Car reviews - Suzuki - Vitara - range
Chunky styling, tough 4WD bits underneath, wieldy around town
Room for improvement
Refinement a little compromised off-road
1 Aug 2003
THE Suzuki Vitara is a good-time car. Trendy and attractively styled, it is a compact four-wheel drive that promises fun, excitement and a not too serious approach to life.
The Vitara provides smart and convenient transport around town but is capable of doing a competent job if called upon to demonstrate its off-road capabilities.
Although the Vitara is styled more for the city than the country, its more basic brother, the Sierra, can be seen on many a remote outback property as a general runabout, providing convenient transport and an ability to go places where many full-size four-wheel drives would struggle.
The Vitara is available in a number of versions. The standard JX model is a full four-seater, the rear seat being a bench that folds away to provide more luggage space.
The more expensive JLX has adjustable individual rear bucket seats, tilt steering wheel and a “power package” which includes power-assisted steering, windows and door mirrors as well as central locking.
Soft top versions - the 1990s reincarnation of the Mini Moke - are available for those who enjoy the open air.
All models feature high standard passenger car-type appointments and finish.
A 1.6-litre, carburettor-equipped, single overhead camshaft engine powers all models, driving through a five-speed manual gearbox or three-speed automatic and transfer box.
In 1994 electronic fuel-injection became standard, with a four-speed auto available.
Four-wheel drive is engaged by manually locking the front hubs and selecting high or low ratio using the second gear lever. This procedure may never have been utilised on many city dwelling Vitaras.
Front suspension is independent with struts and coil springs while the solid rear axle also has coil springs and trailing links. Front brakes are discs with drums at the rear.
The soft top option is great fun and simple to operate. The canvas top attaches to steel frames with Velcro then pushes easily into body-mounted clips. Weather strips all round provide excellent sealing. The soft top is designed to open over the front seats - an excellent feature.
On the road, the Vitara performs well. With only 1100kg to propel, the lively engine gives sporty performance and the tight suspension and good visibility make for a fun driving package.
Off road, the minimal body overhang and good gearing mean good performance in all but the very worst conditions.
The Vitara is well built and there are no typical service difficulties or faults. Servicing is carried out every 10,000km.
The interior is well appointed and finished with contoured front bucket seats, pleasant steering wheel and well laid out instruments and centre console with radio/cassette player and heater controls. The JLX has cloth trim and large size front door armrests.
Because of its attractive presentation, excellent performance and popularity with young buyers, the Vitara retains its value well on the used car market.
The Vitara is a benchmark small four-wheel drive. It is most attractively presented and provides comfortable city transport while having the capability and strength to handle true off-road conditions if required.
It is reliable and economical to run and offers an appealing alternative to the more bulky conventional four-wheel drives.
Take care when buying to ensure off-road work has not resulted in hidden underbody damage. A full on-lift examination should check for bent suspension components and a stone-blasted underfloor would indicate frequent gravel road use.
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