The BEST crossover in the world (and no idle boast!)
What makes a good car these days? Sound engineering, responsive handling, low running costs and remarkable performance seem like a decent combination. Suppose I told you that a Suzuki Vitara (list prices start at £16,999) is a tremendous all-rounder (actually, I have done so, if you check back through these blogs)? It is an SUV/crossover class of car. It has bags of interior space, easy entry and exit and a simply outstanding level of grip, handling and roadholding.
Now, consider that the same Vitara is powered by a 1.0-litre (yes, 998cc), three-cylinder (yes, not four), petrol-turbo engine. You might find the details hard to swallow. However, this phenomenal Suzuki engine delivers no less than 109bhp, 125lbs ft of torque, a posted 49.5mpg (although I attained 53.8mpg with a little extra effort) and emits a modest 129g/km CO2. Not bad, considering that it drives through a six-speed automatic transmission and is lugging around 1,180kgs kerbweight.
Of course, I would love to punt around in a hot hatchback but the reality is most of them are too compromised for me to live with. My personal demands dictate first-class handling and damping as a priority. Speed is virtually a worthless criterion these days. Yet, I want to drive an engine that plays gainfully. I want to hear it working and it needs to produce a pleasant noise, with the revs rising and falling harmoniously. The 1.0-litre Suzuki unit does.
For the past (almost) three years, I have been spoilt by driving a Suzuki Baleno. It is powered by the same engine as this Vitara in a somewhat more compact package. I also enjoy its regular 50+mpg frugality, almost regardless of the velocity at which I drive it. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise in discovering that this Vitara can deliver an easy 50mpg and that I am exceptionally well catered for by its SZ-T trim level. Okay, I miss the extra timepiece located between the two airvents in the top-dash-centre (SZ5)…except there is a clock in the main instrument pod and another (unsynchronised) unit in the infotainment screen. I also miss slightly the pushbutton starter (and stopper; SZ5) but turning a key in the steering lock is not a major effort.
My mobile pairs-up rapidly with the touch-screen, allowing me to play some of my music collection, as stored on it, through the car’s first-rate digital stereo system. The sat-nav works efficiently, complete with ‘pinch’ adjustment and ‘google maps’ on my mobile is also available. It also features a rear camera. The air-con (not climate control; as in SZ5) works efficaciously and the cloth upholstery is comfortable and supportive.
However, it is the tremendously engaging and neutral, front-wheel-drive, on-road behaviour that is the car’s major attraction. Its tiny engine seldom appears to struggle and, given its head and a German motorway, a seemingly unfeasible 125mph is possible, after despatching the 0-60mph sprint in around 11.9s. What’s not to love?
Luscombe’s summary: Extraordinarily impressive, the Suzuki Vitara 1.0SZ-T Auto is unquestionably the car that is being recommended to potential buyers seeking an ideal blend of frugality, performance, handling and space-conscious packaging.
Next week: Iain contemplates Suzuki’s AWD options
Although presented initially as show/concept cars by Suzuki, highlights Iain Robertson, both iM-4 and iK-2 showpieces were soon turned into full production realities, with only minimal styling changes being introduced.
Starting with the iK-2 of 2015, it was suggested that the five-door hatchback would offer all of the elements expected in a car of its dimensions. Suzuki is renowned as the compact car expert, having built-up unrivalled know-how in developing compact models from the Suzulight in the 1950s and the Alto of the 1970s, to its latest model line-up. In the iK-2, Suzuki intended to take the ideal image of a compact car to a new level.
Featuring ‘Liquid Flow’ design, the concept expressed the energetic movement of liquids, which would gift the car a classy, elegant, yet dynamic appearance. The model was built around a new-generation (Swift) platform and would be equipped with the new BOOSTERJET engine, a direct-injection turbo petrol unit that we have all come to admire. By adding the production model based on this concept car to the line-up, Suzuki would be giving drivers a much greater compact car proposition. The production model was planned to use the SHVS mild hybrid system and it was to be released in Europe in early 2016.
It became Baleno, a car produced in India to the highest possible quality standards. Sadly, Baleno imports will come to an end later this year, although they will continue in India for many more years.
On the other hand, the iM-4 also shown at Geneva in 2015, was intended as a personal vehicle that could open-up new possibilities and develop new ways to have fun. Packaged in a simple, yet iconic design, the compact iM-4 was intelligent but tough, offering reliable performance rooted in the Suzuki 4x4 tradition, coupled with the latest fuel-saving technology. The minimalist design blended perfectly into the driver’s lifestyle, while its distinctive character brought real inspiration to the daily routine.
With its 4WD system, higher ground clearance and hip-height entry point, the iM-4 was designed to be a credible partner that was easy to drive, while also offering performance that allowed a driver to deal with adverse conditions and poor surfaces. It would have a user-friendly interior and spacious luggage area, while also incorporating cutting-edge technology with a new platform (shared with the Swift) and the SHVS mild hybrid system, for improved fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions.
Designed to be simple, yet iconic, pure, yet lovable and innovative, yet retro, the unique and minimalist body consisted of plain surfaces, with straight lines that would give it a distinctive appearance. Positioning the wheels at the car’s corners hinted at its muscular potential. This was the concept that became the much-loved Suzuki Ignis.
Luscombe’s summary: Suzuki is small enough not to waste time on useless projects. Its show cars are usually productionised, as both iK-2 and iM-4 prove conclusively.
Next week: Suzuki and the All-Star Driving School
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