If you were to put your last quid on buying a reliable car what would you go for?
To be fair there are no longer any bad cars, the days of Lada, FSO and Yugo a distant memory, so may be look to the premium brands, they are bound to be a safe bet. Generally they are but they do not always fair well in customer satisfaction surveys.
My money would be on Korean or Japanese brands, in particular Suzuki. I know, not the most glamourous and a bit of a left field choice, but the company is always near the top of the satisfaction and reliability surveys and here’s one of the reasons why.
Vitara has been Suzuki’s best seller for what seems like an age although it has been nudged off poll position by Swift (another gem of a car) but I would put money on Vitara bouncing back soon.
It’s not even the company’s halo car any more, a restructuring has seen the mantle passed to S Cross, very similar, yet customers still prefer Vitara.
So what makes Vitara so special? Basically it is a bit of an enigma. It has had plenty of updates so is technically sound; it is a full hybrid and a competent off roader for bargain money. But sit it next to a new Kia Sportage for instance and it is starting to look dated.
The last facelift brought in full hybrid with a 140V supply mated to a 1.5 litre petrol engine. The result is lower emissions and remarkably good economy, all but 48mpg over 560 miles and 51mpg on a hilly 300 mile round trip to Pembrokeshire. Impressive for an all wheel drive SUV.
Suzuki has built an enviable reputation as a 4×4 specialist and Vitara proves it with a four mode selection. A limited slip differential is unusual for a £29k off roader but can help you get out of some tricky situations like snow, braking a spinning wheel and sending torque to those with grip.
A bit of performance has been lost to the mild hybrid model and the six speed automatic gearbox suffers a slight lull between changes which is irritating when overtaking.
Inside Vitara looks to have a neat and tidy layout but again is a bit dated. While rivals have computer generated displays the driver is faced with old fashioned dials. Silver numbers on a silver background with 20mph increments are not easy to read. Fortunately you will find a digital speedometer by scrolling through a central multi function display.
Vitara is not a big car, the longer Grand model dropped a while ago, but the cabin proportions are generous enough and can cope with a family of five. Build quality is up to standard but hard plastic trim does little for the car’s image.
The ride is firm but not uncomfortable although you feel suspension thump over potholes and there is quite a bit of road noise
On the plus side there is bags of equipment even on entry SZ-T with navigation, rear camera, keyless entry, digital air conditioning, smartphone connection and LED headlights. SZ5 gets a panoramic sunroof and front and rear parking sensors along with the option of all wheel drive.
The safety package includes my favourite cross traffic alert, blind spot monitor and adaptive cruise control.
In spite of its flaws Vitara is still a cracking family SUV with an inexpensive, impressive four wheel drive system. I could happily live with this car and was sad to see it go.
Vitara SZ5 Allgrip 6sp auto
£29,299 (range starts £23,749)
1.5 litre petrol; 115bhp
0-62mph 12.7secs; 111mph
132g/km. 1st tax £165
Insurance group 16
Boot: 289 litres