For over three decades the Suzuki Vitara has been regarded as one of the most affordable compact SUVs on the market. But now, with competitively priced contenders bringing up the rear, does the Japanese old reliable still offer the same value for money?

There's a reason why the Suzuki Vitara has remained a firm favourite with motorists for more than 30 years. The answer is simple. Car owners are a big fan of one particular virtue in any vehicle – honesty.

We’ve all changed over the years and the Vitara is no different. When it first rolled off the assembly line in 1988, it cemented the era of the modern compact SUV.

It briefly rebranded as the Suzuki Grand Vitara for two further generations but eventually reverted to the Vitara. Interestingly, Japan has always known this car as the 'Escudo’. Quite why they named it after pre-Euro Portuguese currency is anyone’s guess.

But one thing that remains a constant with this car is its unswerving reliability. All Suzukis share this reassuring trait. They are solid, easy to maintain and you don’t have to break every bone in your hand while changing a headlight bulb.

Inside the latest version of this Suzuki workhorse you are immediately struck by all that familiar dependability. The seats are exceptionally comfortable and the snug stitched steering wheel is pleasant to grasp. Just behind, smart steel grey dials give the dashboard a classic look, while the gear stick is punchy and purposeful.

This time Suzuki has introduced a high-quality feel with soft-touch materials on the dashboard tops, although elsewhere the interior is still a bit plasticky. Still, the 17in alloys and rear privacy glass give the car an otherwise prestige feel.

There are many things you could say about the Vitara’s touchscreen infotainment system, not all of them good. Let’s start by saying that the fact it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard is a major plus.

But once either of those operating systems are activated, you can’t help but feel disappointed. It’s not the easiest device to navigate, further complicated by touch-sensitive volume control on the left-hand side, which is vague and difficult to operate whilst driving. Thankfully, the volume can also be controlled by a good old-fashioned integrated button on the steering wheel.

That aside, the Vitara still has its trademark height, lots of legroom and some handy storage space under the new central arm rest. There is also a decent expanse at the rear and headroom to match.

Is the trusted Vitara the steal it once was?

The boot is a little cracker. It has unexpected depth, with low access and decent underfloor capacity. The storage pockets next to each wheel arch are also very useful.

There is one remarkable aspect to this car that took a while to land. Having not had to chance to familiarise myself with the vehicle’s spec, I hopped in and hit the road. Initially, I found the engine temporarily sluggish from a standing start, but things became more definitive as I pushed at the accelerator.

Suzuki has decommissioned its 1.6 petrol and diesel options and replaced them with two lively alternatives – 1.0 and 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol engines.

So, I was frankly astonished to later discover that the seriously nippy SZT model I’d been driving was powered by only a 1.0 litre Boosterjet engine with 109bhp capable of 0-100kph in 12.5 seconds.

The 1.4 version is even pacier, but the additional price and road tax (the 1.0 version is €270 a year) is probably enough to persuade you to stick with the smaller engine.

Under the hood...the Vitara's 1.0 litre Boosterjet engine

Meanwhile, the manufacturer claims this car does around 80km to the gallon. During my test drive this figure was bang on the money with the 10 gallon tank offering me a range of 800km in everyday driving conditions - both in the city and well beyond.

This hardy little car discreetly absorbs every bump in the road offering a genuinely smooth ride. It’s fun to drive on winding roads, with reasonably responsive steering and great visibility through its tall glass. 

Aside from performance, it’s worth remembering that a keen price tag has traditionally kept the Vitara on the discerning consumer’s radar. The bright red SZT version I drove has an on the road price of €23,890.

But can the venerable Vitara rest on its laurels in what has become a highly competitive market? The car is now up against some new kids on the compact SUV block, namely the well-regarded SEAT Arona starting at an attractive €18,415, the Renault Captur at €20,540, the Citroen C3 Aircross at €20,695 and Volkswagen T-Cross at €22,495.

With these very respectable alternatives nipping aggressively at its heels, the trusted Vitara might not be the steal it once was.