Some might accuse the Vitara of going a bit soft, with its battle-hardened four-wheel drive (4WD) pedigree now making way for a front-wheel drive SUV more at home in the city than bouncing along weather-beaten dirt tracks.
It's a new direction for one of the world's first small SUVs, and one that Suzuki is hoping will attract a new wave of buyers whose idea of going bush is a sunny Sunday stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Which, to be fair, sounds a lot more my cup of tea, too. So for my weekend test I was thrown the keys to the 2017 Vitara RT-S. Priced at $21,990, it's powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine and marks the entry point to the range.
Above the RT-S sits the S-Turbo (a big jump at $29,990), with its turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and choice of front- or 4WD. The RT-X Diesel ($35,990) rounds out the Vitara family. At those price points, my cheap-as-chips test car looks quite the bargain.
So, how does the latest Vitara handle its new role as a city runabout?
Football had been called off due to a lack of players, and netball cancelled thanks to a heavy downpour the previous day, so the Vitara RT-S would unfortunately miss the Saturday morning sport test. Unfortunate for the car, maybe, but very fortunate for me, because the day instead kicked off later than normal (result!) with a leisurely meet up with the grandparents, aunty and cousin for coffee.
The Vitara's exterior styling, on closer inspection, wasn't as tall or as square as I had expected. That said, Suzuki has taken other familiar Vitara design cues and blended them into quite an attractive SUV package. Definitely a less rugged, more metro looking car, this. And I have to say, I quite like the look.
Latest Vitara styling should appeal to city dwellers. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Inside, the cabin is light and airy, with excellent visibility side and rear. The RT-S features functional cloth seats that provide reasonable amounts of comfort. Generous amounts of dark and light coloured plastic adorn the dash and doors, with little or no design features to break it up. Engine noise in the cabin is minimal for the most part at low speeds, though making a more noticeable intrusion at higher revs.
Taking centre stage is Suzuki's 7.0-inch touchscreen that is common right across the range. From here, drivers can operate the four-speaker stereo, sat nav or Apple CarPlay (as yet there is no Android Auto).
What the dash lacks in design it makes up for in build quality and usability. That said, while accent colours were decidedly lacking in our car, Suzuki gives buyers the option of customising the colour of the interior trim panels.
A dash that unashamedly favours function over form. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
After numerous games of 44 home, tip and some hide-and-seek with four kids (my three and their cousin), I dragged my sweaty self and hyped-up little ones back to the Vitara. Next stop was the hairdresser for their back-to-school haircuts.
Taking in the surrounds of the cabin again, I note there's a decent-sized glove box, two cupholders up front and bottle holders in each door easily able to accommodate a 1.25-litre water bottle. The decision to not offer a centre armrest, though, means backseat passengers go without cupholders.
Backseat passengers also have to do without air vents - not an issue for the kids, but I dare say it could be a different story in summer. Either way, though, three haircuts and two hours later we make our way back home.
The cabin is light and airy with ample head and leg room. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The ride height is perfect for getting in and out of the car. There are reasonable amounts of space for front and rear passengers (at 180cm tall I can comfortably ride in the rear seat behind my driving position). The backseat easily accommodated the three kids without too much trouble, but they're probably not a great idea for three adults.
One slight bug bear was the effort required to close the doors. They felt too light, and required far more of a shove to close them properly than they should have.
I was to have the company of six kids today, as my three had somehow convinced me to let each of them invite a friend over for a play date. This would mean a number of pick-up and drop-offs, and I was suddenly wishing the RT-S had seven seats. I was left with little choice but to roll with it.
The 1.6-litre engine in the RT-S puts out 86kW/156Nm, with that power sent to the front wheels. Not surprisingly, there's little urgency in acceleration, particularly noticeable low in the rev range with a car full of kids. The Vitara, then, is best used for bouncing around the city rather than cruising country roads, with overtaking not being one of its strong points.
Sedate power outputs best suited for city driving. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The six-speed automatic transmission is well matched to the four-cylinder, however you'll be hard pressed to hit top gear in this city slicker. The ride is smooth, though, and it handled the numerous speed bumps and shoddy roads admirably. Around corners, it feels stable and light with little lean in the body.
But one of the stand-out attributes of this car is without doubt its price. For $21,990, the RT-S comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, reversing camera (which is rather good), remote central locking, cruise control, front fog lamps, satnav, a leather steering wheel, power windows and mirrors, dark tint on the rear windows, roof rails and LED running lights.
In terms of safety kit, the (maximum) five-star ANCAP-rated RT-S comes with seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), ABS, traction and stability controls and hill-descent control.
Some of the more high-tech safety features are missing, like as AEB, reverse cross-traffic alert or blind-spot sensors, and you can't even have them as options. This is the same right across the range.
Taking the kids back to their mum's we easily managed to fill up the 375-litre (seats up) boot space, but there's 1120 litres on offer with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down. There is further storage space available via a useful false floor - a fact I failed to discover until the end of the weekend.
We easily managed to fill up the 375 litres of boot space. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Over the weekend I managed to clock up almost 300km of city and suburban driving with the trip computer indicating fuel consumption of 6.5L/100km. Slightly more than the 5.1L/100km (combined cycle) that Suzuki claims. Nevertheless, it's a figure I could live with.
The Suzuki Vitara has found popularity with buyers for a good reason. This latest small SUV successfully shrugs off it's 4x4 lineage, easily adapting to city and urban driving. When you add in the generous amount of standard kit and space for the price, it makes for an impressive contender.
Would you consider the Suzuki Vitara to be your next family car? Let us know in the comments below.