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A new Vitara? Yep, Suzuki’s 4x4 has entered its fourth generation. If you include the Grand Vitara, it’s been around since 1988, making ‘Vitara’ one of the oldest nameplates in the SUV game. Its introduction predates the SUV boom by quite some margin, in fact. That doesn’t mean it leads where others follow, though. Quite the opposite, in fact; to ensure the new Vitara is a whole heap more competitive than the uninspiring car it replaces, it has taken influence from the cars that arrived late to the soft-roading party but have since eaten all of its cake. It looks a lot more interesting than before. There’s an inescapable whiff of Evoque to its styling and a bit of Captur in its inevitably varied colour palette, but they’re hardly bad cars to be taking visual inspiration from. The Vitara looks fresh and modern; much more so than the S-Cross on which it’s spun from. It’s shorter than the S-Cross but actually looks more substantial.
It kicks off a minor product onslaught, with six new Suzukis due in the next three years. The company plans to fill the city car, supermini and SUV segments with two models each, one logical and rational (in the SUV market, that’s the S-Cross) and one more style-led (the Vitara). Despite this, the Vitara is set to be around £1000 cheaper than its straighter-laced sibling, and should kick off at around £14,000 when sales begin in April 2015. Better looking yet cheaper. Is the S-Cross now irrelevant? Potentially. Though that’s a car we really quite like; unpretentious, honest and unashamedly unfashionable, it’s great value for money and a surprisingly decent thing to drive. It’s a strong base to work from, and the Vitara is equally impressive beneath the skin. For starters, its range is simple to understand: one petrol and one diesel engine, both 1.6 litres in size and producing 118bhp, both available with standard front-wheel-drive or optional four-wheel-drive. Both have a manual gearbox as standard; petrol buyers can spec an automatic transmission, and happily it’s a proper six-speed item rather than a droning CVT. It’s good to drive too. The car we’ve tried is described as pre-production, but there’s nothing crying out for improvement. Its steering is satisfyingly weighted, body roll is impressively minimal and on-road grip is plentiful regardless of your transmission choice. It all leads to consistent, and therefore trustworthy reactions. The aim was apparently to ‘bring Swift dynamics to a small SUV’. It’s not as thrilling as a Swift Sport, but there’s definitely some common DNA. Sounds positive. It’s the end result of getting the basics right and not imposing needless stiffness or haphazard premium aspirations on something where they’re not necessary. The driving position is well judged, and while the dials, steering wheel and gear stick that sit before you don’t look particularly inspiring or cutting edge, they all work with a simple precision that’s testament to keeping things uncomplicated. Likewise the whole thing feels well screwed together, there’s plenty of space in the rear quarters and its 345-litre boot includes a hidden floor. It sits closer to a Juke than a Qashqai in size, but feels more like a rival for the latter. So which engine should I go for? The petrol is set to be cheaper to the tune of around £2000; it’s a pleasingly revvy little unit, but without a turbocharger, it’s light on torque and just has enough poke to move the Vitara round with an element of vigour. Far more natural in a car like this is the diesel, which has the same 118bhp output as the petrol but twice as much torque, 236lb ft playing 115lb ft. Its CO2 emissions also drop as low as 106g/km. It’s not a glamorous engine but it’s punchy and reasonably refined. Those covering lower mileages might take a while to pay off its price premium, though. What about the four-wheel-drive system? It’s Suzuki’s Allgrip system, and up to half of buyers could go for it, significantly up on the class average. It defaults to front-wheel drive, distributing power to the rear axle only when it detects wheelspin, which ensures there’s minimal impact on fuel economy or CO2 emissions by going AWD. Though while it has a hill descent control system and a harder cored ‘Lock’ mode, Suzuki describes the Vitara as an ‘on road vehicle with all-road capability’ rather than a full-bore mud-plugger. It’s designed to keep you moving on slippy surfaces, not drag you up mountains or through rivers. Anything else of note? There are numerous big car features at the upper echelons of the range such as active cruise control, collision avoidance braking and a whacking great panoramic sunroof. A new touchscreen infotainment system is pretty intuitive to use and looks far better integrated than previously jarring third-party fitments in posher Suzukis. With crossover and SUV competition arguably at saturation point, though, with some very talented rivals amongst it, 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. The most interesting nugget we gleaned from a Suzuki chief is the development of a Vitara Sport model, which will share a turbocharged petrol engine with the next generation Swift Sport hot hatch. Expect a minimum of 150bhp alongside a more butch torque figure than the standard petrol. A performance badge may seem a little incongruous on a Vitara, but the smart chassis deserves a bit more power. And the current Swift Sport is a popular little performance hero, after all.