1 Jul 1988
Although not generally acknowledged as such, 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 and the separate chassis part-time rear-to-4WD system with an integrated two-speed transfer box helped with off-road duties.
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 co-operation 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.
The latter included power steering, central locking, power windows and power mirrors.
A four-speed auto became an alternative to the five-speed manual gearbox in August ’89.