Long-term test: Suzuki Vitara

Final report: Practical and efficient Suzuki Vitara SUV has proven a smash hit for all the family

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Suzuki Vitara. Once I was used to the noisy engine and slightly cheap interior trim, the space, comfort and wealth of standard tech won me over. Add in some fantastic, trouble-free holiday journeys, great visibility and a simple driving experience, and it’s a great family crossover that’s tough to beat.

Mileage: 11,003Fuel economy: 54.8mpg

After 10 months behind the wheel of our Vitara, it’s fair to say I’ve been totally won over. It wasn’t love at first sight, as my initial impressions were formed by the noisy, almost agricultural diesel engine, some cheap-looking trim and the awkward exterior styling. However, after 8,000 miles, the Vitara now feels like part of the family.

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It ticks all the modern SUV boxes, with a practical interior and decent running costs. For instance, I recently used the Vitara to shift my eldest son’s musical equipment – which saw the 710-litre boot with the seats folded come into its own – while the daily grind of commuting to and from central London has seen a respectable return of 54.8mpg.

However, most of my affection for the car comes from shared family time. We’ve been lucky enough to go on three UK holidays in the Suzuki, and each time it’s enhanced the trip. It’s easy to drive, with great visibility and a spacious-feeling cabin courtesy of the huge panoramic sunroof, which is great for scenic drives. Long journeys never feel like hard work, and the car is comfortable and roomy enough for my two growing children, yet compact enough that we can all have a chat.

Clearly, the raft of kit helps. The kids love syncing their phones with the stereo, I like the voice command for hands-free calls and the sat-nav does the job, despite its small letterbox display. We tried the adaptive cruise control on a trip to Northumberland. It’s simple yet effective and can be operated from the steering wheel, with three distance settings to the car in front. It really added to the journey, as the radar sensed the slower-moving traffic and slowed the car until I indicated and moved into an open lane.

But the Vitara’s radar-assisted systems were less useful during an unexpected blizzard once we’d arrived in the north east. A loud and unsettling warning sound and flashing red light informed me that brake assist was inactive, as the heavy snow blew across the windscreen, obscuring the radar sensor. Driving conditions were already quite bad, and the noise added to the stress.

A Vitara 4WD would have made life easier, and I’d certainly think about getting one if I still lived in that part of the country. Our trip home was less eventful, as we set the sat-nav for a B-road drive across some breathtaking Northumberland and Durham countryside. Yet more great memories in a top family car.

Suzuki Vitara: third report

Extensive kit list makes the Suzuki Vitara crossover the ideal family car

Mileage: 9,764Fuel economy: 42.5mpg

Compiling a list of what you really want in your new car can prove to be pricey. Before you know it, those optional extras will have stacked up – inflating the original list price beyond all recognition.

But with our Suzuki Vitara, that’s not a problem, because the range-topping SZ5 car comes with pretty much everything as standard for £19,999. In fact, the standard kit list really is as long as my arm. Granted, you’d expect some of the features to be included on a new car in 2016, like daytime running lights and double cup-holders up front. There are lots of more expensive options hidden among the filler, though.

From a safety point of view, the seven airbags, radar brake support, rear parking camera and all-round sensors immediately make you feel more confident. In fact, the tyre pressure monitor has already directed me to a hefty nail buried in the front wheel that was causing a slow puncture.

However, it’s not all about safety, as many of the options are just convenient. I’m a big fan of keyless entry and go. I’m often loading awkward items into the Vitara, so being able to pop one of the small black buttons for entry with the keys in my pocket is great.

The heated, electric door mirrors have been handy, too. I have to park the wide Suzuki on the road, so pushing a button to fold the mirrors means they’re protected from assaults from passing cars and pedestrians. With all that kerbside parking, it’s worth pointing out that the standard ‘polished’ alloys don’t stick out beyond the tyre sidewalls, reducing the risk of kerbing.

Inside, the Vitara is very comfortable, with supportive, suede-finished seats and loads of light from the double sunroof. The car takes five adults with ease, and there’s little compromise in rear legroom. Plus, the standard kit list helps keep everyone cool, entertained and heading in the right direction, as climate control, sat-nav, DAB and smartphone integration are all included.

With all of this equipment, is there a downside to the Vitara? Well, not all the tech is top notch. I love DAB radio, but the audio system has a habit of losing all of its presets, and sometimes it ends up playing one station while showing another, or even switching channels all by itself.

Likewise the radar braking support is very sensitive, and often activates when it senses parked cars at the side of the road. I’ve tried adjusting the sensitivity, but it keeps cutting in noisily and frequently. Still, it did save me from a collision with a van.

The Vitara also has a few build quality issues. Some of the interior trim has come away under the dash, while all five doors require a good hard slam to get them to close. You do get used to this, but it does encapsulate the difference in quality with premium rivals. The other downside is fashion. There are plenty of white SUVs around town, and although the Suzuki tries to emulate the sleek looks of a Range Rover Evoque, it doesn’t really measure up for style.

However, the Suzuki is exceptionally easy to drive, as it offers excellent visibility. Add impressive 42.5mpg economy in almost entirely urban driving, and you’re looking at a great-value crossover that’s become a valuable member of the Wilson family.

Suzuki Vitara: second report

Suzuki’s Vitara crossover is a splash hit on boating holiday

Mileage: 5,786Fuel economy: 50.1mpg

It’s been a busy few months for the Suzuki Vitara. Our family-friendly crossover has been put to the test with a series of summer holiday runs, weekends away and has even been used as an impromptu changing room!

