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A lot to be said for cheap and cheerful

Suzuki Vitara

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A lot to be said for cheap and cheerful

A basic Suzuki Vitara – manual gearbox and petrol engine all wrapped in a conventional package – may fly under the radar in the more urbane suburbs but BRUCE McMAHON finds that it deserves a bit more respect, even in this new age of motoring.

Consider the opportunities: How about the humble Suzuki Vitara as the back-up to run the Labrador to the vet or pick up the grandkids, while the gleaming all-electric limousine sits sucking on the household’s 240 volts? How about a Vitara as training wheels for learners?

There are expensive, $30,000-plus Suzuki Vitaras with all-wheel drive, extra driving aids and turbocharged engine but an entry-level, two-wheel drive Vitara with five-speed manual starts around a reasonable list price of $23,990.

It’s a cheap option to buy, run and fuel according to the automobile clubs’ surveys.

Today Suzuki’s Vitara is softer in style and substance than the original yet still offers the practicality of an orthodox five-door wagon and decent ground clearance of 185mm, so even the base front-drive version is handy for city, highway and back country road jaunts.

It’s no great stand-out in the style department unless dolled up with paint options, but then there’s less need to park miles from shops for fear of errant trolleys on expensive bodywork.

The Suzuki’s interior is practical with a fair amount of hard plastics. Seats are fine, there’s room for four adults and even with this base version enough comfort and convenience features.

There’s a centre touch screen for audio, phone hook-up (sometimes touchy) plus rear camera and a trip computer sitting between speedometer and tachometer (both hard to read in the daylight hours).

Suzuki reckon the Vitara will run at 5.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle; that appears close to real world figures.

It’s a light, easy vehicle to drive. Steering is positive enough. It handles with a touch of understeer and a little body roll if pushed while ride comfort is quite good for this class of machine, even if this is never the quietest of SUV cabins.

The 1.6 litre engine need stirrings right through those five speeds – with old-fashioned gear stick and clutch pedal – to find optimum power of 86kW and 156Nm of torque, both discovered high in the rev range at 6000rpm and 4400rpm respectively.

Here’s where drivers may better understand the nuances of conventional motor cars; better understand the relationship between throttle, gear shifts and brakes.  It could be argued that learning to drive a petrol-engined, manual transmission car will soon be an antiquated set of skills. Like learning Latin.

Yet who knows when a backpacker is asked to shift a Polish potato farmer’s ute across the paddock? Or the intern needs to take the company’s old commercial van out for deliveries?

Plus there’s the argument that these mechanical skills make for a better driver, particularly one who will read road and traffic conditions ahead, in any type of car.

For while the base Suzuki Vitara has a five-star ANCAP crash rating, seven airbags and traction control, there are no driver alert systems if drifting across a lane marking, no beeps and flashing lights if there’s a car alongside, no automatic braking if too close to cars ahead.

It’s all a bit old school in this new age of motoring so folk need to pay more attention to the business of driving and take more responsibility.

There are many reasons why prosaic Suzuki Vitaras remain useful modes of transport, even as we roll into the new age of motoring.

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