03 Apr 2019

Suzuki Vitara Turbo 2019 Wagon Review

Is a spit and polish enough to bolster the boosted Vitara?
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Suzuki helped create a whole new niche with the original Vitara in 1988. Featuring trendy blistered mudguards, in-vogue styling, four-wheel drive and an open-air option, it moved Generation X fashionistas as deeply as Johnny Depp with his shirt unbuttoned

That Vitara’s namesake revival shares many of its ancestors traits, including prominent boxed guards and, in this range-topping Turbo AllGrip version, all-wheel drive and a semi open-air experience courtesy of a huge glass sunroof, however this is a very different Suzuki.

Much more car-like – and in fresh ‘Series 2’ guise, a little bit classier – the monocoque-bodied Vitara’s more sensible form and upmarket inclusions are better suited to today’s straight-laced times, without turning its back on its utilitarian roots.

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Is the Suzuki Vitara Turbo right for me?

If the prospect of owning a small SUV that’s a little taller than the norm, faster than the norm, and more individual than the norm, then the Vitara Turbo AllGrip may have a place in your life.

With 185mm of ground clearance, it has a slightly better chance of managing some light off-roading than its rivals, and you can lock its AWD system into constantly using all four wheels, rather than only engaging the rear pair when slip is detected.

That level of functionality is rare in a class littered with front-drive-only alternatives. But you’ll pay for the privilege.

What does the 2019 Suzuki Vitara Turbo cost?

Suzuki’s revised ‘Series 2’ Vitara range has been rationalised into just three models – a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated model simply called Vitara ($22,490 for a five-speed manual or $24,490 for a six-speed automatic, both before on-road costs) and a pair of 1.4-litre Vitara Turbo models, each six-speed auto only. The front-drive Turbo costs $29,990 (before on-road costs) while the all-wheel-drive AllGrip version commands a $4000 premium, though is currently selling for $35,990 drive-away.

Thing is, that’s big money for a Vitara. There are other small SUVs that cost similar money yet they all look and feel more expensive than the relatively utilitarian Suzuki.

What is the Suzuki Vitara Turbo's interior like?

It’s once you start looking deeper inside the Vitara’s cabin that its econocar origins begin to show. Sure, there’s the Series 2’s nicely squishy new padded dashboard top, sliding centre-front armrest and more sophisticated, beautifully clear graphics for the instrument dials and quirky central analogue clock. But that isn’t enough to endow this top-spec Vitara with an ambience befitting its price.

Rock-hard (if seemingly hard-wearing) door and cabin plastics, chintzy and useless instrument info screens (yet no digital speedo!) and inadequate front seat adjustment via flimsy-feeling levers do not get the pulse racing. Neither does an auto up-down window only for the driver or a sliding sunroof blind that’s too opaque to provide decent sun/heat protection.

At least you can fit one-litre water bottles in both front doors and the lower centre console gets dual shelves (in hard, slippery plastic) with a 12-volt outlet and a USB slot. The Turbo AllGrip also gets electrically folding door mirrors (though they need to be activated by a button on the driver’s door), as well as steering-wheel paddles (which work when the gearlever is in M, for ‘manual’, as well as in Drive).

The keyless entry system is slightly odd in that it requires you to press a button on one of the front door handles …. to open just that door. If you want to let anyone else in, you’ll need to double-press it quickly. And once you’re inside, locating the start button hidden behind the steering wheel is a perpetual pain.

How much space does the Suzuki Vitara Turbo Wagon have?

What should please punters is the Turbo’s new patterned suede-effect trim in the seat centres, though improved seats would’ve been preferable. If you like sitting high, you’ll appreciate the Vitara’s driving position, however the gaps between backrest positions and fore-aft cushion slots are far too broad for many people to achieve a comfortable seating position.

Comfort is arguably better in the Vitara’s back seat, aided by impressive legroom and one-litre bottle holders in the doors (just like the front). Unfortunately, forward vision is dominated by the front seat headrests, while the bench cushion is quite flat and lacking in under-thigh support.

At least the 375-litre boot has a few tricks up its sleeve, like a dual-level floor with partitionable slots so you can section stuff into place, a pair of useful bins on each side, a take-away hook and a 12-volt outlet.

What's the Suzuki Vitara Turbo's tech like?

