As the Suzuki Vitara is all-new, naturally a few things take some learning. And most of all, it’s important to know this attractive small SUV isn’t the replacement for the Grand Vitara, the rugged off-roader that’s been a staple of the Suzuki line-up for many years.

That comes later; this Vitara is a wagon with 2-wheel drive or 4WD and its primary habitat is the bitumen rather than the beach. It’s a new kind of car for Suzuki, being neither a focused off-roader nor a pumped-up station wagon like its slow-selling S-Cross.

The specialist website recently named it “Best City SUV of the Year”. That’s very valuable recognition, since the Vitara sits in a size and price segment bulging with respected rivals such as the Mazda CX-3, Holden Trax, Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi ASX, Peugeot 2008 and Ford Ecosport.

The Vitara models are the 2WD GL+, priced from $22,990 drive-away, and 4WD GLX, from $32,990. Both have a 1.6 litre, 88 kiloWatt petrol engine, which consumes as little as 5.8 litres per 100 kms.

(A diesel option is expected in the second quarter. But however good it might be, I wonder if the time for diesels in city cars is almost past – super-efficient petrol motors with turbocharging, fewer cylinders and smaller capacities are now achieving diesel levels of performance and economy without the messy side effects. Suzuki already one of these in its Celerio.)

I was delighted to find a five-speed manual transmission in the GL+ 2WD borrowed for this review. Autos are almost universal, but it’s good to discover you’re still capable of coordinating hands and feet to make efficient progress. The fact the Vitara’s shifter is light and easy is a bonus.

That describes the rest of the driving experience, too. It’s easy, but the discerning driver will find the Vitara also offers communicative steering, good roadholding and above-average ride comfort.

The Vitara’s squarish shape maximises interior space. Four adults are plenty comfortable and the boot’s bigger than some SUVs that have no right to call themselves wagons.

Suzuki has amped the Vitara’s style by offering a range of personalisation options. These include, on the outside, two-tone paintwork, different grille colours, mudguard garnishes and little bits of bright trim. Inside, the dash panel can be matched to body colours, which include turquoise, orange and ivory metallic.

The Vitara’s value for money helped it win the Drive award. Included in the GL+ drive-away price are satellite navigation, a seven-inch touch screen, climate control, alloy wheels and daytime lights. The GLX might be $10,000 more expensive, but it’s truly loaded with gear.

In a new car market as crowded as Australia’s, a Suzuki statistically isn’t often the first choice. But the make has a strong reputation for quality, reliability and durability and every so often it turns out a cracker small car.

It’s made another little winner in the Vitara. It’s good to drive, practically sized and strong value for money.