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Driven: Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.

Driven: Suzuki Vitara S
Never has one letter done so much, as an ĎSí manages to transform Suzukiís Vitara.

 



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Suzuki Vitara S

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Good points: Turbocharged engine does a lot to remedy many of the Vitara's faults

Not so good: You'll need to pay a lot for the privilege and you still get the flimsy interior build

Key Facts

Model tested: Suzuki Vitara S
Price: Vitara range from £13,999; S from £20,899
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 127g/km (£160 VED first 12 months, £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 52.3mpg
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Power: 140hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 220Nm at 1,500- to 4,000rpm

Our view:

Last year, we drove a Suzuki Vitara in high-ranking SZ5 trim. And we rather liked it, although we had some concerns. These principally revolved around its somewhat weedy 1.6-litre normally aspirated petrol engine. Luckily, and unbeknownst to us, while we were opining the lack of torque in the 1.6, Suzuki was already on the case, working on a light-pressure turbocharged model called the Vitara S.

And here it is. Sitting at the top of the Vitara tree, the main stumbling block is price - the 1.4-litre 'BoosterJet' engine is only available in S specification, which means it costs £600 more than an SZ5 at £20,899. However, for that, you basically get everything thrown in for free, apart from metallic or pearlescent paint. So satnav, radar cruise control, a reversing camera, parking sensors and suede/leather seats are all part of a lengthy equipment list.

What the S model is supposed to be is the sporty one. So, over and above the SZ5, it gets black-finish 17-inch alloy wheels, a neater front bumper treatment, silver-finish door mirrors and - perhaps its most distinguishing feature - that chromed-up front grille. At the back, there's a bigger spoiler at roof-line level and a smoother diffuser down below. Inside, red stitching and red surrounds for the air vents, as well as a sportier steering wheel and brushed chrome trim for the dashboard, all complete the S upgrades.

If all of this already sounds modest, you might not be delighted to hear that the turbocharged 1.4 is only 20hp up on the 1.6 of the SZ5, with the S model's peak 140hp delivered 500rpm lower at 5,500rpm. What really makes the difference is the torque, which swells from 156Nm at a relatively heady 4,400rpm on the 1.6, to 220Nm delivered at a much lower 1,500- to 4,000rpm. The S also benefits from a six-speed manual gearbox.

All told, it doesn't sound like a gigantic round of alterations, but they're transformative changes. All of the good points of the SZ5 Vitara are preserved - including a light kerbweight, as the S registers just 1,210kg on the scales - and almost all of its weaknesses, save for slightly flimsy interior build quality, are remedied.

This leaves us with one of the most likeable small crossovers in the class. The Vitara S looks really good on the outside and more likeable inside, but it's the drive which has come on in leaps and bounds. Even if you're not caning the Vitara S, it's a much easier car to live with thanks to that 41 per cent increase in torque, which is accessible much lower down the range. Further, the manual transmission has an extra ratio in the 'box that makes the Suzuki more accelerative both in gear and when using a little more throttle.

In fact, a lot of the major controls feel better. The engine is properly sweet if you do rev it out, because it stays velvet smooth and has a rorty note right out to the redline. Start pushing the Vitara S and it feels quicker than its 10.2-second 0-62mph time (which is, officially, 1.8 seconds quicker than the 1.6-litre petrol), while the lightness of the car still makes it come across as agile and willing during cornering. But the steering also feels sharper and trustier, there's much less tyre roar than on the SZ5, the ride is better both at urban speeds and also on open roads, and even the brakes feel more positive. It's not an out-and-out performance model, but the Vitara S is everything we were hoping the SZ5 1.6-litre petrol would be.

So there we are. Just the simple addition of a single letter and a small turbocharger have transformed the Vitara from a credible but flawed also-ran into one of our favourite small crossovers in this segment. Don't forget it has a proper four-wheel drive system, as well as a clever boot with a two-stage floor - and it's even better on fuel than the 1.6-litre SZ5, as we saw a genuine 46.9mpg across 441 miles at 34mph; we didn't get near 40mpg in the regular Vitara, as we had to thrash the knackers off the poor thing just to keep up with traffic. Thus, there's a hell of a lot to like about the Suzuki Vitara S, and not a lot to complain about. If only it was less than £20,000, we'd be absolutely raving about this thing. As it is, we'd still heartily recommend it to anyone in the small crossover market.

Alternatives:

Nissan Juke: The problem for the Vitara S is that it's not that quick, and for about £1,000 more you could have the Juke Nismo RS, with 218hp and a properly sporty chassis.

SsangYong Tivoli: More affordable than the Suzuki Vitara in normal guise, although SsangYong doesn't as yet have a turbocharged petrol engine as with this S.

Skoda Yeti: Great car and plenty of engine options, but it's getting pretty old now.


Matt Robinson - 1 Jul 2016









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2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.

2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.2017 Suzuki Vitara S. Image by Suzuki.








 

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