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Mild hybrid powertrain aims to boost SUV's appeal.
Suzuki's small SUV gains mild hybrid power.
Standard equipment on SZ5:
17in alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, roof rails, keyless entry and start, automatic LED headlights, LED DRLs, electrically adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors, automatic air conditioning, double sliding panoramic sunroof, satnav, smartphone connectivity, reversing camera, front and
rear parting sensors, hill descent control, autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, lane departure warning and prevention, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert.
As SUVs took over increasing amounts of the new car market during the past 15 years or so, most new models ignored any pretence towards off-road driving ability, instead focusing on paired rugged styling with family car practicality. As the sales figures show, most drivers are very happy with this approach - but what about the minority who might still want a small SUV with four-wheel drive? Well, Suzuki's Vitara - although itself a more mainstream prospect now than the chunky off-roaders that used to bear the badge - is one of the few models in its segment that still offers this facility. What's more, it's recently been made more efficient with the introduction of a new mild hybrid powertrain.
The only engine option now available in the range, it augments a 1.4-litre, 129hp petrol engine with a 48V hybrid system, which can support the petrol engine when accelerating - noticeable as the Vitara gains speed fairly strongly throughout the rev band. It also performs 'electric motor idling', saving fuel by essentially replacing fuel injection with power from the motor when the clutch is disengaged. Depending on spec, Suzuki says the new powertrain offers up to 20% lower CO2 emissions and 15% lower fuel consumption compared with previous Vitara engines.
You don't have to have the Vitara with four-wheel drive, but the car tested here does feature the Allgrip system, which allows the driver to choose between automatic and permanent four-wheel drive modes and also ones tailored for sporty driving or inclement weather. Aside from the upcoming Toyota Yaris Cross and slightly larger Dacia Duster, it's a feature that isn't really seen in this segment outside of premium and performance models, and could prove an attractive extra selling point for drivers in rural areas.
Opting for two-wheel drive instead would take the Vitara three BIK bands lower, save over 4mpg of fuel on official testing, and cut nearly £2,000 from the P11D, however, removing the model's USP gives it a much trickier task contending against the wealth of talented rivals on the market. The Vitara is particularly handicapped by an interior that feels a bit past it, especially bearing in mind it's the range-topping SZ5 equipment grade that's tested here, with analogue instruments around a 4.2in screen retained instead of a modern full digital cluster, a central infotainment screen that's on the small side and with outdated graphics, and some disappointingly scratchy plastics.
The Vitara does still have other good points, however. It's decent fun to drive, feeling light and fairly nimble when cornering, and ride comfort is also good. In addition, the six-speed automatic gearbox tested here, which joined the Vitara range earlier this year (a manual is also available) shifts smoothly enough - although it seems strange to pair it with a manual handbrake - and good all-round visibility makes the model easy to drive around town. Put this all together and there's enough at least for those attracted by the four-wheel drive capability to give the Vitara some consideration.