KEEPING a car tenaciously relevant to the needs of its buyers over a six-year period is no mean feat.
But that’s exactly what Suzuki has achieved with its time-honoured Vitara model – and just launched the most efficient iteration of the compact SUV yet.
The current Vitara generation has been around since 2015, benefiting from upgrades like new engines, safety kit, special editions and the introduction of a mild hybrid two years ago.
However the latest version is the first to get the full hybrid treatment in the shape of a 1.5-litre petrol engine assisted by a 140-volt battery and 24kW electric motor.
The challenge for manufacturers like Suzuki and cars like the Vitara is becoming ever more difficult. For instance when the existing variant first appeared there were 14 realistic rivals in the marketplace, now there are 23.
For the Japanese company though, there’s no shortage of reasons to be cheerful as Suzuki has not only been voted the most trusted car brand in Britain at present but has a model range that is electrified throughout, compared to an industry average of only 42 per cent.
A believer that hybrid power is not just about the technology but more about the benefits – like better fuel economy and lower emissions – Suzuki is, for the time being at least, retaining a version of its popular 1.4-litre mild hybrid offering.
It gives users the option of a manual transmission whereas the new full hybrid comes as an automated manual, though in reality you just push the lever into ‘D’ and drive away.
For the initial 35 per cent of buyers expected to go for the newcomer, which starts at the £1,750 higher price point of £25,499, they are getting a car that’s bang on the money for that ideal blend of style, driving enjoyment and economy.
As a car company that sets much store by giving customers the technology they need as standard rather than having an endless list of options, there are just two Vitara hybrid trim grades.
Entry level SZ-T is extensive, including seven airbags, LED headlamps, auto air con, four electric windows, keyless entry, blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, smartphone link audio and navigation, Bluetooth and rear privacy glass.
Add £2,000 for the SZ5 grade and in comes 17-inch polished alloys, suede seat upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors plus the availability of ALLGRIP four-wheel drive.
Otherwise the only extra cost option is £535 for single-tone metallic paint (£835 dual-tone).
The models used for the media launch were all top spec Vitara SZ5 ALLGRIP versions that include features like the useful Hill Descent Control along with the buzzy Vehicle Sway Warning that can prove more irritating than helpful.
Vitaras have always been fun cars to drive and live with, so the test route from the heart of Cheshire through to mid-Wales via the fringe of Snowdonia offered the ideal conditions, marred only by persistent rain and low-lying mist, to bring out the best in the Suzuki as well as highlight any shortcomings.
Of the latter there were few, though the 1.5-litre (115PS) engine felt a little laboured on some of the steeper inclines and it’s official performance figures of 0-62 in 12.7 seconds (13.5 for ALLGRIP) meant some high revving when needing to overtake.
That apart it was pretty much plain sailing for the Vitara, which has a light, easy to drive nature with nimble handling and two selectable hybrid drive modes of Standard and Eco.
Using principally the Eco setting we returned an average 42.5 miles per gallon over 126 miles of driving, comparing favourably with the official consumption figure of 48.4mpg. CO2 emissions are 121g/km for 2WD models and 132g/km for ALLGRIP.
It all adds up to a car that looks stylish and solid with its clamshell bonnet, sloping roofline and slightly raised ride height. It has stood the test of time and should continue to do so.
The new Suzuki Vitara Hybrid is on sale now with full availability of models due in April.