The Suzuki Vitara is late to the compact crossover party, albeit fashionably so with its Range Rover Evoque-aping styling and customisable interior décor. But being fashionable won’t be enough. The Suzuki Vitara is going to need depth, ability and personality if it wants to challenge the popularity-princesses of the compact crossover segment. Against rivals such as the Nissan Juke, Ford Ecosport, and Citroën C4 Cactus, among many others, the competition is fierce.
Unlike many of its rivals, the Suzuki Vitara rides on a platform built for crossover purposes – not a compact hatchback jacked up a few inches to give it the high ride height of a crossover. It shares a platform with the Suzuki SX4, although shrunken by 125mm lengthways and made 10mm wider to give it dimensions of 4 175mm and 1 775mm respectively. It’s also shed some weight in the process of downsizing, weighing in at 1075kg, 100kg less than the SX4 on a like-for-like comparison of FWD models.
In GL+ FWD guise, as on test here, the front wheels are driven through a 5-speed manual gearbox, with power arriving courtesy of a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine also carried over from the SX4. The outputs are claimed at 86kW and 151Nm, arriving at 6000- and 4400rpm respectively. Fuel consumption – a big selling point in this segment – is claimed at 5.8l/100km; but even though we couldn’t quite match that, the 6.2l/100km we achieved is still superb; disproving the notion of downsizing and turbocharged efficiency other manufacturers swear by.
The reduced weight of the Vitara versus the SX4 is instantly noticeable. The Suzuki Vitara makes good use of the 86kW afforded by the detuned Swift Sport engine, maintaining a keenness to rev out through all 5 gears. While it lacks the midrange torque found in turbocharged competitors, its willingness to rev, and the linear torque delivery as it does so ensure it still has guts aplenty.
The 5-speed manual has a lengthy throw, a bit too long, but slips from gear to gear with solidity and preciseness. The shift action is however ruined by the obscenely large red shift lever equipped to our GL+ – an item which can fortunately be opted out in favour of something more humble and easier to get along with.
Suspension-wise, the Suzuki Vitara is decidedly comfort orientated. Body roll around corners is quite pronounced – albeit linear and predictable, no heaving from one side to the other. The softly sprung ride is paired with equally cushy dampers, but they react quick enough to thwart the attempts of rapidly changing surfaces permeating the cabin. Supple suspension and a 185mm maximum ground clearance ensure the Suzuki Vitara rides as comfortably on tarmac as it does on dirt, where even loose surfaces don’t seem to phase the crossover.
Grip levels are superb too – to such an extent that the Suzuki Vitara FWD GL+ even negates the need for an AllGrip model in 90% of conditions. The AllGrip may have it’s benefits, but for the weight it adds (85kg) and the fact that the FWD variant is so capable, it almost seems a bit redundant unless you regularly require the locking diff and hill-descent control equipped to AllGrip models.
Steering ability across the range is provided by an electronically power-assisted setup. It’s one of the sweetest weighted setups on the market – with an ample balance suited to both town and freeway driving. The Suzuki Vitara changes direction sweetly thanks to the direct steering, but wheel feels sticky around the centre mark, and isn’t the most feelsome or communicative.
It’s a good thing then that the rest of the package provides a positive connected feel with the road, all whilst maintaining high levels of refinement. Tyre noise does have a tendency to permeate the cabin at highway speeds, but that’s about the worst of it. On dirt roads, the NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) levels are incredibly low, with impressive sound deadening and little to no rattling a highlight of the Suzuki Vitara.
Features and Specification:
With the compact crossover segment booming, and an increasing number of young buyers looking to cement their personality in the vehicle they drive, the Suzuki Vitara has a firm focus on customisation.
In addition to the striking two-tone exterior colour options, buyers can opt for either black, chrome, or white grill finishes, as well as two optional body styling packages – Urban and Rugged, the former (equipped on our test unit) adding chrome fog-lamp housings, a roof spoiler, and specialised side mouldings.
The customisation continues inside where the Suzuki Vitara can be equipped with colour-coded dash inserts and cabin surrounds, as well as a choice of analogue clock design for the centre console, and the option to equip that over-the-top gear shift lever I mentioned earlier.
Despite the customisation options, the Suzuki Vitara’s interior is still a touch dated. Although solidly screwed together, the lack of soft-touch materials gives a low level of perceived quality, and the dot-matrix display radio feels behind the current crop of touch screen entertainment systems other manufacturers offer.
In spite of the low-rent appearance, the entertainment system still boasts all the bells and whistles we’ve become accustomed to – Bluetooth audio streaming and telephony, along with USB connection and MP3/WMA compatibility are standard across the range. Satellite steering controls are standard too.
Elsewhere in the interior, automatic climate control, height adjustable front seats, and cruise control keep things comfortable. Cloth seats are comfortable and supportive, but are the only option unless you upgrade to the full-spec GLX AllGrip model, which also boasts automatic LED headlights and wipers, keyless entry and start/stop, a panoramic sunroof, and Park Distance Control.
The Suzuki Vitara GL+ FWD features all the basic amenities, and offers the best all round package at the best price compromise. For only R282 900, the GL+ FWD is the pick of the lot. Potential buyers could only be found wanting for one thing… the BoosterJet powered ‘S’ model derivative available in foreign markets.
Words: Roger Biermann
Photography: Roarke Bouffe, Vaughn Humphrey