What is it?
If you want a small SUV - and judging by the sales of Nissan Qashqais and Skoda Yetis, many of you do - there’s a cornucopia of models to choose from, but it was the Suzuki Vitara that was at the vanguard of this movement.
Indeed, you need to head back to 1988, the year that Edwina Curry scrambled the UK’s poultry industry with her salmonella scare, to discover the genesis of this cheeky little off-roader.
Read our full review on the Suzuki Vitara
It was good value then, and unlike other examples of the breed that have since gone upmarket, the Vitara has always remained true to its budget roots; this current generation starts from just £13,999. However, what we have here is the new ‘sporty’ S version, with an equally new 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine, which does look a little pricey at £20,899.
That said, you get four-wheel drive with diff-locks and a bundle of kit for your money, including seven airbags, climate control, privacy glass, adaptive cruise and LED headlights. The S also gets a set of fancy black alloys, satin door mirrors and a rear spoiler on the outside; inside it comes with sat-nav, Bluetooth, suede seats, red accents on the air vents and aluminium pedals.
The new engine is a nice bit of kit. Compact and lightweight, it integrates the turbo and exhaust manifold into the cylinder head to optimise gas flow. To reduce lag it uses a bypass valve designed to stop the turbo stalling if you momentarily back off the throttle, and in light driving the wastegate is opened to help engine breathing and boost efficiency.
What's it like?
Sometimes, reading about a new engine design creates huge expectations, only for them to be dashed after just a few meters of driving. Not so with the Boosterjet: it’s a really sweet little thing.
There’s still a momentary hesitation while the small turbo whizzes into action, but when it does, cramming the combustion chambers with fuel and air at 1.1bar, it feels jolly perky, revving keenly from 1500rpm and never letting up until it trips the limiter. It’s refined as well, so you feel obliged to chase the red line and enjoy yourself.
When it’s time to change gear the feelsome clutch action helps you to be smooth and the gear change is surprisingly positive, albeit with some notchiness, particularly from second to third gear.
Sadly, the steering isn’t quite so appealing. It’s quick enough to make the Vitara feel pointy and alive, but the weighting is decidedly contrived. With just a couple of degrees of lock on, there’s no self-centring at all, so you find yourself carving a radius you didn’t actually want; add on more turns and it tries to make up for its initial tardiness by adding too much counter-torque.
In line with its sportier bent, the S version gets stiffer springs and dampers, so it's noticeably jigglier over patchy surfaces than other versions we've tried. However, it calms down at speed and it’s pretty good at dealing with major intrusions without rattling your teeth.
It certainly feels firmer than some of its rivals, such as the Citroën C4 Cactus, which works well for the handling. Where the Cactus will wallow about in corners, the Vitara stays pretty impervious to the effects of lateral g. Along with decent damping that gives good control over undulating roads, you feel inspired to push on with some degree of enthusiasm, and the Suzuki responds by holding itself together admirably.