The Suzuki Vitara is a crossover we’ve come to love over the years since it first launched – loved for its composed chassis, well-sorted driving dynamics, predictable handling, pliant ride, and frugal demeanour. But if there was one thing the Vitara was missing, it was fizz. The 1.6-litre naturally aspirated motor might’ve been the same one as the previous-generation Swift Sport, but it was detuned in this application to produce just 86 kW and 156 Nm of torque. While it was capable, it simply didn’t have any fireworks. That’s all changed, though – last year, Suzuki SA introduced the Vitara 1.4 Turbo GLX at the top of the lineup, using the 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine from the new Swift Sport, this time delivering a full-fat 103 kW, and crucially, 220 Nm of torque. The Vitara Turbo is more than just an engine though, benefiting from a slew of interior and specification upgrades to take its place at the top of the order. Suzuki SA handed us the keys to one for a week to see if the upgrades could justify a price tag of just more than R400k.
Pros and Cons
- Light on fuel
- Great balance between comfort and capable handling
- High-quality interior
- Impressive list of features
- Turbo power is a revelation for the Vitara
- Phenomenal warranty coverage
- Some might balk at the price
- Certain interior elements don’t integrate smoothly
- No volume knob
Suzuki Vitara Turbo Exterior
The Vitara is a generally good-looking piece of kit, with many likening it to the Range Rover Evoque from certain angles – particularly when kitted in the right colour scheme. But with the introduction of the turbocharged derivative, the Vitara has also had a minor visual update. On the 1.4 Turbo, which takes on the GLX specification level, exterior features include a panoramic sunroof, silver roof rails, chrome fender garnish, and a chrome front grille. LED projector headlamps are tinged blue to differentiate them at a glance, matched by LED taillights. Where the Vitara wins over many is the eye-catching colour palette that includes vivid hues of Atlantis Turquoise and Bright Red, both paired with a black roof. More demure, single-tone paints are available, too, like plain white and Silky Silver, but the truly adventurous will opt for the duo-tone options like Savannah Ivory and black or Prime Solar Yellow and black as our test unit was dressed.
Vitara Turbo Performance
Engine and Transmission
The Boosterjet turbo engine hasn’t arrived to replace the old 1.6L motor, but instead to supplement it at the top of the lineup. While the larger, naturally aspirated motor generates 86 kW and 156 Nm, the turbo engine sends 103 kW and 220 Nm to the front wheels via either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic as was equipped to our test unit. AWD is available, but only without the turbo engine. The good news for many is that the Turbo’s powertrain and transmission options are lifted directly from the new Swift Sport, which means the manual is slick and the motor keen to jump on the boost without much turbo lag. The auto, we feel, is better suited to the Vitara, however. It’s not a hot hatch, and many will use it as a commuter first and foremost. In this regard, it manages the engine’s peak torque (available between 1,500 rpm and 4,000 rpm) wonderfully, keeping it on the boil, shifting smoothly, and readily stepping down a couple of gears when asked. It’s not the most rapid-firing, but of the current crop of six-speeders, it’s one of the most predictable and effective.
From a performance perspective, the Vitara Turbo lays down a claimed 9.5-second 0-100 km/h sprint, and it feels even quicker in real-world scenarios. Avoid the traffic-light Grand Prix and you’ll find it thrives best when picking up speed to overtake, the transmission handily dropping gears and putting the turbo engine right into the meat of its torque band.
Handling and Driving Impressions
It might not be a hot hatch, but it’s clear the same engineers who built the Swift and Swift Sport were involved here; the Vitara handles far better than its tall stature might suggest. We’ve always loved the Vitara’s balance of comfort and grip, and the recipe hasn’t been changed here. 17-inch alloy wheels wear the same 215-width rubber as lesser derivatives, but aside from a hard launch of planting the throttle hard out of a turn, they provide more than ample grip, even under some duress. The magic is in the suspension though – pliant but not overly soft. The additional wheel travel afforded by the crossover’s 185 mm of ground clearance is used to absorb bumps in its stride, but it never feels too soft, never heaves and lurches, and even under braking, maintains its composure. The steering is light, but remains accurate and responds rapidly to inputs. It might not drip with feel, but you can rely on the responses to be the same every time. At low speeds, such as in tight parking lots, the Vitara fits into tight spots and turns on a dime and, despite its capacious interior, has a small enough footprint that it never feels unwieldy.
