Good: genuinely great chassis, low running costs
Not so good: questionable colour schemes
It shouldn't matter to professional car reviewers what specification a test vehicle is in. We drive hundreds of vehicles every year and we are used to seeing past expensive optional extras to what matters in a car. It shouldn't matter what colour the car is either but sometimes it's difficult not to form an opinion based on the exterior appearance.
Take the Suzuki Vitara for example. At the launch we drove a sickly turquoise model that immediately put me off. And though I was relieved to find that this test car was different I really wasn't sure about the red on black theme. I grew to like the exterior but still find the shiny red plastic dashboard and detailing a step too far. We'd stick to a more sensible interior colour scheme. Even if you love a bright colour, bear in mind that it could make the Vitara difficult to sell on later.
Not that you'll be in a hurry to get rid of Suzuki's reinvention of the Vitara badge as it turns out to be a rather impressive compact crossover. Let's start with that interior. While it can be had in opinion-dividing colours it's also spacious for the class, and comfortable. The switchgear is a step up from the norm too, in terms of tactility, and it comes with plenty of technology.
Well it does in GLX specification anyway, as tested. All Vitaras feature electric windows all-round, a leather steering wheel, automatic air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, LED daytime running lamps, front fog lights, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, cruise control with speed limiter and a good level of safety equipment. GL+ adds 17-inch wheels, rear privacy glass, a touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone link and satnav and a rear parking camera, while the GLX model tested here additionally features Radar Brake Support, hill descent control, front and rear parking sensors, the big prominent analogue clock, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, LED projector headlights and automatic control for the lights and wipers. The slick looking touchscreen infotainment and satnav system will grab buyers' attention in the showroom and while it's not quite as intuitive to use as we'd like there's no doubt an owner will get used to it.
This AllGrip model also comes with a proper four-wheel drive system with what Suzuki calls 'feed forward' capability. This means the system doesn't wait until loss of grip at the front wheels is detected before intervening and sending more engine torque to the rear axle. Instead, it 'anticipates slippage based on road surface, throttle opening position, steering angle and other factors'. It must be said that there's little or no front wheel scrabble when you're pushing on. The switch on the centre console lets the driver choose between four modes. The default is Auto, which means the Vitara sends its power to the front wheels unless otherwise required, in a bid to reduce fuel consumption. Snow mode uses full-time four-wheel drive, while Lock mode goes further by sending equal power to the front and rear regardless of a wheel spinning.
Finally there's Sport mode, which may seem a little ludicrous in a crossover but it's remarkably effective. The throttle response sharpens up and the power steering assistance adjusts, while the four-wheel drive system changes its priorities too. On an interesting road you'll discover a rather good chassis underneath. The steering is direct enough, well-weighted and surprisingly communicative. The suspension, meanwhile, manages a fine line between good body control (the damping seems especially well sorted) and comfort so it feels competent whether you're cruising at high speed, tackling a twisty road or ambling around town. The 1.6-litre diesel engine also seems to punch way above its weight giving the Vitara good performance and acceleration without ever feeling or sounding strained.
And when you're not in a hurry it's economical. We averaged 6.7 litres/100km (42.2mpg), but that's without any decent cruising. And it costs only €200 to tax, even with four-wheel drive. The entry-level front-wheel drive version with a petrol engine starts at €19,999. And it comes in more modest colour schemes...