Overall rating: 3.5/5
Here is a Suzuki Vitara for 2015, a year in which buyers are clamouring for the latest compact crossover at prices of a middling spec family hatchback. Although Suzuki is dipping its toe into trendy personalisation and jazzy colours with its latest entrant, it remains at heart an efficient and useful compact SUV that, in four-wheel drive form especially, will appeal to the brand's core audience. Whether it'll be interesting enough for style-conscious urbanites remains to be seen.
In the metal 3/5
I can't make my mind up about the exterior of the new Suzuki Vitara. Its attractiveness really depends on the colour it's finished in - and whether it features the optional two-tone paint scheme or the Urban and Rugged design packs. The rear is quite bland to look at, if inoffensive, while the front has more than a hint of the Range Rover line-up about its clam-shell bonnet and detailing. Then again, look back at previous Vitaras and you'll find the same thing.
For the class it competes in, the Vitara's cabin is pretty spacious, notably in terms of headroom. First impressions from this initial drive suggest that it's solidly put together too, though we'd steer buyers away from specifying the air vents and trim panels in the optional turquoise finish. You might love it, but it's very likely that it would scare away buyers when it comes time to sell the car on in a few years.
Driving it 4/5
Although the 1.6-litre diesel engine fitted to the range-topping version only has 120hp and 320Nm to work with, the Vitara isn't a particularly heavy car so it doesn't feel slow on the open road. Indeed, its overtaking ability makes the official 0-100km/h time of 12.4 seconds seem pessimistic. And it'll tow up to 1,500kg of braked trailer. Even when you do need to wind up the engine a little, it's commendably hushed and smooth.
In contrast to many small SUVs, the Vitara has a well-developed chassis, majoring on comfort. It really is exceptionally good at absorbing bumps and should be a good partner on a long journey. In terms of driving controls, the steering is overly light for our liking - and seemingly inconsistent in its weighting too - though the six-speed manual gearbox is pleasant enough to use and the brake pedal is well-modulated. It's no sports SUV, but the nose points into the apex of a corner quicker than you might expect given the compliance in the suspension and the four-wheel drive system ensures that it's stable and surefooted mid-corner too, even if you push it on a little. No doubt, we'll get to test the benefits of that later in the year in wet weather.
What you get for your money 4/5
Prices for the new Suzuki Vitara start at €19,999 for the 1.6 GL petrol model with front-wheel drive and rise to €27,995 for the 1.6-litre diesel with four-wheel drive as tested here in GLX specification. The petrol engine can be had in any of the three trim levels (GL+ sits between the two already mentioned) though the entry-level grade is not available on conjunction with the diesel engine. Also, AllGrip four-wheel drive is only offered with a diesel engine. Note that the pricing is quoted as being 'introductory' and will be valid until October 2015.
All versions come with seven airbags, projector headlights, electric windows all-round, climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and cruise control. The GL+ adds 17-inch wheels and a touchscreen system that interfaces with smartphones and includes satnav. The top-of-the range Vitara GLX additionally comes with LED lights, polished 17-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof (which whistled in our test car at motorway speeds), Radar Brake Support, adaptive cruise control, suede-like upholstery and keyless entry and start.
Themed personalisation packs (called Urban and Rugged) cost €900, while a two-tone paint finish costs €895. Suzuki is also getting in on the customisation market by allowing buyers to change the colour of various components on the inside and out to make their Vitara truly unique. Be very careful with this one though if you want any hope of selling your car later on.
First impressions suggest that Suzuki has built a sensible and likeable small SUV, with the option of a genuinely useful four-wheel drive system. Its neat dimensions fit an urban environment though the jury is out on the success of the exterior styling. Neither are we convinced by some of the more garish personalisation options available, but stay away from those and the Vitara makes for a decent new contestant in the compact crossover sector. An efficient one too.