The skinny: The bold new Vitara from Suzuki arrives just in time to ride the wave of compact SUV success. This new Vitara joins a long line of Suzuki SUVs and adds a big new dollop of personality to the range.
The market, however, is running at full pace, which means Suzuki has to bring its A-game with this one. And it would seem to have done just that.
On price - it starts at $21,990 (plus on-roads) - specification, and friendly fuel figures, it should tempt more than a few buyers away from traditional small hatches. After an introductory drive, it won us over.
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
RT-S manual $21,990 (introductory offer: $22,990 drive-away)
RT-S automatic $23,990 (introductory offer: $24,990 drive-away)
RT-X automatic $31,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 88kW/153Nm 1.6 4cyl petrol | 5spd manual, 6spd automatic
RT-S manual claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: not recorded
RT-X automatic claimed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 6.8 l/100km
Don’t be fooled by the name. The car you see here re-introduces the Vitara nameplate, but is not a successor for the continuing Grand Vitara.
Instead, this little guy faces off against style-driven compact SUVs like the Renault Captur, or the more prosaic Ford EcoSport. Perfect for a week in the city, with enough versatility to head for the beach on weekends.
Available in two specifications, both well-equipped, but the entry level RT-S comes in front-wheel-drive only whereas the luxed-up RT-X offers all-wheel-drive and a standard auto.
It also adds a little more cream, with leather seats, a sunroof and and a few other little extras to justify its extra spend.
Suzuki sees the Vitara’s personalisation options as key to the car’s success. Six paint-finishes are available, three of which come with a contrasting black roof as a $995 option.
The accessory list extends to extra chrome for the bumpers and doors, or a blackout pack for the grille, bonnet vents and running light surrounds, as well as alloy wheels, but the big draw card is the swappable interior panels.
All up, this is a pretty convincing little car.
- RT-S: Cloth trim, single-zone climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, analogue clock, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, trip computer, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch grey alloy wheels.
- RT-X: (in addition to RT-S) Leather and suede seat trim, front and rear park sensors, electric panoramic sunroof, proximity key and push-button start, electric folding mirrors with indicators, auto lights and wipers, LED low beam headlights, 17-inch polished alloy wheels.
- Infotainment: Seven-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, four speaker (RT-S) or six speaker (RT-X) audio, bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, iPod USB connectivity, MirrorLink (for compatible smartphones).
- Luggage capacity: 375 litres, expandable via 60:40 split fold rear seats.
The interior of the Vitara delivers an unexpected wow factor. As you’d expect, it’s well built, logically laid out, and tight as a drum, but there’s more to it.
For a small outlay the you can personalise the decor panel and air-con vent rings with a choice of swappable panels ranging from a vivid turquoise or bold orange, to a more classic gloss black or contemporary stark white.
Change your mind at any stage, and the panels can be changed over in under an hour by your local dealer with an expected fitted price of around $300.
Of course, if you don’t want to get too carried away there’s standard grey panelling in the RT-S and an chequered aluminium finish in the RT-X. While the dash and door uppers are finished in hard plastics, they are of high quality.
There’s also cloth trim and a leather steering wheel on the RT-S, or leather and suede trim in the more upmarket RT-X. RT-X also picks up a huge panoramic roof (but sadly only a mesh blind), keyless start, and front and rear park sensors.
A reversing camera is standard for both models, as it satellite navigation, something that Suzuki Australia insisted on for the Australian market.
Those systems run through a snappy seven-inch touchscreen, it's quick to react, easy to understand, and should win plenty of fans.
Despite fairly compact external dimensions, the Vitara feels roomy inside. The driving position is higher than you might expect, giving a fantastically clear view ahead and offering good all-round visibility.
Despite a lack of lumbar adjust, the front seats are comfortable enough for a longer haul, offer decent thigh support, and well-shaped bolstering.
Head to the back and the raised rear seat offers great forward vision, and unlike the narrow-windowed CX-3 rear seat vision to the sides is brilliant.
Three across will find the narrow Vitara a squeeze, but two-up it's ideal.
Even the boot, at 375 litres manages to out-space the Trax and CX-3. There’s a pocket on each side to locate smaller items, and an underfloor compartment to hide away valuables.
