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Suzuki Vitara road test: New clothes for old

By Roger St Pierre with Hazel Kempster

Sitting in the plush cabin of the latest Suzuki Vitara leads one to ponder on how far this too often under-rated brand has progressed in recent times.

Down the years Suzuki’s engineers have produced some exceptionally good motorcycles but where their cars were concerned they were, let’s be frank, cheap and not always that cheerful.

All that has now changed. The retro wartime Jeep inspired styling has been swept aside by a sleek uncompromisingly stylish body shell. Doors that used to ping shut with the ping of an empty tin now shut with a reassuring thunk; engines that once rattled as If going through their death throws now run silky smooth. And, importantly, the Vitara has been on a course of steroids. Mere ‘Kings Road tractor’ whimsy has been swept aside by rugged on and off-road intent.

Bigger in every dimension, both inside and out, the Vitara can now be taken very seriously and, importantly, its appeal extends to user groups far more diverse than surfing beach bums, scissor-wielding hairdressers and minor-league models, turning it into serious competition for the likes of the Kia Sportage and Toyota’s Rav 4.

No longer merely a cheapo SUV wannabe, it has grown into a serious crossover machine.  Symbolically, there are no more of those fornicating rhinos adorning the car’s rump – the spare wheel now sits under the boot floor. Nor is there any vestige of the add-on flower power decals that branded the original Vitara as a mere weekend fun car when it was launched back in the 1980s.

What you now get instead is a healthy dose of newfound serious intent. Of the three choices of power plant, go for the new 1.4-litre turbo-charged engine, which pairs well with the well sorted chassis and nimble handling. It rides high and offers good visibility while gripping the road and riding almost like a saloon car.

Such safety items as auto-braking function, adaptive cruise control and no fewer than seven airbags come as standard. It’s hard not to like the Vitara in its new incarnation, the only reservation being that the overall package – from body styling through to trim and equipment – is a virtual clone of its closest competitors. However, thanks to a wide range of colour, trim and equipment options, it is easy to add a personalised touch.

The new Vitara’s on the road prices range upwards from £13,000.

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