THE LAST TIME WE REVIEWED SUZUKI'S NEW VITARA, THE SUMMARY OF OUR ASSESSMENT WAS THIS: GOOD CAR, BUT SLOW. After all, 86kW and 156Nm really isn’t a whole lot of power and torque in this day and age.
But that criticism is gone - at least, if you’re shopping at the top end of the Vitara’s price range.
While that 86kW engine remains in the entry-level RT-S, the former top-grade RT-X model has been given the boot and replaced by this, the Suzuki Vitara S Turbo.
And, as the name suggests, there’s that magical device underneath the bonnet that helps little engines behave like big ones. Yes, thanks to the wonders of turbocharging, the Vitara now has the muscle it needed.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $28,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/220Nm 1.4 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.9 l/100km | tested: 7.5 l/100km
Perhaps as a response to early criticism of the Vitara’s underpowered 1.6 litre engine, just two months after the initial launch last September Suzuki Australia announced it would introduce a new turbocharged engine to the range.
That engine is now here, though only available in the top-spec Vitara S Turbo grade, which replaces the previous RT-X flagship.
The good news is that while the RT-X was only available as an AWD model and was priced at $31,990, the S Turbo can be had in either FWD or AWD form, with the former priced at a more affordable $28,990.
That puts the turbo powerplant at a $5000 premium over the base RT-S automatic 2WD, but as we’ve found out it’s well worth the extra spend.
- Standard equipment: Keyless entry and ignition, dusk-sensing LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, reversing camera, cruise control, climate control, trip computer
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen display with AM/FM/USB audio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone/audio integration and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring
- Options fitted: Two-tone paint ($995)
- Cargo volume: 375 litres minimum, 710 litres maximum. False boot floor with extra storage beneath
The Vitara’s interior is a bit of a mixed bag, a comment we've made before.
On the one hand, it’s spacious and well laid-out, the flush-mounted infotainment system is excellent (with integrated sat nav AND Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring) and, in the Vitara S Turbo, there's leather/suede upholstery that's of decent quality.
But on the other hand there's an abundance of glossy, hard plastics that look a bit cheap.
Dashboards don't necessarily have to be soft-touch (how often do you reach out and prod your dash, after all) but if Suzuki just got rid of the glossy sheen on the dash and on the door trims, it would do much to lift the cabin ambience.
But, glossy dash aside, the switchgear feels great, and the upholstery has an upmarket premium feel.
It's easy to get comfortable behind the steering wheel and there's so much room for what is technically a “small” SUV.
While the Mazda CX-3, one of the segment top-sellers, provides a pokey rear seat and a miniscule boot, the Vitara has loads of room for four adults and a generous 375 litre boot capacity.
Suzuki needs to take a look at the Vitara’s door design though. They require a hefty slam to close all the way, and we frequently walked away from the car thinking it was closed only to double-take when it refused to lock.
That’s a security issue, and something that’s harder to overlook.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 103kW/220Nm turbocharged 1.4 litre inline four
- Transmission:six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear
- Brakes: Ventilated disc front, solid discs rear
- Steering: Electric power steering, rack and pinion
While the interior is much the same as Vitaras we've previously reviewed, there's a lot more to report on in the engine bay.
The naturally aspirated 1.6 litre petrol that previously powered the range-topping Vitara is a lacklustre affair, especially when paired with an automatic transmission.
With a measly 88kW of power and 156Nm of torque, it wasn't up to the task of moving a small SUV with any degree of urgency. It needed to be worked hard, and the end result was high revs, high noise but still substandard performance.
The new 1.4 litre 'Boosterjet' turbo is a very different beast.
Not only does it have 15kW more peak power, but its 220Nm peak torque output is available much lower in the rev range than what the 1.6 litre engine manages.
And it's transformed the car from high-strung buzzbox to relaxed cruiser.
On the road, you will rarely need to rev beyond 3000rpm to access that torque, and it's unfussed overtaking or dealing with a long climb. It may only have 1.4 turbo-driven litres doing the work, but this is a very nice little unit.
In front-drive guise, it will spin the tyres during hard acceleration, and has no trouble hustling to the head of the traffic. The naturally aspirated 1.6, meanwhile, would struggle to pull a wet paper bag apart.
The six-speed automatic that’s the default transmission for the Vitara S Turbo is equally as impressive.
It shifts intelligently and prefers to keep the engine right in the meaty part of its torque band (between 1000 and 2500rpm), yet kicks down rapidly should more power be called for.
It’s adaptable and responsive, and though there’s a manual shift mode (and steering wheel mounted shift paddles to go with it), we never ever felt the need to tell the gearbox what to do.
It’s a quiet engine too. There’s still some road noise courtesy of the car’s lightweight construction and minimal sound deadening, but the turbo engine itself makes much less sonic intrusion into the cabin.
Small capacity turbo engines have a habit of struggling to meet manufacturer fuel consumption numbers, and the Vitara S Turbo isn’t any different.
Suzuki claims 5.9 l/100km on the combined cycle, while our testing returned a 7.5 l/100km average (with 95RON unleaded mandatory for the turbo).
That said, it’s not all that much thirstier than the base 1.6 litre manual we tested, which drank 7.2 l/100km during our week-long test.
And best of all, it’s still a delightful car to steer - the Vitara is easily one of the better-handling options out there. Couple that with an engine that actually performs well, and the Vitara is a surprisingly sporty little SUV.
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) front height adjustable and pretensioning seatbelts, ABS, EBD, traction control, stability control, hill descent control, and a reversing camera are standard on the Vitara S Turbo
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The closest match for the Vitara S Turbo on size, performance and specification is the Mitsubishi ASX XLS 2WD, though it’s beaten on price by the Suzuki.
Other options in the growing small SUV segment include the Honda HR-V VTi-S. It lobs in at a competitive $27,990 and has a spacious and upmarket-feeling interior.
A sportier (and arguably more stylish) option is the Mazda CX-3, which is slightly more expensive in mid-range sTouring petrol FWD trim but a delight to drive. A cramped rear cabin and tiny boot are significant downsides, however.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
This 1.4 turbo is the engine the Vitara deserved from the very beginning. It transforms the car from “great, but shame about that motor” to “genuinely excellent”.
Besides front doors that are reluctant to close, our quality-related qualms are minor. Most will find the Vitara to be a welcoming, comfortable environment, not to mention one that’s at the more spacious end of the small SUV spectrum.
And now it’s one of the most driveable, thanks to that tiny - yet torquey - jewel of a motor.