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Car confidential: Suzuki gets serious

Suzuki is pulling itself together. So it’s sayonara to bland-looking boxes, cheap plastics and stodgy dynamics.

The cracking Swift – a genuine city car contender – embodies the new Suzuki. Next up is the Grand Vitara. With its all-new, four-wheel drive chassis, 1.6- and 2.0-litre petrol engines and Renault’s 1.9-litre diesel, the five-door looks well placed to tackle Honda’s CR-V. There’ll be a shorter, three-door pitched at the Rav4, too, and a V6 option in 2006.

That’s just the start of it. In March ’06, the novel SX4 arrives. Think of it as a Golf Plus, but shrunk down to 4m-long, jacked up and with four-wheel drive.

The five-seat SX4 is the progeny of a joint venture with Fiat, which explains why the chunky styling is by ItalDesign.

The transmission has a lever that switches between front-wheel drive, variable all-wheel drive and locked, with the front and rear axles bound together for muddy or icy conditions. Three engines are confirmed for the UK: a front-drive 1.5-litre model, a 1.6-litre petrol and Fiat’s 118bhp 1.9-litre diesel. Prices expected at £10,000-12,500.

A hot Swift is also due next summer, for slightly more than £10,000. This Citroën C2 VTR rival has a high revving 1.6-litre four, putting 123bhp through the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. The Sport conforms to the classic junior hot hatch recipe, with body extensions, more mesh than a chicken coop, stiffer suspension settings and lashings of aluminium inside.

In 2007, the Wagon R replacement arrives. Expect a much funkier look and maybe even fancy sliding doors, Peugeot 1007-style.

Finally, Suzuki will bookend its range in 2008 with a tiny city car and a big crossover estate. The baby Suzuki is a Smart ForTwo-sized four-seater, powered by a miserly three-cylinder engine, capable of up to 94mpg.

The crossover is the size of a BMW 3-series Touring, but has a tall roof and four-wheel drive. Think of it as Suzuki’s Forester. It will be the firm’s World Rally Championship car.

The new model offensive aims to boost European sales from 260,000 to 350,000 over the next five years. UK sales should climb from 37,000 to 50,000, which is good news for dealers. That should put a smile on their faces, as Suzuki stops being a joke and demands to be taken seriously.

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