Suzuki is back with a big bang

Bruce Fraser

Bruce Fraser

After an absence of four years, Suzuki is back with a bang.

It appears the time away from South Africa wasn't spent eating exotic Eastern dishes washed down with sake (Japanese rice wine) in Tokyo restaurants, but around boardroom tables discussing how best to take on the very competitive South African car market ... and come out on top.

Judging by the sales figures for the Swift and SX4, launched in June this year, they have definitely done their homework and are now looking at giving the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) market a shake-up as well.

The Klein Karoo in the Eastern Cape was the venue for the media launch last week of the Suzuki Grand Vitara and the Jimny.

First up was the Grand Vitara.

Exactly 20 years ago Suzuki introduced the Vitara and this year sees its third generation.

Many of the design features live on in today's Vitara but a lot has changed as well.

Locally the Vitara will be available in three derivatives - 2,4 manual (R269900), 2,4 automatic (R282900) and the 3,2 V6 automatic (R323900).

It was the V6 that I spent the day testing and impressive it certainly is.

You have three driving options in the Vitara (as well as the Jimny) - 4x2 which is for normal driving about town; 4x4 for when you go off-road; and finally, 4x4 Low for when the going gets really tough.

On tar the Vitara handles and feels just like a sedan. Cornering is smooth, braking sharp and acceleration even and quiet.

Engaging 4x4 Low it took to the sand dunes like a camel and eagerly took on whatever was offered in this inhospitable terrain.

Leather seats and black wood trim, tinted windows, climate control air-conditioning, electric windows and a six-disc CD player with seven speakers all helped cushion the bumps and bruises.

Next in line was smaller Jimny.

Small and compact, the Jimny is home to a 1,3-litre engine that produces 63kW through its 16 valves.

For a small 4x4 it punches well above its size.

The interior is obviously nowhere near as spacious as the Vitara but is adequate.

The Jimny is probably going to be popular with couples who enjoy getting away from the rat-race at weekends and mums looking for practical transport during the week.