The current version of the Suzuki Vitara was launched in 2015 and has always traded on the fact that while being a road-friendly compact SUV, it also offers the all-wheel-drive flexibility that most of its rivals no longer do. And Suzuki hopes that an updated version with the brand’s first proper hybrid powertrain will further increase the appeal of a car that is already the brand’s best seller.
The Vitara competes in what is now the most competitive part of the UK market – when launched the Suzuki had around 14 rivals, now there are around 25 but almost all of them are only available in front-wheel-drive form.
Suzuki has appeared to be playing catch-up with regard to the trend to electrification, but with EU legislation now imposing heavy fines on manufacturers exceeding pre-determined average levels of CO2 emissions across their range, the brand needs to catch up quickly.
So far, the two-pronged efforts have seen mild hybrid units added across the model range, and new models in the Across and Swace that are little more than rebadged Toyotas, employing the giant brand’s proven hybrid technology. But this new unit in the Vitara is the first hybrid system created by Suzuki itself.
Suzuki refers to this system as a “full hybrid”, which is really just very optimistic marketing spin. Although the hybrid Vitara can travel under purely electric power for “short distances”, the company refrains from putting any kind of number on what actually constitutes a “short distance”. In real terms, this new setup sits somewhere between a mild hybrid (where the electric motor purely assists the petrol engine) and a conventional hybrid (which can travel for a few miles on electric power only).
The Vitara has received mixed reviews over the years – quite positive back when it was first launched way back in 2015, but declining over time as newer rivals have arrived on the scene. Our Expert Rating score of 61% (as of March 2022) is based mainly on its practicality and value for money, with strong equipment levels, but reviewers are less impressed by the quality of the interior fittings.
What’s new about the Suzuki Vitara Full Hybrid?
In short, the new hybrid engine and that’s it. The current Vitara has been around since 2015 and underwent a mid-life refresh in early 2019. It has since gained several specification updates, including the addition of mild hybrid assistance across the range, so there’s not much to tell here apart from the new hybrid drivetrain option.
The new hybrid model effectively replaces the previous automatic-gearbox Vitaras. It will be sold alongside the existing mild hybrid versions of the Vitara with manual gearboxes, while the auto versions of those cars will be phased out. Thus the range will be simplified to mild hybrids with a manual gearbox and this new “full hybrid” unit with an automatic.
How does it look?
There have been no styling updates to accompany the new engine. The Vitara has a purposeful presence, while elements such as the large clamshell-style bonnet add a sense of solidity.
Detailed styling updates were made as recently as 2020, including the addition of LED headlamps and they followed a front-end update a year earlier. On looks, the Vitara certainly holds its own against more recently launched rivals.
What’s the spec like?
The Vitara Full Hybrid is offered in three versions, dubbed SZ-T, SZ5 and the all-wheel-drive SZ5 Allgrip. Standard specification is impressive, especially in terms of safety with all versions including an extensive selection of driver assistance electronics, including a blind-spot alert and adaptive cruise control which tend to be options on many rivals.
The Vitara was awarded a five-star safety rating when tested by EuroNCAP in 2015, although this rating has now expired as the car no longer meets the current criteria for a five-star car.
Paying extra for the SZ5 version (which you have to if you want all-wheel-drive) replaces the painted alloy wheels with polished versions and adds suede seat upholstery, a panoramic sunroof and front and rear parking sensors.
What’s the Suzuki Vitara Full Hybrid like inside?
The Vitara has always earned plaudits for its interior space, with plenty of room in front and back and a good-sized boot. However the hybrid battery pack does slice into the cargo area, reducing its capacity by some 86 litres to 289 litres with the rear seats in place.
The dash is generally well laid out with the driver getting a digital display alongside the touchscreen infotainment system in the centre console. This includes sat nav as standard, Suzuki’s system which requires a bit of working through menus – however most people will simply plug in their smartphones and use their mapping software. The screen is also a bit low on the console compared to rivals, with air vents mounted above it.
