Suzuki Vitara sets the pace
  |  First Published: January 2016

Suzuki motors seem to be intent on spoiling Australian motorists, releasing a stand-out SUV in the Vitara. Unlike many smaller SUVs, it’s more of a high riding wagon than a chunky hatchback-style vehicle. It’s available in both RT-S (manual or auto 2WD) and the more heavily specced RT-X, which offers the All Grip AWD auto variant for those who like to drive forest trails, bush tracks and the like. As well as all the off-road fun, this model can easily double as the kids’ taxi to school.

Power to Weight tells the story

Not to be confused with the Grand Vitara wagon, the new Suzuki Vitara is a neatly styled SUV that seats four comfortably, five at a pinch, and, thanks to a very favourable power-to-weight ratio, drives very easily in either manual or full auto mode.

When it comes to power-to-weight ratio, there are competitors in the Vitara’s market niche that might have more power between the front wheels. However, with a kerb weight of just 108kg in the RT-X model, and 1075kg for the RT-S, the Hungarian-made Vitara with its 86KW, 156Nm of torque from a 1.6L four-cylinder DOHC petrol engine and 80W/kg ratio is one tough customer.

Key features offer a price advantage

Besides favourable power-to-weight ratio, the Vitara is loaded with features. There’s a 7” touch screen with sat nav and reverse view camera, daytime running lights, climate air, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, four speaker sound system, power windows and mirrors, coil spring suspension front and rear set up linked to MacPherson struts up front, torsion beam at the rear to optimize ride quality. Prices are very sharp. The six-speed manual RT-S 2WD is $21,990, and the six-speed auto (plus on roads in both cases) sees the base Suzuki come home cheaper than most rivals at $23,990.

Both of the new Vitaras feature styling that’s pure SUV wagon. They sit on 17” wheels and have a ground clearance of 185mm, which enables the driver and passengers to enjoy an all-round view.

Rear seats feature a 60/40 split, which increases the standard cargo area size from a reasonable 375L to 1120L – handy for a weekend away or for those times when sporting equipment takes precedence over passengers.

RT-X All Grip 4x4 reviewed

At a price of around $31,990 plus on roads, the RT-X All Grip six-speed auto (as reviewed) was around $8000 more than the base RT-S. However, the features reflect the value. First and foremost was the on-demand 4X4 system, plus a panoramic sun-roof, leather/suede seating, keyless entry and start, LED highlights, and auto lights and wipers.

The All Grip system sees 4WD activated via a rotary dial with ‘Snow,’ ‘Sport’, and ‘Lock’ as handy options. Normal auto mode power is applied to the front wheels only, with AWD activated power moving to the rear wheels when required. Unlike the Grand Vitara, the Vitara does not provide low range, simply AWD when required. On the off-road tracks and creek crossings I traversed, the Vitara’s AWD set up worked well.

The interior of both models is more functional than fancy, with some plastic evident, especially on door panelling and around the dash. That aside, the dash set-up is neatly fitted and the finish is very well executed. The rear view camera was exceptionally clear, there was ample storage around the front cabin area, a decent sized glovebox and a phone or wallet holder. A four quadrant set up within the Vitara’s big touch screen allows instant selection of audio and was very easy to use. Amazingly, in a step back to yesteryear, the Vitara’s dash even sports a large clock!

Tow trials

On the road the RT-X Vitara All Grip was nimble, well mannered and fun to drive. With its six-speed auto unit – a gear box, not a CVT unit – the engine/gearbox match was a seamless match and I found handling to be taut with almost neutral steering. Pushed hard into corners, the Vitara responded readily with very little body roll, but I did notice some tyre noise at higher speed.

On a trip to the New England cod country, I towed my Trek trailer with the Vitara and found the little wagon did an excellent job. Braked towing capacity is 1200kg, and unbraked is 400kg. The Vitara easily hummed along at highway speeds, and a stint on gravel roads saw no issues as the All Grip Vitara took everything in its stride. Suzuki are claiming fuel usage figures of around 6.3L/100km for the All Grip, but with the Trek in tow I noted 7.6L/100, which is still cheap motoring in my book.

In a nutshell

In summing up, I believe Suzuki have come up with a very market sharp product in their Vitara. It’s going to give a lot of the opposition a big shake-up when you compare apples with apples, features with features.

The RT-S, with its near $22k pricing, will tempt a lot of buyers but the RT-X All Grip 4x4 was certainly enjoyable to drive and will no doubt gain its own share of sales. Varied colour schemes are an option for the Vitara’s dash and interior surrounds, as well as a the two-tone paint job of the reviewed vehicle, and they’re worth discussing with a Suzuki dealer.

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