The flagship Vitara’s claim to fame is its AWD system. Configurable by a dial between the manual handbrake and the gearlever, it offers four selectable modes – Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock.

Suzuki’s reasonably intuitive 7.0-inch multimedia screen dominates the dash centre, boasting sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration. Punching through six speakers, sound quality is average.

The Vitara’s touchscreen also has fiddly finger-touch volume control – the type which Honda is now phasing out due to its difficulty of operation – though at least there’s a volume toggle on the steering wheel as compensation.

How reliable is the 2019 Suzuki Vitara Turbo?

The flagship Vitara’s claim to fame is its AWD system. Configurable by a dial between the manual handbrake and the gearlever, it offers four selectable modes – Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock.

Suzuki’s reasonably intuitive 7.0-inch multimedia screen dominates the dash centre, boasting sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration. Punching through six speakers, sound quality is average.

The Vitara’s touchscreen also has fiddly finger-touch volume control – the type which Honda is now phasing out due to its difficulty of operation – though at least there’s a volume toggle on the steering wheel as compensation.

How safe is the Suzuki Vitara Turbo?

Suzuki has a deserved reputation for steadfast reliability and there’s little reason why the Vitara Turbo AllGrip shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of its robust ancestors.

The 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine is in a low state of tune – there’s so much more than just 103kW up its sleeve – and even the transmission appears to protect itself by upshifting prematurely from first to second gear at just 5400rpm (redline is 6000rpm), regardless of whether you’re in Manual or Drive.

About the only area which could present an issue is the AWD system if pushed to its limits. It’s not really intended for anything beyond light-duty off-roading, and while the Vitara AllGrip’s reasonably trim kerb weight (1260kg) and short wheelbase give it the bones for decent talent on sand, you’d want to be careful not to cook the drive system. This is a small wagon that happens to have 4WD, not a 4WD that happens to offer wagon practicality.

The Vitara was awarded five stars for crash-ability by Euro NCAP in 2015, with consistently strong scores across all disciplines. It received 89 per cent for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant protection, 76 per cent for pedestrian protection and 75 per cent for safety-assist systems.

The Series 2 Vitara Turbo ups its safety-equipment game, now including adaptive cruise control with stop and go, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert to bolster its big-car credentials, in conjunction with front and rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera. For a small SUV, the flagship Vitara’s full spec sheet appears unexpectedly mature.

And you can’t discount the passive-safety benefits of good-quality tyres and all-wheel drive. In adverse conditions, that stuff makes a big difference.

What is the Suzuki Vitara Turbo's warranty like?

Suzuki’s standard warranty is three years/100,000km, however if you get your car serviced by a Suzuki dealer according to the five-year capped-price servicing plan, that warranty is automatically extended to five years/140,000km (and also includes roadside assistance).

What are the on-going costs for the Suzuki Vitara Turbo Wagon?

Suzuki’s new capped price servicing program covers the first five years of ownership, and the frequent services required by the Vitara Turbo AllGrip – every six months or 10,000km.

Most services will cost you just $175 a pop, though the 24 month/40,000km service is $359, the 36 month/60,000km one is $379 and the 48 month/80,000km is $399. In total, it’s $2362 over five years, or an average of $472 a year, which is higher than average for a mainstream brand.

As for resale, according to The Red Book, the projected three-year retained value of a Vitara Turbo AllGrip is a robust 65.0 per cent. That compares favourably with a $37,500 Mazda CX-3 Akari AWD (63.5 percent), a $35,290 Toyota C-HR Koba AWD (64.5 per cent) and a $33,000 Hyundai Kona Elite 1.6T AWD (65.0 per cent).

Is the 2019 Suzuki Vitara Turbo value for money?

It depends on where your priorities lie. While the Turbo AllGrip’s recommended retail price (not the drive-away price) of $33,990 is less than its rivals mentioned above – in particular the range-topping Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD ($38,000) and Hyundai Kona Highlander 1.6T AWD ($39,000) – the lack of sophistication in its interior architecture, and even its styling details, says that price is about all the utilitarian Suzuki is able to carry. In the broad scheme of things, a base Vitara is where the real value lies – especially the 1.6-litre manual, currently $23,990 drive-away.

That said, the Vitara Turbo AllGrip’s solid residual value means that much of the money you spend up front will be recouped at resale time.

