If ever a car was designed according to a marketing department's orders, the Suzuki Vitara is surely it. This fashionable compact 4x4 was the model that put the franchise on the map in Britain and quickly became a style accessory.
Though obviously an off roader, it isn't really designed for the exceptionally rough stuff, though the car's relatively low weight and high ground clearance are an advantage off the beaten track. On the road, the loud bodykits and aggressive alloy wheels fitted to some examples often try to suggest a post-GTi performance car; here too, however, compromises are in evidence. Best just to think of it as something affordably different - a breath of fresh air.
There are three body styles but only one, the three-door hardtop, was available at the November 1988 launch. The first engine was a 1.6 and it also featured in the second version to be launched; a soft-top, in August 1989. The SE three-door arrived in the December and boasted alloy wheels, central locking and electric windows. The third and final shape, a five-door, was released in September 1991 with a 16-valve version of the 1.6-litre engine. Other models did not receive the new engine as standard until November 1994.
The (Mazda-powered) turbo diesel arrived in January 1996, six months after the first V6-engined cars. The 1997 changes consisted of a more powerful diesel engine and minor changes to the car's appearance; all three-door cars received a new bumper and grille, while dual airbags became available on all models.
In early 1998, the V6 five-door model was replaced by the all-new 2.5-litre V6 Grand Vitara. Later that year, the turbo diesel five-door model was also replaced by a Grand Vitara variant. However, when the three-door soft-top 2.0-litre Grand Vitara arrived in June 1999, the importers decided to continue it alongside the 1.6-litre Vitara JX Sport and JX Soft-Top models which had continued to sell strongly. The car was phased out in October 2000.