1991 Suzuki Vitara JLX 1.6 petrol
A decent second car
This is a cute 4x4 which is descended from that out-and-out offroader, Suzuki's SJ410.
The good news is that it looks sporty even at the ripe old age of 10, is absolutely reliable (we've not had a single fault with ours in the 10 years and 100k+ kilometres we've had it) and it's immensely strong, having it's own ladder chassis rather than depending on its bodyshell for rigidity.
As with most 4x4s, you sit much higher off the ground than you would in a normal car and the Vitara's huge windows make for excellent visibility all round... if you can't see it, it's not there.
The cabin is comfortable, at least for the front occupants. The rear is not a place to spend any real length of time. The rear seats are situated directly above the rear wheels, pretty cramped and not very well padded, making any journey over any less-than-perfectly-smooth surface something to be attempted only by the most adept yogis.
Boot space with the rear seats unfolded-away is matched only by the Ferrari 208/308/328 in its titchiness. Fold them away and you have the sort of space usually associated with a mid sized saloon. For these reasons I'd class the Vitara JLX as a strict 2+2, the rear seats being there only for "last ditch" purposes.
And now the bad news. The engine appears to be something out of the 1960s for its noise, performance and voracious thirst. 0 to 100 time is in the order of 17 seconds or so with a top speed of 140 km/h... if you can bear the almighty racket the engine produces at anything over 90 km/h... 80 to 110 km/h times are something best not discussed. All this for a fuel consumption figure of about 20 mpg urban and 28 mpg motorway driving.
Handling is par for the course, with mild understeer progressing quite rapidly to oversteer as the car is pushed. However, beware the absence of a differential and the live axle rear suspension. This car will swap ends VERY easily if anything beyond the gentlest acceleration is attempted on wet roads with the steering at any significant degree of lock. At speed, this couples with the short and stubby chassis, non-communicative power steering and the almost non-existent midrange engine torque to create a very "losable" car which is very difficult to get back once the tail has stepped out. On this point alone, the car should carry a government health warning.
A few other faults are non-wideangle door mirrors, a ludicrously small petrol tank given the thirsty engine, insane spare part prices, very poor ride comfort by roadcar standards, a tinny bodyshell and tail-light lenses that craze even with modest exposure to sunlight.
Offroad, this car is very competent due to the light weight, strong construction and decent low-end torque but is again severely handicapped by the lack of range due to the engine/fuel capacity combination.
Overall, a good spare or fun car or something you'd take to the supermarket due to the reliability and space (without the 2 rear seats), but definitely not something to be used daily by those without very, very deep pockets.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 19th February, 2001
10th Apr 2001, 08:32
A very fair review. I experienced an end for end skid in hard packed snow at around 5 KPH. It was absolutely impossible to control even tho' I had all the time in the world, fortunately there was no harm done, but it does underline the fact that the general road holding is infinitely worse than any conventional two wheel drive car. It may be that the road holding would be improved with a half decent set of tyres.