S also brings 17in wheels, some neat exterior styling touches such as rear privacy glass and a good level of equipment. Nothing fancy or luxurious – just a bunch of practical, useful features such as a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, climate control, foglamps, automatic headlamp levelling and a DAB radio.
The cabin is plain and simple, which is actually very refreshing compared to so many cabins that are cluttered, confusing and cramped. Everything that’s there is easy to find and simple to operate.
It’s a compact five-seat interior with a decent but not huge boot. Three kids would be happy in the back, or two adults.
Sounds like good value, but is that all?
Suzukis are often talked of in terms of value and utility, yet there are many examples of Suzukis that are fun to drive. The Swift and the Jimny in their different ways can certainly bring a smile to your face, but so too can the Vitara S.
It only has 138bhp, and a 0-62mph time of 10.2sec doesn’t look very special, but on the road the package has a rewarding unity. Engine, transmission, suspension and brakes work well together, letting you sling it around like a tall warm hatch if you’re on a back road, but it’s equally happy to bimble around town or cruise on the motorway.
The sound-deadening could be better, but overall refinement is good, thanks largely to suspension that takes the edge off any bad road surfaces.
And then there’s the 4×4 bonus…
In this crossover-crazed era it’s a joy to find something that means it when it says it’s all-wheel drive. Our Vitara S spent several days in Snow mode, because there was snow everywhere. While German saloons were spinning themselves to a standstill and drivers of front-drive hatchbacks were going slower and slower as their drivers lost confidence, the Allgrip system lived up to its name. Unobtrusively, it went about its business of making sure power was gently delivered to whichever wheels could make the best use of it.
We tried a bit of deliberate off-roading too, with equally rewarding results. The Vitara S isn’t toweringly tall, but the ground clearance is usefully high and there is decent underbody protection. But as with any 4×4, you’d need more serious dual-purpose tyres if you intended to make a habit of driving on snow or mud.
Suzuki Vitara S: verdict
What a fine car. When you look at the prices being asked for supposedly more premium products that are actually no roomier or quicker, nor better built, you can feel pretty smug that you’re in a Vitara S. Not just because it’s practical and versatile, but because it’s a satisfying, if low key, car to drive.
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