What is it? New turbocharged petrol version of competent small SUV from Suzuki.
Key features: Smallest capacity engine but with most performance. Top S spec and all-wheel drive.
Our View: The new BoosterJet version adds the missing link of performance to the Suzuki Vitara, but without sacrificing its impressive efficiency.
Type of review: Full road test
The Car Expert first drove the latest generation of one of Suzuki’s longest-lived model lines in February 2015, the Vitara reinvented in a bid to take full advantage of Europe’s burgeoning crossover market, and central to Suzuki GB’s ambitious growth plans.
Suzuki has a proud history of making small and affordable SUVs, and the latest Vitara is a worthy addition to that tradition that has been well received. However this latest version, the first to employ the brand’s new Boosterjet petrol engine technology, is expected to provide an extra attraction to the model, offering a degree of performance lacking in either the 1.6 petrol or diesel launch units. Will it boost Vitara sales? A full road test over a week gave us the opportunity to find out.
We were praiseworthy of the new Vitara’s looks on the launch event in 2015 – it is sleek and stylish, and has been likened to Range Rover’s Evoque. In contrast to its predecessors it is aimed, like most of the current crossover breed, at the on-road than off-road market, but in looks traditional Suzuki styling elements remain such as the clamshell bonnet.
The designers have tried hard to make the S trim, the fourth and most expensive of the Vitara grade structure, stand out from its fellow models. Bespoke exterior treatments include a more imposing vertical grille design, a rear upper spoiler, door mirrors finished in satin silver and gloss black 17-inch alloy-wheels. The standard-fit LED headlamps have red projector covers.
Inside the upholstery is finished with red stitching which gives it a more upmarket feel, while there is plenty of detailing, red surrounds to the dash air vents for example.
The overall impression on slipping inside the Vitara, however, is one of space, particularly when one considers the price of the car, which even at this range-topping level is comparable with smaller B segment SUVs like the Nissan Juke. There’s plenty of room for at least two adults in the back and a usefully-sized, well-shaped boot with a low loading lip.
There are some areas which show up the budget value of the Vitara. The plastics are generally of the hard variety, which never look as refined, while the doors are very light. As a result they lack that satisfying ‘clunk’ when swung shut, while the lesser poundage results in them often not latching shut without a second attempt.
Generally, however the interior of the Vitara is well laid out and a pleasurable environment to travel in.
Suzuki expects the new engine, a 1.4-litre direct injection turbo petrol unit, to become a popular part of the Vitara line-up, thanks to its combination of significantly more power. It’s up by 17 per cent compared to the 1.6 petrol unit, yet combined with fuel economy gains of four per cent.
This is achieved by the use of a small displacement, high torque turbocharger with a controllable wastegate valve. It closes to increase boost pressure during heavy load but remains open during normal driving. An air bypass valve ensures the turbo does not ‘stall’ when the throttle is closed and then quickly reopened.
Particularly impressive is the torque – with its peak output of 162lbft coming in at a low 1,500rpm, the car pulls impressively from low speeds which makes it feel far more eager than other Vitara models.
Our test model came with the standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox and AllGrip all-wheel-drive transmission. An auto gearbox is also available, with just a mile per gallon fuel penalty and CO2 emissions only a single gram higher than with the manual, at a price premium of £1,350.
On the road
When tested on the launch last year the standard Vitara proved competent, if not as sporty as its looks suggested. Immediately one moves onto the road in the Boosterjet version, the difference is palpable. The plentiful low-down torque makes for smart acceleration, the unit then settling into refined, smooth delivery when cruising at motorway speeds. And after two long motorway hauls during our test we can attest to the cabin comfort.
Our test week coincided with some not at all spring-like weather around our Welsh borders dominated test route, and the AllGrip four-wheel-drive system really came into its own, emphasising how such transmissions add as much safety on road as they do ability off road. The system boasts four driving modes, varying from auto through sport, snow and lock. The sport mode certainly suits the engine, particularly when cornering when the chassis exudes confidence and the shell stays pleasingly upright.
The only, slight, downside is the steering. While precise enough, it does not provide enough feel to match the directness of the powertrain. It’s not bad, by any means, just not quite as well-tuned compered to the car as a whole.
The Boosterjet engine is only available with the top level S trim and all-wheel-drive, and while the plus £20,000 price may initially seem a little expensive, when one considers the extensive equipment specification included it becomes much more tempting.
For example, both hill-hold and hill-descent control are included, the latter usually expected to be included in more off-road pitched SUVs. And with a differential lock able to be selected in the AllGrip transmission’s four drive modes, the Vitara really can keep going with confidence when the tarmac runs out.
The safety package is impressive and has earned the Suzuki Vitara a five-star Euro NCAP rating – the first SUV to qualify under the more strict regime introduced in 2015. Seven airbags are standard, including a driver’s knee airbag, while the active safety package includes a Radar Barke Support system which alerts the driver (loudly…) if it detects a car stopped or moving slowly in front, and in extreme situations can automatically apply the brakes. On the typically crowded motorways of the UK this did initially prove a little over-sensitive, but the sensing distance can be adjusted to suit one’s individual preference.
The motorway hauls also provided plenty of opportunity to try the highly effective adaptive cruise control, while among other useful driver aids included as standard are front and rear parking sensors and a rear parking camera.
The camera uses the centre console touchscreen normally occupied by the much appreciated DAB radio and the satellite navigation. Again standard on the S model, the nav is a bit menu-heavy but effective enough in operation.
When The Car Expert first tested the latest Suzuki Vitara, we concluded that it was a good value small SUV with a pleasing amount of style. The new Boosterjet version adds the missing link of performance, but without sacrificing substantial efficiency – fuel economy of plus-50mpg for an all-wheel-drive petrol SUV is impressive.
We look forward to the Boosterjet engine spreading throughout the range, and we expect the S version of the Suzuki Vitara to become one of the most popular options in the range – a second coming for petrol power?
Suzuki Vitara – key specifications
Test Date: April 2016
Model Tested: Suzuki Vitara 1.4 Boosterjet S
Options Fitted: None
Engine: Petrol 4-cyl 1373cc.
Power (bhp): 138 @ 5,500rpm.
Torque (lb/ft): 162lbft @ 1,500-4,000rpm.
0-62mph (sec): 10.2
Top speed (mph): 124
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 52.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 127
Key rivals: Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Škoda Yeti.