Cross off the task
Suzuki took its high-riding hatch to the next logical level but this compact SUV still has off-road cred
THE Vitara shows why it takes more than a new set of clothes of get ahead in the world. This is Suzuki’s take on repurposing a chassis to suit a similar segment, much as Benz does with its A and GLA-Class cars.
For Suzuki the brief was to transform the hatch-like S-Cross into a smaller, more upright SUV style aimed at 25 to 39-year-olds. Attractive in an androgynous way without being alluring, the result still enjoys Suzuki’s reputation for reliability.
It will need something going for it, being a late entrant to the ultra-competitive small SUV segment.
Standard gear includes a touchscreen with satnav and reversing camera, cruise control, 17-inch alloy rims and seven airbags. EuroNCAP rates it a five-star vehicle.
Pricing starts at $22,990 drive-away for the front-wheel drive ST-S variant paired with a five-speed manual gearbox or $24,990 with six-speed auto.
That undercuts everyone from the Mazda CX-3 to the Honda HR-V — but it is a different proposition in allwheel drive.
The Vitara ST-X automatic costs $31,990 plus on-roads, putting it firmly in the prime feeding ground of top-spec small SUVs, where its relative lack of up-market interior plastics may count against it. The hard textured plastic found on the Suzuki is about as inviting as a Laminex bench, though it will probably prove as durable, even if the lower door panels feel flimsy.
Kit on the ST-X extends to a panoramic sunroof, chrome front grille, front and rear parking sensors, suede inserts on the doors and seats, auto wipers and lights (with LED low beam) and power side mirrors.
The Vitara’s other edge is capability on a rutted track, a trait lacking in many crossover competitors. The on-demand AWD is reserved for the topspec ST-X but does a decent job and, with the rotary drivetrain control dial set to lock, is limited only by the tyre tread and the 185mm of ground clearance.
That’s impressive for this class but still a long way short of the Subaru XV’s 220mm ride height.
It’s all for show, though, with a space-saver spare highlighting the Suzuki’s orientation for the city lights.
Look inside an S-Cross and Vitara and the family resemblance is obvious, though in keeping with its younger demographic profile, the Vitara picks up trendier circular, protruding air vents.
There’s also a hesitant entry into the world of factory accessories, with a black-roofed two-tone paint job, four dash
and vent louvre trims (in turquoise, orange, white or piano black), grille and front fender garnishes in black or white and an “urban package” comprising chrome-plated fog lamp bezels, chrome door mouldings and a silver cargo protection panel.
ON THE ROAD
The basics feel great and are satisfyingly solid.
Steering feel won’t set benchmarks but is direct, though the basic suspension does a commendable job of keeping the Vitara tied down through the corners.
Ride suffers, if a cushiony cabin feel forms part of that criteria. If not, the Vitara is one of the tauter SUV rides around town without being bolteddown brittle.
The chassis is crying out for a small displacement turbo engine, perhaps something like the in-house BoosterJet 1.0-litre direct injection turbo Suzuki showed on its iK2 small car earlier this year.
The existing 1.6-litre naturally aspirated job is a stoic performer but struggles to move the Vitara at a reasonable clip relative to the opposition.
Revs need to be north of 3500rpm to start delivering decent torque, meaning the five-speed manual transmission will get a workout — and owners should ignore the recommended shift points on the driver’s display.
Keep it spinning and it is a fun drive, if not the quietest cabin in the class.
The auto takes some of the repetition out of the drive by holding gears in response to the throttle and, with the driving mode set to sport, will try to keep the engine busy. It can hesitate as it kicks down cogs but is generally fuss free.
The infotainment display has a nifty party trick: the integrated satnav has adopted the smartphone-style swipe and pinch mechanism to move and zoom on the maps.
An upright seating position makes a cruise with four adults a comfortable proposition.
The 375L boot just stows two large suitcases without needing to remove the false floor that doubles as a convenient way to store items out of sight.
The Suzuki Vitara feels like the country boy brought to the big city: a bit rough around the edges but more than willing to pitch in.
The Vitara has an edge in its capability on a rutted track, a trait
lacking in many crossover competitors