The 1.6L motor on lesser Vitaras may not have delivered thrills, but it’s always been light on fuel. When we last tested it, we achieved 6.1 l/100km. Suzuki claims the turbo engine will be even lighter than the base one, particularly with the automatic gearbox, with claims of 5.9 l/100km compared to the 1.6’s 6.2-litre figure. While these figures are seldom achievable in the real world, we ended up at 6.5 l/100km after a week, with no intentional hypermiling and frequently enjoying the newfound torque of the Boosterjet mill under the bonnet.
Vitara Turbo Interior
Solid build quality is a hallmark of the Vitara that we’ve enjoyed from day one. Hard plastics are well-disguised, and quirky elements like body-color dash inserts and various clock faces for the analog dash clock have always given it an element of class. The 1.4 Turbo GLX steps things up further with microsuede inserts on the doors and the synthetic leather/microsuede seats with a geometric pattern. It looks great, feels even better, and lends the cabin an air of sophistication that many rivals can’t match. But the let-down for us was the automatic shift lever. It’s a small detail, but its design was clunky and felt like the sort of shifter you’d find in a 20-year-old bakkie rather than a top-of-the-line model from a modern brand. Fortunately, you don’t have to handle it much as, in manual mode, a pair of neatly designed paddle shifters on the steering wheel are easy to use, despite feeling a little plasticky. That blemish was the only real downside in an otherwise impressive package that boasts enough space for five adults in a cabin that feels light and airy thanks to good sightlines and a panoramic sunroof in this spec.
In terms of practicality, the boot is big, with 375 litres of cargo space increasing to 710 with the rear seats folded.
Vitara Equipment and Safety
Many will balk at the circa R400k starting price of the Vitara Turbo, but for the money, you get a top-spec Vitara GLX with all the trimmings. Automatic LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, automatic wipers, and a 4.2-inch digital display in the instrument cluster all set the tone. There are electric windows all around, automatic climate control, and cruise control. At the center of it all, Suzuki has fixed the one gripe many shoppers had in the form of the outdated infotainment system. Instead, the Vitara now boasts a touchscreen with full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and six speakers. The infotainment system lacks a volume knob, which makes it tricky to adjust, but satellite controls on the steering wheel are a workaround for the driver. A rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors round out the convenience suite, while safety is catered for by an alphabet soup of acronyms that includes ESP and ABD with EBD, as well as seven airbags including a driver’s knee bag.
Suzuki Vitara 1.4 Turbo Price and Verdict
The Vitara has been a Torquing Cars favourite for some time, but it had its flaws. Many of these have been rectified with the facelift and accompanying engine upgrade, as the Vitara now has the performance to match the sublime chassis and ride comfort, and the interior finally looks modern enough to attract technophilic buyers. We’d have liked a volume knob on the infotainment, and a little effort to design a new gearshift level would’ve gone a long way to improve the cabin’s aura, but otherwise, in the C-segment crossover realm, the Vitara Turbo is now one of the best crossovers available on the South African market. At R406,900 for the manual 1.4 Turbo GLX – nearly R100,000 more than the base entry price – many might say the turbo is expensive. But the standard specification at this level and the addition of the turbo motor makes it well worth the extra outlay, especially when rivals like the Mazda CX-3 are equally as pricey. For the automatic model, the one we tested and recommend for most buyers, R426,900 gets you in the door, but a standard 4-year/60,000-km service plan and five-year/200,000-km warranty will keep you behind the wheel for years to come.