Cross off the task

Suzuki took its high-rid­ing hatch to the next log­i­cal level but this com­pact SUV still has off-road cred

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VER­DICT

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

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