Eamonn Wall test drives the latest Suzuki Vitara.

THE current Vitara was introduced back in 2015 and its small/medium size and balanced design have made it a popular choice. It is manufactured at the Suzuki Magyar plant in Hungary and is the best-selling car in the country.

The car received various styling, engine and safety upgrades in early 2019, and most recently a mild hybrid 1.4 litre engine upgrade became the standard engine. Originally, a 1.6-litre engine was available, but was replaced by a turbo-charged 1.4-litre engine, which Suzuki refer to as its Boosterjet engine. The back lights, with their distinctive triangular white reversing light, were re-styled, moving the reverse light to a central position low down on the bumper, which is not ideal if you want to fit a tow bar. The back lights are now just one block of red, which strikes me as a little bland and less original.

Forestry Journal: The Vitara at Glenshee in April – no snow.The Vitara at Glenshee in April – no snow.

The Vitara is a five-door vehicle with a reasonably sized boot. In some ways, it reminds me of a shrunken Range Rover Sport in its design. It is about the same size as a Dacia Duster and is 4,175 mm long, 1,775 mm wide and 1,610 mm high. Ground clearance is a useful 185 mm. The engine provides 129 bhp and accelerates from 0–60 mph in 9.5 seconds. Prices stretch from £19,249 up to £20,249, with £22,249 for the top of the range. Four-wheel-drive options add on £1,800 to the price, but it is not an option on the entry-level model, thus making £22,049 the cheapest 4WD version. Automatic transmission is also a £1,350 option. Service intervals are 12,500 miles.

Suzuki refers to its 4WD system as Allgrip. The ‘Select’ version allows you to choose one of four options: Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock. In normal conditions the car is front-wheel drive until you select one of the 4WD options. The Auto mode prioritises fuel economy in typical driving conditions and uses two-wheel drive by default, directing power to the rear wheels once it detects wheel spin. Sport mode switches into 4WD more quickly on twisty roads. The Snow mode is optimal for snowy, unpaved and other slippery surfaces. It uses 4WD as default. The Lock mode is for extricating the car from snow, mud or sand. A limited-slip differential is fitted, which helps any slipping wheel and transfers torque to the gripping wheels.

Forestry Journal: The reversing light is now located on the central lower bumper – not ideal for a tow bar.The reversing light is now located on the central lower bumper – not ideal for a tow bar.

Hill Hold Control is standard and a very useful feature, now available on most cars for sale today. It makes hill starts much easier by preventing the vehicle from rolling backwards for two seconds as soon as the driver removes his or her foot from the brake to the accelerator pedal. Hill Descent Control (first introduced on the original Freelander) will automatically apply the brakes when moving down very steep ground.

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The introduction of the hybrid engine is really just the existing 1.4-litre petrol engine (no diesels available now on any Suzuki model) fitted with a regenerator starter motor and a 48V lithium-ion battery. The integrated starter generator acts as both a generator and starter motor, is belt driven and assists the engine during vehicle take-off. Suzuki claims a combined real world 49 mpg for the 2WD Vitara, being a 15 per cent improvement in overall fuel consumption, and up to 20 per cent lower CO2 emissions. In my hands, the 4WD version averaged 42 mpg.

Forestry Journal: Dwarfed by beautiful Speyside Scots pines.Dwarfed by beautiful Speyside Scots pines.

The compact lithium-ion battery stores electrical energy recovered from deceleration and braking, and is located under the front seats. It then provides this energy to the electric generator motor to enhance engine torque during acceleration. It kicks in before the engine’s turbocharger starts boosting engine power at 2,000 rpm.

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I like the size of the Vitara and the driving position is both spacious and comfortable. It drives well, having good handling, a nice ride and good brakes. The gearbox is very notchy in first, second and third, but as you do not use these gears much on the open road, you soon forget about them, with the gearbox smooth enough for the top three gears.

Forestry Journal: One of the few vehicles equipped with an analogue clock – a nice featureOne of the few vehicles equipped with an analogue clock – a nice feature

When accelerating, you do not notice the assistance being provided by the mild hybrid set-up, but you definitely notice it once you take your foot off the accelerator. I actually found it very annoying. It makes sense to capture braking energy, but when driving along you often take your foot off the accelerator to coast or to slow down ever so slightly but not wanting to brake. However, with this hybrid system it slows the car down, which feels like braking, once you take your foot off the accelerator. If I wanted to slow the car I would apply the brakes, but the hybrid system does it for you when you don’t really want it.

Forestry Journal: A reasonably sized boot.A reasonably sized boot.

So, apart from the notchy gearbox and annoyingly noticeable hybrid decelerating energy-capture system, I do like the Vitara. It looks good, is a useful size and comes with 4WD and moderate ground clearance.

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