Unless you’ve been living off grid you’d know by now that SUVs are almost painfully popular. But the Suzuki Vitara along with the Toyota RAV 4 were the true pioneers in the segment way back when. A time when you’d soil the interior with the dregs of sand and saltwater after a day at the beach. An era when you could drop the soft-top off and heaven forbid, even go off road. But now Suzuki has a four-model lineup, one that bears little resemblance to what once was. Chris Bowen discovers that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The latest Vitara was launched back in 2015, with two models on offer. The base RT-S and RT-X arrived with handy stock kit including satellite navigation, reversing camera, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass and fog lamps.
Fast forward to 2018 and you can throw in the S Turbo 2WD and 4WD variants plus the range topping 1.6-litre turbo diesel RT-X. I spent three weeks driving around Sydney in all the petrol automatic models. The RT-S kicks things off at $21,990. Apple CarPlay comes as standard although the six-speed automatic is a $1000 option over the entry 5-speed manual.
I found the RT-S to be a very well-rounded package. Power is delivered to the front wheels via a four-cylinder 1.6-litre VVT petrol engine pumping out 86kW/156Nm. There’s cruise control, climate control and seven airbags that help deliver a five star ANCAP rating.
Minus a turbo, the little Vitara does have a hard time getting up to motorway speeds. Although around town it’s perky enough to avoid being as slow as a wet week. The six-speed automatic transmission offers no complaints and goes about its work dutifully. Fuel economy is a claimed 6.0L/100km, exactly what I achieved which is about as rare as seeing a Holden Commodore.
The Vitara is a nice steer, with well weighted and predictable steering combined with a neutral handling setup. It does lack some refinement, I found life a little rough and gruff over lesser roads. But at this price point I’d describe the drive as tidy but lacking flare.
Suzuki has tried hard to offer a funky interior, with retro round vents, alternate plastic inlays and textures and some fun colour schemes. But at the end of the day, it’s plasticky and basic.
The cloth seats do their job well, particularly up front. But for longer trips expect some complaints from the rear. They’re a little too firm and upright to spend more than a couple of hours in.
Moving up the range you arrive in the $29,990 S Turbo 2WD unit. The 103kW / 220Nm four-cylinder 1.4-litre Boosterjet direction engine is a substantial step up as you’d expect. The six-speed automatic transmission is paired with paddle shifters, keyless entry and ignition, 6-speaker stereo, leather accented seats with some suede and red stitching, rain sensing windscreen wipers, front and rear parking sensors, black alloy wheels, auto LED headlamps plus a chrome grille.
This is the pick of the bunch in my mind and really shows off the inviting looks of the baby SUV. It still has that boxy look, but the two-tone body trim elements, black alloys and sharper looking LED headlamps really give the Vitara appeal to the inner-city brigade. The S Turbo sips 5.9L/100km, I averaged 6.0L/100km again – I must be getting old.
At $32,990 the S Turbo 4WD has Suzuki’s ALLGRIP system and hill decent control. The system allows the driver to choose four modes: Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock. A push and turn dial engages each program, but honestly you won’t get that far from Woolies. Light beach work and basic mountain trails are about the limit, although there is a handy amount of ground clearance. It does however offer a little more surety in wet conditions or if you want to corner like it’s a hot hatch. This time I averaged 6.4L/100km just off the claimed 6.2L/100km.
It should be noted a 7.0-inch colour multimedia screen is also standard across the range, offering the basics expected from any modern car these days. There are no advanced driver assist technologies on any model, such as AEB. Let’s hope an inevitable facelifted model addresses that.
Cargo space isn’t amazing at 375-litres, but it did pass our pram test. This truly scientific method requires any car to accommodate our Urban Jungle Pram when placed horizontally across the boot. The Vitara just passes, but a Kia Stinger for example doesn’t, for context.
EFTM Rubber Stamp of Approval.
The Suzuki Vitara lineup proves a relatively simple car can be a rewarding one. With a palette of attractive exterior colours to choose from, decent standard equipment and excellent fuel economy it’s little wonder why the longstanding nameplate continues to excel with buyers. I award the range the EFTM Credit Rubber Stamp of Approval.