A change of tone

A pi­o­neer­ing compact SUV re­tains off-road cred but takes a bud­get tack, too

Herald Sun - Motoring - - TEST DRIVE - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

SUZUKI says the new Vi­tara “rein­vents the compact SUV seg­ment”. It doesn’t but it should shake it up at the lower end, given the in­tro­duc­tory deal of $22,990 drive-away for the five-speed man­ual.

That’s cheaper than the big three in the seg­ment — the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Mit­subishi ASX — and the Suzuki is bet­ter equipped, with stan­dard sat­nav, re­vers­ing cam­era, 17-inch al­loys and day­time run­ning lights.


Two-tone is back, ap­par­ently. The Vi­tara is one of many new SUVs to en­able buy­ers to stand out from the crowd.

Our test car, the all-wheeldrive flag­ship RT-X, ar­rived in “Ivory metal­lic” paint with a black roof, a colour scheme avail­able as a $995 op­tion. For those who like to ac­ces­sorise, an­other $220 adds coloured plas­tic high­lights on the dash and around the air­con vents, shift lever and in­stru­ment panel.

The funky, mod­ern theme ex­tends to the seven-inch touch­screen, which has a smart­phone feel to its dis­plays, menus and nav­i­ga­tion. There’s voice recog­ni­tion for those who don’t fancy nav­i­gat­ing the screen on the move.

A gen­er­ous equip­ment list in­cludes a sun­roof and leather seats with suede bol­sters, as well as two 12V ac­ces­sory sock­ets.

Head­room is good up front and ad­e­quate in the rear, as is legroom, al­though the rear seats would be tight for three grown-ups.

The only dis­ap­point­ment with the Suzuki’s cabin is the abun­dance of shiny hard plas­tic sur­faces. On the en­try level mod­els you could just about put up with it but at the RT-X price of $31,990 you’ll see no­tice­ably bet­ter qual­ity ma­te­ri­als on its ri­vals.


De­spite its off-road pre­ten­sions, the Vi­tara is well stocked with good­ies for nav­i­gat­ing the ur­ban crawl. The stan­dard sat­nav is easy to use, with clear graph­ics, while the rear view cam­era also de­liv­ers a clear view of be­hind for park­ing ma­noeu­vres. There are also front and rear park­ing sen­sors for the spa­tially chal­lenged. Other nice touches in­clude auto head­lights and wipers and key­less en­try and start.

But at this price, some ri­vals fit driver as­sis­tance tech­nol­ogy the Vi­tara doesn’t have. The CX-3, for ex­am­ple, has a safety pack that in­cludes blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert and au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing.

The rear lug­gage area has a clever false floor for hid­ing valu­ables or sep­a­rat­ing sports gear from the rest of the load. To­tal lug­gage space is about av­er­age for the class at 375L — the CX-3 has less but the ASX and HR-V have more.

On pock­marked city streets, the Suzuki’s sus­pen­sion also strug­gles, skip­ping about and trans­lat­ing a lot of bumps and crashes into the cabin.


The Vi­tara feels more at home on the open road. De­spite rid­ing higher than many ri­vals, it feels sure-footed through cor­ners, helped by the all-wheel drive grip.

The steer­ing feels rel­a­tively sharp for an SUV and the sus­pen­sion copes bet­ter with bumps at speed, al­though it still doesn’t de­liver the com­fort of the class lead­ers.

The Vi­tara’s ad­van­tage is in hav­ing some gen­uine off-road abil­ity for dirt tracks and muddy pad­docks.

The driver can choose be­tween four set­tings for the AWD — auto for high­way driv­ing, sport for twisty roads, snow for slip­pery sur­faces and lock for sand and mud — and there are hill de­scent con­trol and hill hold.


Mod­estly pow­ered, the Vi­tara has a con­spic­u­ous lack of urge when tak­ing off from the traf­fic lights. The en­gine has to work hard to get things mov­ing and needs plenty of revs on board at higher speeds on the free­way.

The of­fi­cial fuel rat­ing of 6.3L/100km is im­pres­sive but we got sig­nif­i­cantly higher re­turns (about 11.0L/100km) in city driv­ing. The en­gine may be un­der­nour­ished but in the RT-X the six-speed auto shifts smoothly and swiftly, making the most of the avail­able power and torque.


The RT-X will win friends in the show­room with its long equip­ment list and leather trim but scratch be­neath the sur­face and cost-cut­ting shows in the qual­ity of trim around the cabin.

Around town, the sus­pen­sion feels rudi­men­tary and the en­gine is un­der­whelm­ing.

The cheaper front-drive ver­sions of the Vi­tara will ap­peal to bar­gain hun­ters but the range-top­per doesn’t quite stack up to sim­i­larly priced ri­vals from the seg­ment bench­marks.

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