We all know that second-guessing the British weather is pointless, so packing for a UK holiday involves doubling up on clothes and gear. Also if like me, you like to save a few pounds, then the weekly family shop usually makes the trip, too. 

Thankfully, the Vitara swallowed all of this when my family took it on a boating holiday. It was tight, though, as I used all 375 litres of storage, plus the underfloor boot and rear seat space for a guitar and a coolbox.

Getting about this summer has been hassle free, as the Vitara is a lesson in simplicity. It’s comfortable and easy to drive, yet is roomy enough for my growing sons to stretch out in the back with all of their assorted gadgets.

The sat-nav has also been very easy to programme, although I’ve found the screen awkward to follow. The map appears in a letterbox, due to the additional information displayed at the top and bottom of the screen. So while the system works fine, I can’t zoom in to an acceptable level to get all the information I want about my route. 

The nav also seems a bit cheap, and it’s not the only part of the car that lacks a premium feel. I’ve been a bit frustrated by the brake-assist system, too. It’s designed to alert drivers of potential obstructions, but the system is very sensitive. It’s been set off by traffic islands, a roadside skip and even speed bumps.

These hazards are worth being aware of, but the warning buzzer can get irritating. And yes, you can turn it off, although doing so is just asking for trouble. 

Suzuki did recall the car for a recalibration of the radar sensor last month, and the software update only took an hour, but the system remains sensitive.

In terms of value for money, the Vitara is proving a hit, both with its standard kit list and running costs. A fill-up is around £54, while economy of 50.1mpg is great news for the family budget.

So how did our SUV double up as a changing room? Well, the great British weather served us up a typically biblical summer downpour. The children changed in the rear seats and boot, while the parents waited patiently (and damply) in the front, with plenty of room for all. Great memories in a great car of a great British summer.

Suzuki Vitara: first report

Rugged addition to fleet takes our man back to basics

Mileage: 3,929Fuel economy: 44.5mpg

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I was hoping to refute that theory while driving the latest addition to the Auto Express fleet, with a little help from driving expert Martyn Poole.

You see, one of our Suzuki Vitara’s first jobs was to help me glean some ‘risk-reducing’ motoring advice, and a driver awareness training course proved to be an excellent way to go about it. Having only taken charge of the new crossover last month, I’m still getting to grips with it, but first impressions have been promising.

Style-wise, the car has taken some serious design cues from the Range Rover Evoque. The wraparound headlamps and chrome grille bear a passing resemblance to the British crossover, while its straight edges and smart alloys give it a chunky, purposeful look. However, the back isn’t as successful, with its raised rear and ungainly lights.

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The Vitara’s off-road roots mean you get a high driving position, which provides an excellent view of the road ahead. It’s also really comfortable in the front and rear, as there’s plenty of space and the leather and suede-trimmed seats are supportive.

The cabin also feels light and airy due to the  double sunroof that lets plenty of light in, although the trade-off is limited headroom for six-footers in the back due to the space needed for the panels to retract.

The sunroof only comes as standard on this top-spec SZ5 model, but it’s part of a long equipment list. As well as safety essentials, such as seven airbags and brake assist, you get sat-nav, DAB radio, a reversing camera, cruise control and more. Plus, many of these features come as standard across the range, which is even more impressive.

I’ve only really had the chance to test out the sat-nav and DAB radio so far, but I’ve been impressed with both. The nav took a while to get to grips with, but it looks great and has the touchscreen qualities of a smartphone. That means that you can pinch the screen to zoom in and out or drag the map to find your destination. Yet while it’s undoubtedly good, it’s not quite as responsive as a modern smartphone, so I tend to use the on-screen plus and minus buttons to adjust map size. 

One issue I have with the interior is the cheap feel of some of the trim. While the Vitara is a budget model, the hard plastics make it feel like Suzuki has really scrimped. 

Still, in everyday use, the SUV is a well thought out and family-friendly car. It’s easy to load items into the boot, and there are no awkward lips or arches to catch bags on, while there’s a hidden area under the floor, too.

When driving the Suzuki, you feel at home very quickly. The diesel sounds loud and brash, yet it’s still responsive, with a broad spread of power and decent motorway refinement. The handling  is a bit light at speed, but it’s good fun on twisty roads.

Hopefully the course has given me the tools to get the most out of the Vitara over the coming months – I certainly noticed a difference driving home after my tuition.

Driver awareness

Martyn’s skill is to improve driver awareness by teaching how to read the road, predict hazards and use your vehicle’s position to influence the behaviour of other drivers. Some of his tips and advice were a revelation in common-sense. 

For instance, many accidents occur at roundabouts. Martyn suggested that by braking steadily up to the junction, then holding back a few metres, you reduce the chance of a rear shunt due to constant brake light illumination. And should a shunt still happen, you won’t get pushed into an oncoming lorry! 

Martyn then made himself seem like Derren Brown, as he warned of an approaching bus on a narrow road long before it appeared. How did he know? He’d seen queues of people at previous bus stops, which told him that one must have been due. Simple, but genius!

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Creative director

As Creative director, Darren predominantly looks after the Auto Express magazine; whilst consulting for LRM, Evo and Enzo. He manages everything from photography briefs to layout and logo design. Darren has worked in the motoring industry for over 25 years and loves it.  e-mail: darren_wilson@dennis.co.uk

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