THE all-new Suzuki Vitara not only features a more updated, go-with-the-times look, it also has cars like the Mazda CX-3 and Ford EcoSport in its sights. Has this compact SUV got what it takes to compete in this segment? I spent time with it in the majestic forests around Knysna to find out.
The Suzuki Vitara has, like me, been around since 1988. Unfortunately, here in South Africa the car never quite caught on. Suzuki has amended that issue but is focusing on the car’s appearance. Is it as good as it looks?
Well let me dissect the design
For a somewhat conservative brand, the new look Vitara is quite out there regarding its design. The front view is dominated by a clamshell bonnet. A bold, two-blade grille links the bonnet to the trapezoidal lower air intake, which creates a strong visual link with the ground. Suzuki is also offering a variety of colours for the car; top-spec models can even be ordered with a contrasting roof colour. I particularly like it in red with a black roof. The Vitara features a boxy design but that’s not a bad thing. It helps with parking and squeezing through tight places. Overall, the car looks good and modern.
Spoilt for choice
Suzuki is offering five different derivatives of the Vitara. The entry level model GL features the bare minimum in terms of features. The GL+ builds on that with the addition of 16-inch alloy wheels (instead of steel wheels on the GL). It also gets a colour-coded grille, door handles and exterior mirrors. The GL+ models can also be ordered with the two-tone exterior colours. Front fog lamps are also standard. The biggest addition though is the option for the brand’s AllGrip four-wheel-drive system. The system features a centre differential lock, which engages the rear wheels for added traction.
The GLX model is the top-spec model. It can be ordered with a choice of either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. Unfortunately the auto won’t be available with the AllGrip function. The five-speed manual on the other hand will be available with AllGrip. Exterior features specific to the GLX models include17-inch alloy wheels, silver roof rails and a standard panoramic sunroof. The front grille and fender garnishes boast a chrome finish. The headlights feature LED projector low-beam elements and LED daytime running lights.
The interior on the GLX model gains an even more upmarket feel thanks to the addition of suede upholstery. For convenience Suzuki has also added front and rear parking sensors as standard, as is Hill Hold Control, automatic headlight activation and keyless starting.
Under the hood
All Vitara models feature the same multipoint fuel-injected M16A 1.6-litre engine, which makes use of VVT technology. This little pucker develops 86kW and 151Nm of torque. Suzuki claims a fuel consumption figure of around 6.0 litres/100km.
The vehicle comes equipped with a comprehensive array of active and passive safety features. It also has a full five-star EuroNCAP safety rating. Active systems include electronic stability programme (ESP) and ABSanti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA). The passive safety features include seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee airbag for the driver).
My drive in the Vitara took me from George to Knysna via many back roads and mountain passes, most of which were gravel. This gave me a chance to test the car’s AllGrip function. The system features a rotary dial located near the handbrake. I could choose between different terrain settings to best suit the road surface. The Vitara handles bumps and ruts quite well and its 185mm of ground clearance is more than enough to cope with the odd dirt road.
The front-wheel-drive GL model does lack the grip of the AllGrip models but it still offers a decent drive. My only issue with all the models that I drove has to be the fact that one really needs to work the gears in order to stay in the power band. I would have loved to see some turbo technology introduced into the Vitara, as I fear, that without the added help, the 1.6-litre might struggle up at the reef.
Despite the power issue the Vitara does offer fuss-free driving. It is practical thanks to a 60:40 folding rear seat configuration. Expect 375 litres of boot space with the seats up and 710 litres with them folded down. There is ample space inside for driver and passengers. The vital MP3/WMA radio with the all-important USB port, features as well.
The Suzuki Vitara range is backed by a comprehensive three-year/100 000km warranty, as well as a four-year/60 000km service plan, and a three-year roadside assistance package. Services are at 15 000 kilometre intervals.