Flared wheel arches, matching body kit and glitter paint jobs all helped make the original Suzuki Vitara something of a fashion statement.
That was back in the early to mid-90s when pimped up versions like the Fatboy cruised around sporting some kaleidoscopic colour combinations.
The best part of 27 years since pioneering the fledgling budget SUV scene, the Vitara is into its fourth generation with a new model that’s still delivering the fun factor, albeit with a 21st Century twist.
While its styling is more conventional, and not too dissimilar from several other vehicles of its type, there are still plenty of unique touches that give the model its own personality.
So you can have two-tone colour mixes and striking metallics, along with grille, bumper and instrument panel details that can be personalised, while styling packages make for a more rugged or urban look.
The Vitara, along with new city car the Celerio, is spearheading a sales push that will see the small car specialist add a compact hatchback model to its line-up in early 2016, followed by a similarly sized crossover variant the following year.
And ensuring all these models are not only extremely fuel efficient but also environmentally friendly is also a priority for the Japanese company, to the point that the top three lowest CO2-emitting four-wheel drive vehicles currently available are all Suzukis – the Swift and Vitara with 111g/km and the S-Cross with 114g/km.
In the case of the Vitara, which is now only available as a five-door, there’s a choice of 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6 DDiS diesel engines and three trim grades of SZ4, SZ-T and SZ5.
All the powerplants are economical, the petrol versions with front-wheel drive capable of returning 53.3 miles per gallon and only slightly less with the AllGrip 4WD system at 50.4, while the two-wheel drive diesel boasts 70.6mpg and 67.2 with 4WD.
Vitara prices start at a tempting £13,999 for the 1.6 SZ4 and while diesels will set you back an extra £3K they do start with the mid-range, and comprehensively equipped, SZ-T trim.
If you want AllGrip, which I’d recommend, then the starting point is £19,799 with a £1,500 premium for diesel.
This multi-mode traction system has four settings – Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock – all simply accessed via a rotary knob and which give the Vitara some useful capability in difficult conditions.
Part of the press launch route mainly taking in country roads around the West Country included negotiating a disused limestone quarry on three levels in the Mendip Hills.
It may not have been Land Rover territory but the Vitara was nonetheless forced to earn its corn, tackling sharply angled slopes, rocky trails, a water feature and, with Hill Descent Control engaged, a steep downhill section.
Its off-road credentials confirmed, the Suzuki proved a positive, well balanced and enjoyable SUV to drive on the lanes and A roads, though the petrol version would definitely benefit from a stronger engine.
At times, heading uphill, it needed heavy revving and would probably struggle fully laden.
Petrol versions come as standard with a five-speed manual transmission and the diesels with six-speed, though a six-speed automatic will be available for the top spec petrol model from July.
As for the Vitara’s design, getting the colour combinations right and adding some style cues makes all the difference.
For instance a plain white model looks distinguished but doesn’t stand out. Going for something like the Horizon Orange metallic and adding a £500 Urban Pack – chrome plated fog lamp bezels, body side mouldings and a roof spoiler – looks the business.
All the Vitara models are extensively kitted out, have seven airbags, a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, Isofix child seat fittings in the rear and include Bluetooth and DAB radio as standard.
The interior feels tough and there’s plenty of space plus a large boot with underfloor area too.
Sat-nav joins the party at mid-range SZ-T grade and there’s a double sliding panoramic sunroof on top spec versions, which also have suede upholstery and keyless entry.