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£20,899 when new
‘Rather fun’. Really? Really. This is the Suzuki Vitara S, the little SUV’s range-topper and our first acquaintance with the Japanese company’s new 1.4 Boosterjet engine. It’s a turbocharged petrol unit, and it’s very welcome in a range where diesel has thus far been your best option. It’s also an engine that could - nay, should - make it into the next Swift Sport. I need numbers. It has 138bhp and 162lb ft, both higher figures than you’ll get in the current Swift hot hatch.
The Vitara S weighs just 1210kg, which is naff-all in the world of crossovers, particularly as it comes with four-wheel drive as standard. Spec that on a (smaller) Nissan Juke and you’ll have something that’s 200kg heavier. The result is a perky little car, then, and one that feels perkier still than its modest 10.2sec 0-62mph time. How is that new engine? Very good. Suzuki is keen to boast of its clever turbocharger design, which aims to eradicate the laggy delivery that can blight forced induction engines. But while all of its torque is available from 1500rpm, it never quite demonstrates instant punch. What it does exhibit, though, is linear power delivery across its rev range. You’re actively encouraged to rev it out, and it’s a happy little engine when you do so. If it does end up in a Swift Sport, it’ll feel right at home. But this is an SUV… It is, but it’s one that’s small, light, and surprisingly fun to drive. Its keen little engine goes hand-in-hand with a chassis that’s equally enjoyable; body control is good and the Vitara’s responses are all very natural. While lots of its crossover rivals talk loosely of sporty dynamics, which are naturally hampered by their stocky weight and size, the littler Vitara gamely just gets on with the job. It’s more fun than its looks might have you believe. And it’ll still tackle speed bumps with a mere shrug… What’s it like inside? Some of the plastics are scratchy, but it’s really not worth getting flustered about. There’s lots of room, comfy suede seats and a big boot. And as well as an adjustable AWD system, your £21k buys standard equipment galore. Equipment such as radar cruise control, a reversing camera, DAB and sat nav, with the latter bunch functioning through a touchscreen that’s pleasingly simple to operate. There’s even a nice Swatch-like clock atop the dashboard. An extra £1350 buys a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddleshifters. It’s decent, too, though our personal choice would be to save money (and 25 kilos) and stay manual. Is this the pick of the range? “Your best bet is probably to keep things simple at the cheaper end of the range, where the Vitara is priced similarly to a well-trimmed Fiesta.” So said we, when we first drove the new Vitara back in 2014. The S is categorically not at the cheaper end of the range. It’s seven grand north of it. But it’s the best Vitara you can buy, and one of the more surprisingly adept SUVs out there. Previous generations of Vitara, and their suspect body kits, probably make it a bit uncool to fall for its charms if you reside among car enthusiast circles. But in a genre of crossovers that like to over-promise, this one over-delivers. And there’s plenty to like about that.