Suzuki is in the midst of a bold assault on the UK market, and the Vitara is a key new model for the Japanese manufacturer. It joins the firm's bigger S-Cross in the small SUV class, pitched against rivals such as the Citroën C4 Cactus and Renault Captur.
We've already tried the Vitara in 1.6 petrol form on local roads, so now we're driving the 1.6 diesel on and off road in the UK. Does the Vitara still stand out in the small SUV class, and does it offer Suzuki's traditionally strong off-road ability for those of an adventurous disposition?
What’s the 2015 Suzuki Vitara like to drive?
At 118bhp, the 1.6-litre diesel engine may not sound particularly powerful for a car this size, but it’s very well suited to the Vitara. It’s a bit rattly past 3000rpm but it'll easily haul four people up to motorway speeds and becomes more hushed once you’re up to speed.
The high-speed refinement elsewhere is disappointing, though; there's a lot of road noise and wind noise whipped up around those big door mirrors.
Paired with this 1.6-litre engine is a six-speed manual gearbox. Happily, the diesel's plentiful torque makes this Vitara flexible in gear, so you won’t have to be constantly shifting through the ratios when driving around town.
2WD comes as standard on the diesel, but you're able to upgrade to Suzuki’s 'ALLGRIP' all-wheel-drive system which can be added to range-topping SZ5 trim for an additional £1800.
If you opt for the all-wheel-drive version, then you can select from three different driving modes; Auto, Sport and Snow/Mud. Sport mode noticeably sharpens up the throttle response and makes it a bit more eager to rev in gear which helps overtaking on faster B-roads.
Even if you do decide to go for the AWD version, economy figures remain impressive. The 2WD diesel version emits just 106g/km of CO2 and this only rises to 111g/km on the ALLGRIP.
Along with the all-wheel-drive option, the Vitara also gets some additional off-road equipment that many rivals don’t offer; however, it is only modestly capable off the beaten track.
The AWD system works well, as do features like Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control, but you would be ill advised to buy the car purely for its rugged capabilities. It’s rather an added extra that is handy to have on the rare occasion you may find yourself with some rutted fields to cross.
What’s the 2015 Suzuki Vitara like inside?
The Vitara lags behind its rivals on interior quality, with lots of cheap-looking hard plastics on the dash, and the infotainment system isn’t particularly responsive or intuitive, which makes using it on the move challenging.
For interior space, though, the Vitara outdoes many of its rivals. The 375-litre boot capacity beats that of the Citroën C4 Cactus, Renault Captur and Nissan Juke. It’s comfortable and spacious in the front, too, with great visibility forwards and backwards.
Two different trim levels are available on the diesel Vitara - SZ-T and SZ5. Rear privacy glass,17in silver painted alloy wheels and an infotainment with smartphone connectivity and sat-nav comes with SZ-T.
Forking out an extra £2500 for SZ5 gets you luxuries such as LED headlights, 17in polished alloys, suede seat fabric, keyless entry with start button, adaptive cruise control and a panoramic sunroof.
There’s also a lot of room for personalisation. You can choose between 10 body colours as well as a number of other exterior and interior features, like the colour of the front grille and an interior clock design.
Should I buy one?
The entry-level diesel is very keenly priced for private buyers. It comes with a good level of kit as standard and returns impressive fuel economy figures. However, choosing to upgrade to AWD means also upgrading the trim level, and then a diesel Vitara becomes less of a tempting prospect, particularly considering it's an additional £4300 over the entry-level model.
Beyond that, when compared against rivals like the Juke and other small SUVs, the Vitara stacks up very well indeed. It may not be as plush inside, but it's well-powered, economical and, crucially for some, offers more space.
Ultimately we'd recommend trying the cheaper 1.6 petrol Vitara first, which will make more financial sense to the majority of people at this end of the SUV class. However, refinement aside, the cleaner, more frugal diesel is still the better bet for company car drivers and those covering lots of motorway miles.
What Car? says...
Suzuki Vitara 1.6 DDiS SZ-T