I HAVE a feeling that Suzuki has a little winner on its hands with the latest version of the Vitara, especially the punchy ‘S’ version that I had the pleasure of companioning recently.

I always had that sneaky suspicion that Suzuki’s engineering was guilty of playing catch-up with the big boys. The transmissions, for example, always seemed a little clunky, if not downright agricultural.

But the latest Vitara is a game-changer. There’s no lack of refinement now and the latest range has the ‘S’ version as its flagship. In the face of the stats, it doesn’t look like the most exciting ace in the pack … but actually, this is a seriously nice little SUV.

The engine bay plays host to a 1.4-litre petrol engine and the ‘S’ has Suzuki’s new Boosterjet technology applied to considerably ramp up the power and torque. Its run-of-the-mill stablemates have a 1.6-litre unit fitted ­– a petrol and a diesel – and each of those is capable of 118bhp. The Boosterjet on the smaller engine gives this a handy boost up to 138bhp, which turns this into a feisty wee contender for what is the very overcrowded, but growing market for smaller SUVs.

This is also the only one in the range that gives you all-wheel-drive as standard – Suzuki call it Allgrip – with the choice of either two or four-wheel-drive in the other configurations. The tested model came with a six-speed manual (a six-speed auto is also available) and what a revelation that was compared to previous versions of the Vitara. It was smooth, not a hint of clunkiness and a real joy matched to the punchy engine.

The road-handling set-up was well up to it, too and it was an enjoyable few days spent with the Vitara ‘S’, which included a mix of some long motorway journeys and a jaunt around the lambing fields. It handled both with some distinction and it also surprised me on how thrifty it was.

The official stats say you should average in the mid-50mpgs. Always the sceptic, I never count on those stats to be wholly representative of real driving, but there was no getting away from the fact that the trip computer on the longer runs attributed 55 miles to each gallon. But, it can also do the 0-62mph timed run in a tad over 10 seconds, which is quite a good figure for this end of the market.

The ‘S’ version is also, by some distance, the best looking of the Vitara stable – as you would expect for a car that edges over the £20k mark. It has a distinctive, dare I say it, sporty look with the metallic red colour on the test car allied to glossy-black 17-inch alloys, with some nifty black inserts on the body and rear bumper.

Inside, that black and red theme is carried through with some fancy red stitching on black leather on the steering wheel with suede inserts on the seats. It really does have a quality feel to it which is something that maybe earlier versions – and indeed, some other Suzukis – lacked. The now ubiquitous DAB radio is standard and there also cruise control, air conditioning, sat-nav and all-round sensors with rear view reversing camera.

The cruise control on this model also gets the ‘adaptive’ control which stops you hitting the car in front and is very useful for frustrating drives like the A9! And most of the functions are enabled using the quite large touch-screen, which, for me, worked faultlessly (unlike some others, most recently the Toyota Auris!).

Don’t expect to move house with this, though, as the rear load space is limited, though a clever and easy to use drop down facility for the rear seats does improve its carrying capacity no end.

 The stats:

Vitara 1.4 Boosterjet ‘S’ Allgrip

Cost: £20,899

Top speed: 124mph

0-62mph: 10.2 seconds

Thrift: 52.3mpg, combined cycle

Emissions: 127g/km CO2