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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Suzuki Vitara S: car review” was written by Martin Love, for The Observer on Sunday 10th April 2016 05.00 UTC

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Price: £20,899
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
MPG: 52.3

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Billy Connolly once said: “Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.” The Big Yin is a master of the unexpected truth. Try on a tea cosy? Yes, why not, you might be surprised how fun it is.

When I was offered a drive in Suzuki’s new Vitara S, I almost declined. It’s a compact SUV and I pretty much hate all small SUVs. That’s a view that goes against the grain in Britain as here they are greatly admired. The style is a natural fit with our national psyche. They look like tough little bulldogs; all stocky and rugged and mean. But clamber in and they’re nothing but a flimsy muddle. Four-wheel drive? More faux-wheel drive. They’ll shake themselves to pieces before they hit that first muddy slope. Spend time in one and you soon realise they’re a bit yappy and almost toothless.

Suzuki interior
Inside story: the nicely finished interior of the Vitara. Just a shame the display is almost unreadable.

But having low expectations can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises. The Vitara S is Suzuki’s range topper. The entry level model by contrast costs just £13,999. I’m easily confused by price and value – which is why I own a garish salmon-coloured Paul Smith linen suit, bought in the sales. But the basic Vitara really is a bargain. It comes loaded with niceties, such as cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and a DAB radio. Spend another 6 grand and you get this new “sporty” S version. And very nice it looks, too. Matt black wheels and sills complement the polished bodywork. Its lines are sensible, bordering on bland. But in a category marked out by exuberant classmates which look more like origami disasters than cars (Nissan Juke anyone?), that’s a relief.

It comes with a redesigned, technologically smart 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine which is both economical and eager to please. Despite its modest size, the Boosterjet pulls away crisply from the lights and soon settles down to a creamy thrum on longer runs. You also get proper 4WD which can actually cope with the rough and tumble of a life without tarmac. Then there’s a decent satnav, leather seats, airbags, privacy glass and adaptive cruise control. All good stuff.

There are a few niggles, as always, but the one that really got me was the piffling size of the display screen. The graphics are so small I had to put on my reading glasses to see them, before flipping them up to my forehead to see the road ahead again. One of the features is an advance stop warning. If you get too close to the car ahead it beeps and a miniscule graphic of two cars crashing appears on the screen. Except, of course, you can’t see it. Or by the time you have, it’s too late anyway…

Four wheels and your four-legged friend

dog driving a car
Which way to the park?: not all dogs are such good travellers. Photograph: SWNS.com

If you own a dog, you’ll know they fall into two main categories: the ones who curl up and sleep through the journey with a contended look on their muzzle, or the ones which dribble, whine and are usually sick – my dog definitely falls into the latter category.

There are ways around this problem. Campervan, caravan and motorhome insurance provider comfort-insurance.co.uk has teamed up with pet behaviour counsellor Kris Glover of Pets in Practise to offer some advice for bringing a smile to their jowls.

Being in a vehicle for a long time is not comfortable or natural for dogs, therefore it’s important to acclimatise them to their new surroundings. To lower anxiety, place your dog in the vehicle next to you while feeding treats and leaving the door open. Repeat these sessions, but ensure they are short and frequent. Once the dog is relaxed, shut the car door. Again, feed treats before letting your pet out. If you’re satisfied your dog is comfortable in the vehicle, you can now feed meals within the leisure vehicle or car but observe from outside so they get used to being inside alone. The last stage should be turning the vehicle’s engine on and allowing it to run whilst your pet is inside eating. Then start driving short distances. Plan a trip with your dog to a happy destination, not the vet’s – which most dogs don’t look forward to.

Now your dog is happy to get into the vehicle, keep them happy by always giving them a good walk before a journey; keep them comfortable by using their home bed in the car; and help them settle by preventing them from seeing exciting things outside – unless they are those ones who love to watch the world go by. Giving them something to chew is a good idea too; and finally make sure you give the dog plenty to drink – they’ll need water and a loo break every 2 or 3 hours.

Email Martin at martin.love@observer.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @MartinLove166

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