JOHANNESBURG - Much of the hype surrounding Suzuki’s introduction of its first turbo engine in South Africa has been focused around the new Swift Sport, but those that have moved into the SUV phase of life will be pleased to know that the exact same engine has also just given the family-friendly Vitara a welcome boost.

Until now Suzuki’s 1.6-litre normally aspirated petrol engine, with 86kW and 156Nm, has been the only option in the range, but now buyers can opt for a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 103kW available at 5500rpm, and 220Nm from 1500 revs. You can only have it in front-wheel-drive format, probably because Suzuki wanted to keep the price below R400 000, but you can choose between six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission, while those insisting on AWD can still have it in the range-topping 1.6-litre model, which sells in the same price range as the new 1.4T.

We recently spent a week with the Vitara Turbo GLX manual derivative, which costs R380 900, which is exactly R19 000 less than the auto model. 

Given the bigger body, performance obviously isn’t as exciting as it is in the Swift Sport, but we never wished for more power in this compact SUV. Effortless is the word that comes to mind here, thanks to the engine’s linear power delivery and acceleration feels brisk through the gears. This car also cruises happily on the highway, and overtaking on back roads is relatively effortless too. This is the engine that the Vitara always deserved.

This Vitara’s suspension is a touch on the firm side, so the ride isn’t the cushiest in this class but it’s still acceptably comfortable, while the upside to that set-up is that this vehicle is fairly agile for an SUV.

You can only order the 1.4T in GLX specification, and it’s got pretty much everything you could want at this level. What’s standard then? You get Suzuki’s 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system with CarPlay and Android Auto and reverse camera, as well as automatic climate control, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel, auto lights and wipers, LED headlights, seven airbags and ESP stability control. The touchscreen system is the same unit that Suzuki has introduced in most of its products recently and it’s a colourful system with some interesting graphics (even getting quite retro with radio station tuning), but we feel Suzuki has moved too many things to the screen as there isn’t even a conventional volume knob anymore, which we missed.

The cabin of this range-topping GLX model has been zhuzhed up quite nicely with smart-looking seats upholstered in a suede and leather combination and sporting a diamond-shaped stitching pattern.

In terms of space utilisation, rear legroom is reasonably decent, while the 375 litre boot is on par with the class average. In overall size terms, for the record, the 4175mm-long Vitara sits between the Ford EcoSport and Hyundai Creta and is roughly the same size as the Peugeot 2008.

The Vitara’s exterior styling has also been perked up a little, with two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights, while customers can choose from various two-tone colour options with a white or black roof. 

However, despite this, and the availability of some bright colours, the Vitara is a rather conservative looking vehicle and we can’t help but wish Suzuki had gone for a slightly more outlandish and cheeky look for this vehicle, like they did with the Jimny and Ignis.

VERDICT

At R480 900, the new Vitara 1.4T GLX is on the expensive side. It’s closest rivals in our view, which are the slightly less powerful turbocharged versions of the EcoSport, 3008 and T-Cross, cost between R343 900 and R365 000, for instance.

However, the Vitara Turbo is a solid, powerful and luxurious vehicle that will tick most of your boxes if you’re looking for a compact SUV below the R400 000 mark.

IOL Motoring