What's under the Suzuki Vitara Turbo's bonnet?

Suzuki has rarely produced a dud engine, so it’s no surprise that the 1.4-litre ‘Boosterjet’ turbo-petrol four-cylinder in the Vitara Turbo AllGrip is a likeable thing. Producing 103kW at 5500rpm and an excellent 220Nm from 1500-4000rpm, it’s a smooth and swift performer, with enough poke to work admirably with the Turbo’s six-speed automatic – the sole transmission offered in Australia.

It’s muscular enough to sprint to 100km/h in around eight seconds, making the Vitara Turbo AllGrip one of the quickest small SUVs around (behind the turbocharged Hyundai Kona). And with all-wheel drive aiding its off-the-line purchase, you can rely on the AllGrip to deliver strong traffic-light punch no matter what the weather.

Pity the engine itself doesn’t sound more potent, because personality never goes astray. And a six-speed manual option would be most welcome. Try as hard as the auto does, it lacks the engagement and the ability to properly channel all that torque that a manual ’box could achieve. It also refuses to hold manually selected gears at redline - regardless of whether you’re in M or D.

How much fuel does the Suzuki Vitara Turbo Wagon use?

The official government combined fuel-consumption claim of 6.2L/100km is fairly impressive given the Turbo’s grunt – that’s barely any more than the entry-level Vitara 1.6 auto at 6.0L/100km.

To put that into context, a Toyota C-HR Koba AWD CVT is 6.5L/100km, while a Mazda CX-3 2.0-litre AWD auto and Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD DCT are both 6.7L/100km.

What's it like to drive the Suzuki Vitara Turbo?

The first thing you notice about the Vitara Turbo AllGrip is its electric steering. It’s depressingly artificial. Inconsistently weighted, lacking in feel and too low-geared to convey a proper sense of agility, it initially detracts from the Turbo AllGrip’s driving experience.

Yet the longer and harder you drive the top-spec Vitara, the more the steering’s disinterest fades into the background. Once you get your head around the purchase of its excellent 215/55R17 Continental tyres and the poise of the Suzuki’s chassis, you begin to understand that the driver appeal of the Vitara Turbo AllGrip is greater than skin deep. Especially when you flick its AWD system into Sport, which directs more drive to the rear wheels and enhances its driving feel. 

The Vitara Turbo AllGrip is an easy car to (briskly) dart about in – whether it be plugging gaps in traffic or effortlessly overtaking trucks on country roads – and there’s a knockabout, go-anywhere appeal to it that ultimately compensates for its lack of finesse. No, it doesn’t ride particularly well either but, somehow, that doesn’t matter so much.

How does the 2019 Suzuki Vitara Turbo compare to the competition?

Firstly, the Vitara Turbo AllGrip is one of the few small SUVs actually available with all-wheel drive – the others being Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Kona – and that greatly enhances the Suzuki’s appeal in colder climates. But unlike the CX-3 and Kona, each of which offer AWD variants from around $26K, the sole AWD Vitara variant will cost you many thousands more.

In terms of performance, only a Kona 1.6T has more grunt than a Vitara Turbo. And in terms of space, the Suzuki can hold its head reasonably high among its competitors. But at Turbo AllGrip level, this is a low-cost car trying to compete with more sophisticated offerings. No matter how much brightwork, fancy trim and fandangled gadgets you stuff into a Vitara, its budget plastics and basic interior architecture are always going to betray its working-class origins.

TMR's Verdict:

In isolation, the Vitara Turbo AllGrip is quite an appealing package. It looks decent (apart from the chrome styling chintz of the facelifted Turbo), offers a degree of customisation, a great big sunroof and a respectably strong drivetrain. It’ll undoubtedly be reliable, too, and can easily accommodate three burly ruggies across its back seat. For express school and shopping runs – even off the beaten track – it’s beaut.

But given the excellence of Suzuki’s smaller Swift in so many areas, the Vitara really does deserve more ... like better seats, proper steering connection and more interior class. At $36K drive-away, the Vitara Turbo AllGrip isn’t cheap, and doesn’t convey the tactile-quality impression of a 2019 Mazda CX-3. Yet there’s a left-field, separate-from-the-norm appeal to the attractive Vitara that’s indefinably strong. And we like that. 

 

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