What is it? The all-new Suzuki Vitara is the latest in a successful line of small SUVs
Key features: 2WD/4WD, crossover styling, long spec
Our view: With sharp pricing and strong performance, Suzuki’s optimism for its new car seems very well founded.
The Suzuki Vitara is a model which is core to the very heritage of the Suzuki brand. Since it first appeared on the market in 1988, it has effectively shown off the brand’s prowess in all-wheel-drive powertrains, and in the process sold 2.87 million examples across the globe.
For the past few years, however, the only version of the car one has been able to buy on the UK market is the Grand Vitara, a big sister model that is a throwback to the previous fifth-generation Vitara series.
Now the Grand Vitara has come to the end of the line. It’s making way for a new Vitara, one that is crucial to Suzuki’s bold plans to build on the market growth achieved by what many consider one of the smaller Japanese brands. In three years Suzuki’s UK sales have jumped from 20,000 to more than 37,000 a year, boosting its market share from one to 1.5 per cent.
The other major factor guiding the new Vitara is its target market – the small crossover segment has mushroomed in both sales figures and competing makes in recent times. Every badge now wants to be part of this market and the new Suzuki arrives just as do two potential new rivals, Jeep’s Renegade and the Fiat 500X we reviewed recently.
But if there is one market that Suzuki should be in, it’s this one – unlike most of its competitors, the brand has a very long heritage of making small, affordable 4x4s, stretching way before the Vitara to the initial Jimny of 1970.
While the predecessors were off-road pitched, the all-new Vitara is aimed squarely at the clientele buying all these crossovers – buying them mostly for the dominant road presence and which mostly has no intention of ever subjecting their car to an off-tarmac experience.
It’s a smaller car than its predecessor, sitting between its prime rivals the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti. But with a starting price firmly in the territory of the smaller car, the Suzuki offers a roomy option to a typical B-segment crossover, including a 375-litre boot. It does not feel significantly smaller than the car it replaces.
The body is new and scores on style – more than one observer on the launch event suggested it had elements of Land Rover’s much-vaunted Range Rover Evoque about it.
Similarly the interior is a new design and thoroughly practical – it makes no headlines, does nothing particularly different, but the surfaces are of higher quality than the pricing would suggest and the controls exactly where one needs to find them, nothing more, nothing less.
The Vitara powertrain line-up is simple – two engines, one petrol one diesel, both of 1.6 litres and both with 118bhp. The petrol version can be matched to a five-speed manual or six-speed auto gearbox, the diesel six-speed manual only, and both can be supplied with either front-wheel drive or Suzuki’s AllGrip all-wheel-drive system.
Suzuki expects most take-up of the Vitara to be with the petrol engine, despite the car offering far greater appeal than previously to fleet drivers – including residual value predictions of plus 40 per cent, which is high for the class.
The petrol engine is a competent unit, its 11.5-second 0-62mph time in front-wheel-drive form reasonable for the class. But that acceleration figure is matched by the diesel, which also has the advantage of a 236lbft torque figure more than double that of the petrol unit and from 1,750rpm, compared to 4,400rpm. The Car Expert liked the diesel engine fitted in our test vehicle, though it is a little noisy, and the £1,500 price premium will keep the sales advantage in petrol territory.
We were also able to test the car in all-wheel-drive format. Today’s crossover buyer almost invariably sticks with two-wheel-drive, the average 4WD take-up only around 10 per cent of the mix, and indeed some rivals don’t even offer the option.
Suzuki, however, believes as much as a quarter of Vitara buyers will go the 4WD route, based on the brand’s heritage and the effectiveness of the proven AllGrip system. This sits happily powering the front wheels and only spreads the torque around when needed. And as such, it doesn’t suffer from the fuel economy and emissions drawbacks one expects with 4WD.
Certainly the system works seamlessly, and of course adds extra safety to boot – it is a worthwhile £1,800 investment over the 2WD version.
On the road the Vitara is firmly planted and well behaved – but this does not come as a surprise either, as the underpinnings are basically those of the S-Cross. The steering is light, but not overly so, and one never loses confidence in the car even when cornering enthusiastically.
While few will ever take a Suzuki Vitara off road, it will be able to cope with such conditions, unlike several rivals. The AllGrip has four modes, including ‘Snow’ for when the going gets very slippery, and a lock mode for extricating the car from bogged-down situations.
AllGrip cars also come with hill descent control, while every Vitara is fitted with a hill-hold system.
The two different potential Vitara audiences are exemplified in two optional styling packs available – ‘Urban’ and ‘Rugged’. The former includes chrome detailing and a spoiler, the latter protective skid plates and edge protectors. There are also plenty of options to personalise as appears to be the current trend.
More impressive perhaps is the car’s standard equipment. Every one of the three trim levels includes Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio, all but the entry-level cars link audio functions to one’s smartphone and come with navigation. Go for the top SZ5 trim and highlights on the equipment list include adaptive cruise control, radar brake control and LED projector headlamps.
When one considers that the only Suzuki Vitara more expensive than £20,000 is a diesel-engined, all-wheel-drive full-spec SZ5 variant, Suzuki’s optimism for its new car seems very well founded.
Suzuki Vitara – key specifications
Model Tested: Suzuki Vitara 1.6 DDiS SZ5 AllGrip
On Sale: April 2015
Range price: £13,999-£21,299
Insurance group: TBA
Engines: Petrol 1.6. Diesel 1.6
Power (bhp): 118. 118
Torque (lb/ft): 115. 236
0-62mph (sec): 11.5/12.5*/12.0**/13.0***. 11.5/12.4**
Top speed (mph): 112 (all models)
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 53.3/51.3*/50.4**/49.5***. 70.6/67.2**
CO2 emissions (g/km): 123/127*/130**/131***. 106/111**
Key rivals: Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Fiat 500X
Test Date: February 2015
All performance figures 2WD with manual gearbox except
* = auto gearbox, ** = 4WD manual, *** = 4WD auto.