Vitaras are promoted as a value-for-money option but this does mean that some of the interior plastics are not quite as supple as in some rivals. Generally, however, it’s a comfortable interior.
What’s under the bonnet?
Suzuki’s hybrid unit pairs a new 1.5-litre petrol engine with a 24kW electric motor – this is fed by a 140-volt lithium-ion battery pack and gives a combined output of 115hp.
As well as generating electrical power, the electric motor acts as a starter and provides extra torque to the petrol engine on getaway (like a mild hybrid unit). It continues to do this whenever the driver accelerates, filling the gap in torque delivery between gear shifts that is normally a drawback on auto-manual gearboxes, and when the car is slowing turns the engine off, extending the time of all-electric propulsion.
The hybrid system can be set in Eco or Standard mode through a button on the dash, prioritising either fuel-efficiency or power – in Standard mode it assists the petrol engine more frequently for “more spirited driving”… In Eco mode the driver also has three settings for the air conditioning system, either standard, emphasising the comfort of those travelling in the car or having the least drain on fuel economy.
As is typical with hybrids the system is only available with an auto transmission. In this case it’s a six-speed unit, though it does offer a manual mode via paddles behind the steering wheel.
All of this does add up to improvements in economy and emissions over the standard Vitara, but not to enormous levels. WLTP-certified fuel economy for the 2WD hybrid is 53mpg, dropping to 48.4mpg on the all-wheel-drive version, with CO2 emissions levels of 121 and 132g/km respectively.
These figures are around 4mpg and 8g/km better than the mild hybrid variants of the Vitara, which doesn’t sound much, but they are competitive for a typical compact SUV. Suzuki adds that a Vitara buyer doing 10,000 miles a year will use 61 litres less in fuel, saving at least £10 a month, and also save 129kg in CO2 emissions.
What’s the Suzuki Vitara Full Hybrid like to drive?
Test cars available on the launch event were the Allgrip all-wheel drive versions. These offer a range of driving modes, either Auto, Sport, Snow or a setting that locks the differential for tackling more challenging off-road situations. Note, however that these are only usable with the hybrid system in its Standard setting – in Eco the car defaults to Auto mode.
The Suzuki hybrid system is said to be lighter than rival traditional hybrids, but the extra weight over the standard combustion-engined Vitara is a bonus. In driving the car feels more planted on the road than previous Vitaras we’ve driven, especially when cornering when the steering gives more feedback. This makes for generally more comfortable progress.
With the hybrid not contributing as much to the overall output as some rivals, this is not a particularly swift SUV – taking almost 13 seconds to get to 62mph. But the electric system does play its part, particularly at low power and low speeds the engine is often at rest.
The car is at its best in these lower power situations, especially in Eco mode – be more aggressive and the powertrain’s audio note lets you know it’s working hard, while showing up the limitations of the auto transmission.
Suzuki claims that the electrics help to fill the torque gap between shifts in the six-speed unit, making for smoother progress through the gears. In our experience, however, the transmission is a significant weak point of the car, tending to surging under acceleration and routinely sounding as if it is racing ahead of the car. Curiously, this surging effect is less intrusive in Sport mode, which feels generally more comfortable.
Vitara Full Hybrid prices start at £25.5K for the SZT in two-wheel-drive form, which is a £1,750 step over the mild hybrid manual. Choosing the extra equipment of the SZ5 adds another £2K, it priced at £27.5K, while the all-wheel-drive version is £29.2K. The only options available are paint finishes.
When considered alongside the equipment levels, these prices make the Suzuki Vitara Full Hybrid a value-for-money proposition. You’re buying a car that has no significant vices – once one masters the slightly odd gearbox.
Suzuki’s first ‘proper’ hybrid is not a massive step forward in the new eco environment, but it is a useful one.
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Model tested: Suzuki Full Hybrid Vitara 2022 Allgrip
Price (as tested): £30,134
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 115 hp
Torque: 138 Nm
Top speed: 111 mph
0-62 mph: 13.5 seconds