OF all the simple pleasures in motoring life, driving small and cheap 4x4 Suzukis is one.
Be they Jimnys, Sierras or Vitaras they've represented a fun go-anywhere lifestyle for decades, and always with a youthful flavour.
Suzuki's new Vitara encapsulates that perfectly. It's smaller than before to give it city SUV chic, there's colour personalisation and plenty of added tech and spec to attract younger shoppers.
Most of them, of course, will buy a 2WD Vitara, not least because it costs from just $22,990 (drive away in Queensland). But Suzuki forgets its roots at its peril, and there'll always be a core market wanting their small 'Zooks to be able to tackle the reasonably rough stuff.
This part-time 4WD Vitara is the GLX range topper, offering the multi-surface capabilities many small SUV models have given up on, but does cost a not insignificant 10 grand more than the base Vitara.
All Vitaras have generous kit, and the 4WD version scores lovely feeling and grippy suede/leather seats, even if they proved a bit hard after a few hours in the saddle.
Cabin design is clean and well thought out, with the top of the dashboard incorporating air vents and an analogue clock particularly pleasing on the eye.
Touch points are generally very good, but the doors feature a big slab of hard plastic which spoils things a bit, but they do look hard wearing. And speaking of doors (and boot), they need a good slam to fully close.
A seven-inch touchscreen blends seamlessly into the centre console, and is a talented, sharp system once you get used to the functions.
Great visibility from the front and second row is a big plus, while rear occupants get decent head room for a small SUV.
On the road
With only 86kW from the 1.6-litre don't expect performance fireworks, but slip the Vitara into Sport mode and it is a responsive and revvy unit.
It sits at motorway speeds in quiet comfort, is light and easy to manoeuvre around town and throw it into some corners and the balance and grip are surprisingly good. It's an easy thing to live with, and there's enough fun on-road driving to be had to match the quirky looks.
Then there's the off-road stuff. Suzuki's ALLGRIP system automatically sends more torque to the rear wheels if the fronts start spinning, but you can also select a "Snow" setting for slippery surfaces, or for our beach driving, use the "Lock" mode for battling over soft sand.
Serious off-roading isn't possible with a ground clearance of only 185mm (not bad for its class though), but the Vitara proved a talented thing on the beach, the wheels gripping the sand - even the deep soft stuff - with impressive ability. Small Suzuki 4x4s have always benefited from being very lightweight, and the Vitara's 1185kg mass is a huge benefit over troublesome terrain.
What do you get?
Such good value is the base GL+ Vitara ($22,990 drive away in Qld) that this range-topping part-time 4WD GLX version needs to be fruit-filled to justify its $10k higher price tag.
Goodies include the auto gearbox with paddle shifters, a double sliding panoramic sunroof, leather and suede seats, keyless entry and start, 17-inch wheels and parking sensors. Of course the key spec upgrade you're paying for is the smart 4WD system, while all new Vitaras get a 7.0-inch touchscreen, sat nav, rear-view camera, LED running lights and cruise control as standard.
The two-tone metallic paint (as seen in our black and white test car) is an extra $995.
Quoted fuel economy is 6.3-litres/100km, and our test over motorway, town and beach roads returned an excellent 6.8-litres/100km average. Five-year capped price servicing also helps the bottom line.
Despite its compact SUV size, the Vitara does storage very well. The cabin features versatile drinks holders in the centre console and mighty door pockets to store your stuff. Boot space at 375-litres (up to 1120-litres with the rear seats folded) isn't class leading, but is still very good and should satisfy a small family's needs.
Compact SUV rivals include the Mazda CX-3 sTouring AWD ($30,990), Mitsubishi ASX LS 4WD ($31,490), Peugeot 4008 Active AWD ($33,490) and Subaru XV 2.0i-S AWD ($32,490). Also check out Suzuki's own S-Cross 4WD ($32,990) or Grand Vitara Sport 4WD ($30,990) for more space.
Exhibiting a youthful panache and in-vogue colour customisation options, the new Vitara maintains the tradition of fun Suzuki 4WDs of the past. It looks tough enough with its kicked-up body-side lines for chunkiness, while the sloping roof line, edgy lights and small stature signals modern cool. Two-tone colours really suit the model, with orange or turquoise an easy route to funky town.
The 4WD Vitara's $10k price hike over the 2WD entry level variant will mean it will attract fewer buyers, but the GLX model is a standout nonetheless. It will tackle the rutted roads, sodden pathways and sandy tracks with the aplomb you'd expect of a lightweight 4x4 Suzuki, staying true to the brand's fun go-anywhere ethos.
It can claim to be a "proper" Sports Utility Vehicle while many of its 2WD-only rivals shuffle off timidly to the charlatan corner.
What matters most
What we liked: Funky style and personalisation options, fun handling, off road capability, impressive true fuel economy figure, decent standard kit.
What we'd like to see: Comfier seats, fewer hard plastics, better door and boot closing, a bit more engine oomph.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty and five-year capped price servicing.
Model: Suzuki Vitara GLX (called Vitara RT-X in non-Queensland markets).
Details: Five-door part-time four-wheel drive compact SUV.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 86kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 156Nm @ 4400rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.3-litres/100km (combined).
Towing capacity: 1200kg (braked).
Bottom line: $32,990 (drive away in Queensland); ($31,990 before on-roads in other states).