Knysna - With the SA market already bursting at the seams with uber-trendy SUVs like the Opel Mokka, Renault Captur, Ford Ecosport, Nissan Juke and Honda HR-V, Suzuki has decided to bring back the vehicle that basically invented the small-SUV segment 27 years ago, the Vitara.
It slots in below Suzuki’s Grand Vitara – which remains on sale – as a more compact and affordable SUV with a very appealing starting price of just under 240 grand, although you can pay up to 320 grand if you choose the all-wheel-drive Vitara with all the bells and whistles.
It shares a platform with the Suzuki SX4 hatchback but the Vitara has more trendy SUV styling and a more useful ground clearance of 185mm (which is 10mm higher than the SX4).
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According to Suzuki’s market research most people (45 percent) buy a compact SUV because of its design, while considerations such as brand loyalty (12 percent), size (eight percent) and off-road performance (seven percent) take a back seat. If that’s true then the Vitara’s chunky, adventurous styling is sure to be a hit (squint your eyes just a little and there’s more than a hint of Range Rover Evoque in that frontal design).
The five models in the Vitara line-up all share the same 1.6-litre normally-aspirated petrol engine, but there are three different spec levels, a choice of front or all-wheel drive, and manual or automatic transmissions.
Suzuki expects the bulk of Vitara buyers to opt for the front-wheel-drive derivatives, and I can vouch that they probably won’t be disappointed with its gravel-tackling ability. The two-wheel drive version I drove on the Western Cape media launch had more than sufficient grip on the rough and rutted dirt roads we drove, and there was sufficient ground clearance to avoid the car’s belly scraping anywhere. When driven on gravel at a pace approaching mishap levels, the electronic stability control, which is standard across the five-model range, also quickly brought the Vitara back under control.
AllGrip all-wheel drive, offered on two of the five Vitara models, is a four-mode system that actively divides power between the front and rear axles to suit varying driving conditions. AllGrip also offers hill descent control.
But what impressed me most was the Vitara’s cushy ride quality, and the yielding independent suspension and high-profile tyres made this Suzuki comfortably ho-hum its way over bumpy roads. It seems solidly built too, and driving over those scarred roads failed to evoke any meaningful rattles.
Though it’s smaller than its Grand Vitara cousin, the Vitara is roomy enough to take a full load of adult passengers. At 1.8 metres tall I was able to comfortably sit in the back seat behind the driver’s seat set to my position. The 375 litres of luggage space is also semi decent, expanding to 710 litres with the seatbacks folded down.
A luggage board allows the luggage space to be divided for flexible loading solutions.
The Vitara’s well specced with comforts too: standard fare across the range includes tilt and reach-adjustable steering, an audio system with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, trip computer, manual aircon, front electric windows, and remote central locking.
Also standard are seven airbags, ABS brakes, and the abovementioned ESP, and the Vitara achieved a five-star EuroNCAP score.
Moving up to GL+ spec adds items like rear electric windows, cruise control, automatic climate control, 16 inch alloy rims (compared to steel on the entry-level GL), and smarter interior and exterior finishes.
The range-topping GLX is further glammed up with bigger (17 inch) alloys, panoramic glass sunroof, LED daytime running lights, suede upholstery, parking sensors, keyless starting, automatic headlamp activation and hill hold control.
With its outputs of 86kW and 151Nm the 1.6 engine is modestly powered, especially in torque, compared to the turbo engines that are becoming de rigeur in this market segment. The Ecosport’s 1-litre turbo (92kW and 170Nm) and Nissan Juke’s 1.2 turbo (85kW/190Nm) will easily outgun it, especially at high altitude.
That said, the Vitara delivered honest commuting performance at sea level and didn’t feel overly sluggish. I didn’t drive the six-speed auto but the five-speed manual transmission shifted smoothly and the ratios were well selected, so that the engine didn’t feel buzzy when cruising at the national speed limit. Overall it’s a refined experience and along with the engine quietness there’s also no major wind noise.
Economy-wise, the two wheel drive manual I drove sipped a little more than eight litres per 100km, but Suzuki claims six litres is possible. The Vitara can be personalised with Urban and Rugged accessory styling packages.
1.6 GL - R239 900
1.6 GL+ - R269 900
1.6 GL+ AllGrip - R291 900
1.6 GLX AllGrip - R319 900
1.6 GLX AT - R299 900
These include a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a four-year or 60 000km service plan.Star Motoring
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