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Car reviews - Suzuki - Vitara - range

Overview

1 Aug 1988

DID you know that the first Vitara that burst onto the scene in mid 1988 offered non-4WD buyers the first true civilised light-4WD alternative? Its spunky styling, car-like cabin comfort, peppy performance and appealing high-seating position struck a chord worldwide. A new 55kW 1.6-litre single-cam four-cylinder engine gave good on-road performance, the separate chassis part-time rear-to-4WD system with an integrated two-speed transfer box helped with off-road duties, while the almost car-like dynamics were a corollary of the coil spring front and rear suspension, which replaced the leaf spring set-up of the earlier, smaller Sierra and Jimny Suzuki 4x4s. Developed with the cooperation of General Motors, the Vitara initially arrived in two body styles – a three-door five-seat hardtop and a two-door four-seat soft-top – in base JX and well-equipped JLX guises. A four-speed auto became an alternative to the five-speed manual gearbox from mid-’89. Two years later the range expanded with the advent of the longer-wheelbase four-door five-seat wagons, as well as the brief appearance of a base two-seat JU hard and soft-top. The wagon also offered more luggage space and an improved, 71kW, fuel-injected 1.6-litre 16-valve engine as well as a four-speed auto option. At the same time the short-wheelbase (SWB) models received a facelift, minor trim changes, improved ergonomics and small mechanical refinements. In late '94 the wagon’s 71kW 1.6 engine spread across the whole Vitara range. Its framed grille also found its way on all variants, along with revised trim and a slight increase in specification. Meanwhile, in early ’95, a flagship model called “Estate Wagon” arrived, featuring a 100kW 2.0 quad-cam V6 engine model, a widened and reinforced platform, retuned suspension, a new dashboard, a beefed up body, the option of anti-lock brakes and front airbags and a more-protruding grille. Then its new cabin was incorporated in the rest of the whole Vitara range from late ’95. A 97kW 2.0-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine became an option from May ’97 before finally replacing the ageing 1.6 engine altogether a year later. With the arrival of the new, bigger Grand Vitara models from early ‘98, Suzuki phased out the 1.6 wagons in late ’98, followed by the V6 wagons in late ’99, while the SWB Vitaras soldiered on until around mid ’00, when the first of the SWB Grand Vitara models arrived.

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Model release date: 1 July 1988 to 1 April 2000

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