ON THE ROAD
- 88kW/153Nm 1.6 litre naturally aspirated petrol
- Five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, front wheel drive (RT-S)
- Six-speed automatic, four-mode all wheel drive (RT-X)
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension
- Four wheel disc brakes, ventilated front rotors, solid rear rotors.
- Electric power steering
Suzuki’s expertise when it comes to compact SUVs stretches back to 1970, when it debuted the first LJ10 series. That car has evolved over time into the Jimny still available today.
Since then Suzuki has had an unbroken run of small, light, and incredibly capable, compact 4x4 vehicles. While this new Vitara is certainly more city-centric, that rugged DNA has helped shape the current vehicle.
For starters, there’s an honest 1.6 litre four-cylinder petrol engine beneath the bonnet that generates 86kW at 6000rpm and 156Nm at 4400rpm. That’s far from the most powerful in the segment, but the Vitara weights a scant 1075kg in RT-S trim, helping it feel lively on the road.
Most of our time was spent in the six-speed auto, which is expected to be the volume seller. Shuffling through Melbourne’s peak hour, this engine and transmission combo works smartly to propel the Vitara along briskly.
Push hard, and there’s a swell of noise but no harsh vibration. The transmission, well-matched to the lower torque characteristics of the engine, is quick to react if a kickdown is required, and the whole package shows genuine polish.
Away from town, there are no problems maintaining the highway limit, but the Vitara is no muscle car, and it's best to leave plenty of room for overtaking.
A quick trip around the block in a manual car revealed a smart shifting box and a nice clutch-feel that should make it easy to live with. We’ll bring you more on that drivetrain when it passes through the TMR test garage.
RT-S models offer front-wheel-drive only, but for those looking for all-wheel-drive grip, the RT-X packs impressive all-paw traction with an automatic transmission.
Left in auto mode on gravel, the system will feed power to the rear wheels as it detects grip. A 'Snow and Mud' setting pre-emptively splits power to the rear axle from standstill and adjust the ESP to react to low-traction surfaces.
A 4x4 lock mode distributes an even 50:50 torque split between front and rear axles, while Sport mode changes the automatic shift points to keep revs up.
Sport mode also shuffles torque to the rear axle, and ends up being quite a bit of fun on tight, winding roads.
Ride quality falls on the firm side, but at no point does the Vitara feel too stiff, nor does the suspension skip or stutter on corrugated roads.
The sharp steering carries a decent weighting and is pinpoint accurate. Not something you’d always expect from an SUV.
Fuel consumption is a real highlight. Official figures see the RT-S manual rated at 5.8 l/100km, with the RT-X at 6.3 l/100km.
On a box-fresh engine (with less than 1000km on the odometer), and after some spirited driving, the Vitara returned a respectable 6.8 l/100km.
Figures like that make the case for a diesel engine more difficult, and while Suzuki Australia is in discussions with head-office about such a variant, it seems less likely we’ll see it here.
ANCAP rating: The 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 seatbelts with load limiting pretensioners, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, hill hold (auto only), hill descent control, and a reversing camera.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The small SUV segment is going gangbusters, with sales through the roof and new models arriving often. Some, like the Mitsubishi ASX have been around for a while, while the style-focussed Mazda CX-3 is a newcomer.
Opt for the Holden Trax and you’ll get a wealth of interior storage options, or side with the Honda HR-V and you’ll find one of the better presented interiors in the sector.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There’s a solid SUV history behind the Suzuki brand, and while this may not be the brand's most focussed off-roader, that image still sits nicely with this newest offering.
Realistically though, The Vitara’s city-driving aptitude should matter the most, and there’s only good news in that regard.
Despite a modest mechanical package, the Vitara shines on road, and should fit the bill for active young buyers. Those who can reach to the RT-X won’t be disappointed by the all-road grip on offer either.
Compact dimensions that are ideal for nipping through busy city streets, blend with an interior that presents well, is roomy enough for most couples, and features a very impressive infotainment system.
And, of course there’s the ability to put your own stamp on 'your car'.
And rather than placing an order and waiting for the factory to build it, Suzuki has chosen a 'dealer fit' approach that should mean faster delivery for buyers looking for a customised car.
That adds up to a pretty good deal all round. To top it off an introductory offer on RT-S models sees drive-away pricing of $22,990 for the manual and $24,990 for the auto to sweeten the deal further.