I admit I’m a bit of a softie. I’ll happily walk away from any sign of trouble and I’ve never taken up golf for much the same reason. I can’t see the point in getting soaked just to sink a wee white ball into a hole out of my line of sight somewhere far in the distance. A yachting friend keeps inviting me to join him on a cruise round the west coast. I’m sure it would be lovely, but unless he can guarantee wall-to-wall sunshine and flat-calm waters, then I’ll just stick to dry land, thank you.
So I felt quite at home behind the wheel of the updated Grand Vitara from Suzuki because it’s just a big softie too. At least that’s the impression it gives – one of the biggest softroaders in the current market. I think though that beneath that gentle exterior lies a pretty tough heart and although I didn’t challenge it to anything demanding in the mud-plugging department, I suspect it would give a good account of itself at the gymkhana or taking the family into the great outdoors.
Suzuki is a manufacturer which has been working away quietly in the background and, without making it into the mass market, has been producing some surprisingly good cars from the entry level Alto and diminutive Splash, through the nippy Swift, Swift Sport, and onto the under-rated four wheel drive saloon, the Kizashi.
The Vitara and its big brother, the Grand Vitara, have been around for almost a quarter of a century and there are now almost three million of them on the world’s roads, almost 200,000 of them in the UK. Their big selling point is excellent build quality, reliability and economy, coupled with easy to use off-road capability and secure performance on the road, whatever the conditions.
The test car was the fully-equipped five-door SZ5 version with an efficient 1.9 DDiS diesel engine, sitting on 18 inch alloys, fitted with high intensity headlights, electric glass sunroof, satnav and full leather heated seats. In this latest version, the changes are relatively minor, but give the car a nice, fresh look.
At the front, the bumper, grille and foglamp have been moved slightly and have added black accents. At the rear, the spare wheel has been re-instated on the back door, which is a much better option. It also gives the car a beefier look while adding 200mm to the overall length.
The interior has been smartened up too, and in the SZ5 version there are fake wood trim inlays on the centre console and door armrests, which are supposed to give it a more upmarket look, but frankly I’d have happily done without. What is good is the clear layout of the dash, with simple dials and switches rather than what has become over-complicated electronic mazes which have to be worked through on some equivalent models on the market.
I thought the audio system was good. It turns out there are tweeters in the doors along with a simple centre speaker on the dashboard which allows the sound to be echoed off the roof to create a surround-sound effect.
The Garmin satnav was accurate and able. On the safety front, ESP is fitted as standard to balance braking and engine output if there’s under or oversteer or wheelspin. Along with rear disc brakes and strengthened suspension in the bigger-engined models, Suzuki claims this makes this car a safe place to be if things get tricky.
Economy and emission levels have been improved and wind and road noise has been reduced by a liquid-filled differential mount, thicker door glass and carpeting with greater sound insulation. Unlike some softroader transmission systems, which have two wheel drive as the default setting, engaging four wheel drive only when needed, the Vitara’s permanently powers all four wheels which Suzuki claims returns a smoother drive by not having to engage and disengage the full power system.
The test car had the more advanced transmission with low range and differential lock, called up through a rotary knob, to tackle tougher conditions. It’s hardly a wolf in sheep’s clothing but you should certainly stop short of
calling it a big softie.