Dec 5 2009 Jonathan Smith
Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.9 DDiS
WE'RE a fickle bunch, us motorists. These days, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a compact SUV.
From Honda CR-V to Toyota RAV4, from Freelander to Yeti, the range is almost endless. But it wasn't always like that - a couple of decades ago there were just a couple of pioneers who produced civilized, small off-roaders capable of doubling up as shopping trolleys or mountain goats.
They were the Suzuki Vitara and the Daihatsu Sportrak. Only the Vitara is still with us albeit in evolved form as the Grand Vitara, but it certainly deserves a special mention as one of the pathfinders in a trend that has attracted a huge following.
Rather unjustly, the original Vitara was regarded as a bit of a hairdresser's car. Many were spiced up with ridiculously wide wheels and dodgy spray jobs. But beneath the styling there was an undoubted genuine off-road ability. And today the latest versions have remained faithful to that concept.
The 1.9-litre SZ4 three-door I've been driving can show a clean pair boots (or perhaps it should be a muddy pair!) to most of its rivals when it comes to performing over the rough stuff. It has the ground clearance and a low-range gearbox unlike the majority of soft-roaders. In the past, it perhaps lacked some of the finesse of the new bread of compact SUVs, but in its current form the baby of the Grand Vitara range offers a happy blend of great value alongside much-improved road manners.
Under the bonnet is a Renault-sourced 1.9-litre diesel engine which gives the stocky three-door a reasonable turn of speed -106mph and acceleration to 62mph in 12.8 seconds. Priced at £16,200, it easily undercuts most of the competition. The 127bhp four cylinder engine is remarkably smooth and fits the character of the car with ample torque and low noise levels. Fuel economy in my hands worked out at 34mpg - the official average is 40.4mpg.
With a bias towards off-road ability, it is inevitable the Suzuki isn't quite so responsive and lithe on tarmac, but the current version is far more suitable than the early models with reduced roll angles and more communicative steering. Cabin design has taken a leaf out of the book of CRV/RAV and the materials employed are more car-like and less utility.
Within its stubby body, there's ample room for four although the luggage space is severely restricted due to the shot-off tail. With just two on board, the rear seats can be flipped down to boost cargo-carrying.
Considering the bargain price, there's plenty of standard kit. Electric front windows, climate control, ABS and CD stereo, plus heated mirrors and front fog lights are all included.
There is also the option of petrol engines starting with a good value 1.6-litre petrol and extending to a 2.4-litre high-spec version. But the diesel is probably the model of choice when it comes to residuals and running costs.
Honestly engineered and well priced, the Vitara still deserves to retain a strong foothold in the sector it helped to create.
Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.9 DDiS 3dr
Mechanical: 127bhp, 1,899cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving four wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox
Max speed: 106mph
0-62mph: 12.7 seconds
Combined mpg: 40.4
Insurance group: 14
CO2 emissions: 183g/km
BiK rating: 27%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles