When we reviewed the Suzuki Vitara last year, we felt it was somewhat lacking in the requisite ‘fun factor’ hinted at by the Vitara name.

At least part of the blame for that, we felt, lay with the rather leisurely range of engines, so when Suzuki announced the arrival of their new 1.4-litre turbocharged ‘Boosterjet’ unit, we wanted to take another crack at it.

The new engine is available exclusively in a new sportier model, dubbed the Vitara S, and as well as the new inhabitant under the bonnet, there are a few changes to the styling.

There’s a new black grille flanked by restyled headlights, plus some extra trim on the front bumper, black cladding on the doors, a modest roof spoiler, and a set of gloss black alloy wheels.

The interior receives a splash of silver trim across the dash, subtle red stitching, and seats in part-leather/suede-effect upholstery.

Everything else is largely unchanged, and that unfortunately means our previous observations about the driving position still apply: the steering wheel appears to be angled away from the driver a touch too steeply, and this can be tiring on the wrists, while the pedals are mounted quite close to the driver in relation to the other controls, creating a short-legged, long-armed driving position that isn’t comfortable for everyone.

That said, we still appreciate the sheer simplicity of it all – something Suzuki always do well – from the clear and easy-to-read instruments, to the touch-screen media and navigation system which, although it’s a little clunky and slow to respond at times, does offer most functions people could need.

Rear seat passengers should have little complain about, and headroom’s less of an issue because there’s no option of a sunroof on the S model.

Boot space is unchanged from the regular Vitara with 375 litres on offer including a dual-level floor, rising to 710 litres with the seats folded, although this does leave behind a sloping load area.

The big news, though, is the arrival of Suzuki’s new 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, dubbed Boosterjet. It produces 140PS and 220Nm of torque, from which the company claims a rather modest 0-62mph time of 10.2 seconds, plus emissions of 127 g/km and economy up to 52.3 mpg – although we averaged around 43 mpg after a week’s testing.

On the road, it performs almost like a diesel: there’s some initial lag at low revs before a tidal wave of torque squirts the Vitara towards the horizon, complete with torque steer, but by 4,000rpm boost begins to drop off rapidly – an unavoidable feature of its smaller capacity.

Be quick through the gears and it can make for enticingly rapid progress, and although the six-speed manual’s shift action isn’t as clean as some of Suzuki’s other gearboxes, it does have a well-chosen set of ratios.

What we did notice, though, was some lumpiness in the throttle response. Even the tiniest throttle input results in a leap in engine revs, making pulling away smoothly more tricky than it needs to be, while maintaining a steady speed with a light throttle leads to a subtle surging sensation as the ECU overcompensates for minute changes in the pedal’s position.

This, we hope, is something Suzuki will be able to dial out, as I imagine some people will find it wearing.

Also a touch on the lumpy side is the steering, something we mentioned in our previous Vitara review. The Suzuki seems to require constant steering inputs to keep it all heading in the right direction, and in truth the sensation is close to that offered by a car with incorrect toe-in settings.

And, to continue what we said in our earlier review, the body control still suffers from a touch too much roll, quite pronounced pitch and dive – particularly under acceleration, now there’s more power on offer – and it’s still easily upset by mid-corner bumps.

We also complained about the paranoid collision warning system, and I’m afraid that’s just as annoying in the Vitara S; we found it was easily triggered by cars pulling into side turnings, or even driving past a parked car.

So, at the end of all of this, we have to ask: is the Vitara S more fun to drive than the regular model?

Yes, it is. It’s genuinely nippy, and you can certainly have a bit of a laugh with it through the twisties.

It’s also a respectable performer on the motorway, the ride soaking up seams in the tarmac well, and the engine settling down to a distant hum. In fact, once the engine’s warmed up, at idle it’s almost inaudible.

And despite our misgivings about the suspension and steering, the Vitara still manages to deliver that light-on-its-feet feeling that Suzuki always does so well.

However, because the Vitara S wears a price tag of just under £21,000, it’s difficult not to compare it with something like a Mazda CX-3.  And in that company, Suzuki needs to get a handle on the Vitara’s damping, throttle response and steering.

If they can do that, they’ll have created an engaging little car.

Tester’s Notes

  • Driving position appears compromised by shared platform hard-points
  • S-Cross platform twin has greater interior and cargo space
  • Infotainment UI design lacks finesse; sluggish in responses
  • Appealing interior simplicity
  • 1.4 turbo almost diesel-like power delivery – boost tails off from 4k rpm
  • Drive-by-wire throttle has over-eager response; leads to tricky pull-aways and surging on constant throttle as system over-amplifies small throttle inputs
  • Steering requires constant inputs
  • Pronounced pitch and dive; touch too much body roll; thrown off-line by mid-corner bumps
  • Collision warning system trigged by turning/parked cars
  • Good engine noise isolation
  • Rides smoothly; feels light on its feet
  • Pricey given its shortcomings
  • Commendable 43mpg on test
Entry-level Price £20,899 Price as tested £21,329
Engine 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 140ps @ 5,500rpm Torque 220Nm @ 1,500-4,000rpm
0-62 10.2 secs Top speed 124 mph
Economy 52.3 mpg CO2 127 g/km
Dimensions 4175 x 1775 x 1610 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1210 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.