SUZUKI'S LATEST COMPACT SUV IS A LOT OF CAR FOR THE MONEY, WITH PLENTY OF SPACE, AN EXCELLENT INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM AND GOOD FUEL ECONOMY.
Sure, it’s cheap inside, but it’s built to a price.
In manual guise, the Suzuki Vitara is a ripper. The automatic version isn’t quite as convincing, though, with a gearbox that doesn’t always want to play the game. Still, if it’s a self-shifter you want, not much else in this price range will touch it.
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $23,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 88kW/156Nm 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.0 l/100km | tested: 7.9 l/100km
After years of making the smallest true four-wheel-drive on the market, Suzuki has gone where the dollars are headed and created a compact SUV which is driven by the front wheels only.
For those looking for the 4WD capability of the old Vitara, that time has passed. Now, it’s a city car, an inexpensive 'wagon' with more room than a Swift, sits a lot higher and is still reasonably economical.
We say reasonably, because with any more than one person aboard, the engine can struggle and fuel use goes up accordingly. Still, as a city runabout with an elevated seating position, it has all the mod-cons that most desire, making it a good little package.
We took one for a week, chucked the family in and recorded how it handled daily life. Here’s our verdict.
Quality: When you check out the price of the Vitara, it’s worth remembering that a few sacrifices had to be made to achieve it. Most notably, materials choices for the cabin.
With acres of hard, shiny black plastic, the Vitara certainly lacks a premium feel. It’s a bit of a step backward considering how far its competitors have come.
The burnt orange paintwork of our tester came with the same colour interior garnishes, and, really, the look is a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, however, the coloured dash panels can be changed-over by your Suzuki dealer.
It has been built, though, to a good standard with no obvious panel gaps or creaks, and even the analogue clock doesn’t look out of place here. But the doors need a fair shove to close (good seals, you know) and in doing so, they sound quite tinny.
Comfort: The first thing you notice when hopping in is how much padding the front seats have, specifically around the upper back. It feels like it’s propping you forward, so you may lay the seat a little further back than normal.
Thankfully, then, the steering is reach and height adjustable, and it’s not difficult to find a good driving position.
The rear seats are positioned high enough for kids to see out, and for adults there’s enough legroom to feel comfortable. Taller adults may have to duck their head getting into the back, but overall the room is good.
Equipment: Though it looks low-rent, the touchscreen infotainment system Suzuki has used is excellent for the price. Sure, the nav screen isn’t high-res, but it doesn’t cost extra, it’s quick, accurate, and pairing your phone happens in seconds.
Suzuki also has Apple Car Play and Android Auto, covering both bases. The sound quality is adequate and really the only quibble we have is not having a physical dial for the volume – it can take a while to turn the sound down, either through the touchpad on the side, or the steering wheel volume buttons.
A nice inclusion is the leather wrapped wheel, and there’s also MP3, iPod and Bluetooth streaming, cruise control, USB and 12V ports, and shift paddles for the auto.
Storage: Take out the false floor and you’ve got 375 litres to play with, while dropping the rear seats will give you 710 litres.
There are cupholders for front passengers, and bottle holders in the doors for both front and rear. Only the passenger’s side gets a seatback pocket, though.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With only 88kW and 156Nm to call upon, the Vitara’s performance is never going to be earth-shattering. It’s what you’d call leisurely.
That situation will be rectified later this year when a turbocharged version comes along, but in current form, the Vitara’s pace is more of a stroll than a sprint.
In stop-start traffic, this isn’t an issue; city driving is clearly this car’s forte. On country roads, however, overtaking will need to be judged very carefully, as the small torque figure means plenty of run-up will be required.
The automatic seems to have been tuned to take into account the engine’s lack of grunt, as it tends to hang onto gears a bit too long for comfort. It amplifies the buzzy nature of the engine, and really needs to change up earlier to keep the cabin a bit quieter.
You can do this using the gear lever or the shift paddles, but the manual version has such a nice action it’s almost a waste to have an auto and better to change gears yourself.
Fuel use is slightly higher than the manual version (6.0 versus 5.8l/100km), probably as a result of it not changing up early enough. And because of its low torque, as soon as you add passengers, it slurps even more.
We ended up with just under 8.0l/100km, for a week of taking kids to school, shopping and general running around.
Refinement: When the revs are kept low, the Vitara is quiet enough, but let it rev out a bit and the engine’s sound comes through fairly obviously.
Road noise is also apparent at high speed, with a lack of sound deadening allowing wind and tarmac to make themselves heard.
In the city environment, the Vitara is happiest, being smooth and hushed at low speeds.
Ride and Handling: Because the Vitara is so light (1075kg), inertia when cornering is quite low. That means, despite its dimensions, it corners flatly and feels very stable on the road.
The steering is honest and not too heavy, and it turns into corners without leaning over. It’s no motorkhana machine (the Swift Sport fills that role), but it’s one of the more engaging soft-roaders, especially at this price.
Braking: With ventilated front discs and solid rears, the Vitara’s set up is par for the course. It performs well, however, with good pedal feel, and with just over a tonne to haul up, it never struggles.
ANCAP rating: The Suzuki Vitara has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Seven airbags (dual front, dual side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee), height adjustable and pretensioning seatbelts, ABS, EBD, traction control, ESC, hill descent control, and a reversing camera are all standard.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Suzuki’s warranty is three years/100,000km.
Service costs: Suzuki has a capped price service scheme, and the first five years of services are $249 for every six month interval, and then at two yearly intervals, a $295 service.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Honda HR-V VTi 2WD ($24,990) – The HR-V’s excellent interior easily sees off the Vitara for build quality, and its engine is far happier to pull the family about, even if it does like a rev.
Honda’s reputation for reliability and its good looks will certainly woo buyers, but it misses out on some of the included equipment found in the Vitara. (see HR-V reviews)
Mazda CX-3 Maxx ($22,390) – Currently the compact SUV darling, the CX-3 is like a Mazda2 on steroids, with a similar cabin but some nicer materials.
Its funky styling makes it very appealing, but it has nowhere near the room of the Vitara, especially in the back seat. (see CX-3 reviews)
Nissan Qashqai ST ($25,850) – The Qashqai, despite is funny name, could be almost mistaken as an HR-V twin, with the two being evenly matched on most counts. Like the Honda, it’s got good space, drives nicely and there’s also a diesel option.
Where it falls down is the price. It costs more than the Vitara, and there’s not much more included. That said, it’s far nicer inside, has a larger, more powerful engine, and is physically quite a bit larger inside and out. (see Qashqai reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Suzuki’s compact SUV is likely to score buyers simply based on its price and included equipment. It ticks most of the boxes people will be looking for, and Suzukis are known for being bulletproof machines.
But this or an S-Cross? Given the popularity of cars that at least look purposeful, it’s fair to say the S-Cross’s days may be numbered. The Vitara is styled to look like a mini four-wheel-drive, and given you sit slightly higher, buyers will be satisfied with how it feels.
How it feels inside, though, is another matter. A slightly matte finish on that dashboard plastic would improve things no end, and those tinny doors add to the impression of cost cutting.
If you’ve got your heart set on a Vitara, we’d suggest going for the manual. It’s cheaper to buy, cheaper to run and more satisfying to drive.