Suzuki Grand Vitara: off-road colours

Suzuki has what it takes to be a true 4x4

The current crop of 4x4s is increasingly set up to provide the driving experience of a normal hatchback. So there's little lean in corners and the car tackles twisty roads without inducing travel sickness in its occupants.

However, the downside is that when it comes to proper off-roading they just aren't set up to deal with gnarly, rutted tracks.

The Grand Vitara has no such problems when it comes to swapping the tarmac for green lanes. Firstly, the Suzuki has the old-school ladder chassis with the car body bolted on top. That helps stop those inside from bumping around while the chassis copes with the many dips and holes, and keeps wheels in contact with the ground.

This is also further aided by the good ground clearance that enables Suzuki to ford water obstacles and handle deep rutted tracks. Secondly, it does have a four-wheel-drive system. Sounds obvious but there is an increasing trend to offer 4x4s with just two-wheel drive particularly on the mid-size and smaller 4x4s.

Finally, the Suzuki system also has lockable differentials operated via a dial switch on the centre dash rather than mechanically using gear levers. Locking differentials increases the car's ability to find grip and stops wheels from spinning in the muddy conditions.

A test of the Grand Vitara along a muddy and rutted track complete with flooded stream didn't faze it all. In fact, the car handled it all with its standard four-wheel-drive setting without having to select the low-range mode, though admittedly come winter the green lane would be a much tougher challenge.

However, owners who regularly use their Vitaras for jaunts into the British countryside say the Suzuki is a genuinely capable off-roader although stress that it is essential to change the road-biased tyres for proper off-road rubber to make the most of the four-wheel drive system - something we wished we'd done last winter.

Current mileage: 10,938

Average mpg: 33.0