Suzuki Vi­tara Turbo

The new Suzuki Vi­tara Turbo is an in­spir­ing all-rounder, per­fect for get­ting way out of town for a bit of camp­ing, surf­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, tramp­ing, back-road tour­ing...

NZSUV - - Contents - Story and photos by CHRIS LORIGAN

A great way to ex­plore the South­ern Alps, the new Vi­tara Turbo is a nim­ble, ver­sa­tile and pacey of­fer­ing you can’t help but en­joy.

The word ‘fun’ has been used a lot to de­scribe this ve­hi­cle since its launch, so I’ll try to avoid it. I drove from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass and back with a de­tour up to Craigieburn Val­ley Ski Area. To say this was fun is not enough.

There are peo­ple all over this fine coun­try look­ing for a ve­hi­cle that can hap­pily ful­fil the re­quire­ments of an ur­ban fam­ily that craves the out­doors. The point of hav­ing an all-ter­rain SUV is that it will do pretty much any­thing to suit your life­style, and the new AWD Suzuki Vi­tara Turbo is no ex­cep­tion. I left Christchurch be­hind and headed for the white, folded crags of the South­ern Alps loom­ing steeply to the west as the sun rose higher in the bright blue sky be­hind me. I put my foot down flat and smiled for the first time that day as the Suzuki surged for­ward. I’d been told that the Vi­tara Turbo could move de­spite its 1.4-litre en­gine. Small but un­daunted. Small but sur­pris­ingly pow­er­ful in this lightweight SUV.

And so it doesn’t mat­ter. Size, I mean. Be­cause this thing re­sponds will­ingly and im­me­di­ately to the gas pedal, get­ting up and mov­ing more read­ily than I would have thought. Those long, straight roads across the Can­ter­bury Plains could, I imag­ine, in­vite a wee bit of speed-limit de­fi­ance as you over­take campers and trucks ef­fort­lessly. If you didn’t know it you’d swear it had an­other litre un­der the bon­net. The turbo has vir­tu­ally no lag, and I was hav­ing a good time even be­fore I hit the wind­ing climbs and curves of the ma­jes­tic Great Alpine Way.

When the go­ing got steep, the Vi­tara never fal­tered. The Sport mode on the

cen­tral mode se­lec­tion dial lifted the revs and I blasted up like it was flat. Again I was sur­prised at what can be done with a smaller lump un­der the hood. A fuel ef­fi­cient lump, at that. Be­cause this thing sips the 95 oc­tane at 6.2 l/100km on a com­bined cy­cle, and even my in­ef­fi­cient, ‘I’m not paying the fuel bill’ driv­ing had me trav­el­ling around 300km to Arthur’s Pass and back us­ing less than 25 litres of petrol. Yes that’s more like eight litres per hun­dred, but I had no in­ten­tion of sav­ing gas – plus I had a stor­age box on the roof rack, which in­creased drag and there­fore con­sump­tion.

Any­way, this is a ve­hi­cle that will eas­ily cover most life­style and recre­ational needs, es­pe­cially those of cou­ples and young fam­i­lies who want to head well out of the sub­urbs. The Vi­tara’s all-wheel drive sys­tem gives you peace of mind in wet and loose con­di­tions, and the lock­ing cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial and se­lectable Snow/ Mud set­ting means you can get to an iso­lated camp­ing, surf­ing or moun­tain bik­ing spot when you need to.

Rough, steep gravel tracks are dis­pensed with eas­ily, as I dis­cov­ered when I drove six kilo­me­tres to the Craigieburn ski field through dense beech for­est, wind­ing up the loose trail. Bear in mind that this test ve­hi­cle was armed with all-ter­rain tyres, which I would prob­a­bly fit as stan­dard. I hit the snow line where it was a bit icy and I had com­plete con­fi­dence that if I was tak­ing the kids up here I’d be able to make it back in one piece. A two-wheeldrive car prob­a­bly wouldn’t fare as well by com­par­i­son.

Torque of 220Nm, while not mas­sive, is avail­able at just 1500rpm; that’s use­ful in the rougher stuff in a ve­hi­cle weigh­ing only 1230kg. I se­lected Snow mode, and when things got slip­pery, as they did a cou­ple of times, locked the cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial to en­sure that the front and rear axles turned at the same rate to max­imise trac­tion. With hill de­scent con­trol (HDC) thrown in, the Vi­tara Turbo is pretty ca­pa­ble away from the tar­mac, and for the use it will be get­ting, that’s all that’s re­quired – low range gear­ing will prob­a­bly never be needed. I tested the HDC and it works well; it’s a real safety fea­ture when you’re on steep, slip­pery sur­faces, which can be daunt­ing: the ve­hi­cle’s trac­tion con­trol sys­tem brakes the wheels au­to­mat­i­cally to markedly slow any de­scent. The Snow/mud set­ting can be ac­ti­vated at any speed if the driver sud­denly en­coun­ters treach­er­ous con­di­tions like ice on the road, although you have to be un­der 60kph to lock the dif­fer­en­tial and gain real trac­tion.

The Great Alpine Way winds through steep, tus­sock-cov­ered coun­try and pro­vided a good op­por­tu­nity to see how the Vi­tara han­dles, although I needed to fac­tor in the all-ter­rain tyres, which did slightly com­pro­mise the ex­pe­ri­ence. De­spite this, it

❝It’s so will­ing to please, so keen to do ev­ery­thing well, that you’ll start to un­der­stand why peo­ple have SUVS and swear by them.❞

soaked up the bends nicely; sure the tyres meant it was no sports car, and I’d like to try with some tar­mac-bi­ased rub­ber, but I was still en­joy­ing my­self. There was a lit­tle body roll, although noth­ing I didn’t get used to and noth­ing I wouldn’t have ex­pected. The ride is smooth and com­fort­able, just taut enough to be sporty, the steer­ing highly re­spon­sive and di­rec­tional. The pad­dle shifters on the steer­ing wheel added to the seat-of-the-pants driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and it felt more solid than I would have thought con­sid­er­ing its weight and size.

The higher oc­cu­pant van­tage point of an SUV is a real bonus – the Vi­tara gave me great views over the road and out into the spec­tac­u­lar, rugged land­scape.

The in­te­rior is com­fort­able. They’ve kept the ma­te­ri­als and de­sign sim­ple, with a nod to the func­tional, rugged qual­i­ties of past Sj/sa­mu­rai and cur­rent Jimny mod­els. And this is no bad thing: they’re easy to clean and they help keep the ve­hi­cle’s cost down, plus they help pro­vide that sense of space you of­ten lose when ve­hi­cles are full of plump, lux­u­ri­ous mould­ings. The leg room in the back is a lit­tle on the min­i­mal side, although that wouldn’t bother me if I was buy­ing one with the kids in mind. The 375-litre boot isn’t huge but the clever sec­tional di­vider does help or­gan­ise your stuff, and the stor­age box on the roof is a great ad­di­tion. The rear seats fold for­ward 60:40 to pro­vide room for moun­tain bikes or camp­ing gear.

It’s a stylish and con­tem­po­rary look­ing ve­hi­cle, sculpted to dy­namic ef­fect, while the ‘Rugged Pack’ ex­tras of the ex­am­ple I drove add a cer­tain func­tional, as­pi­ra­tional im­pres­sion – the ad­di­tional rear and side mould­ings, the tough front grille treat­ment, the light guards, all com­bine to ad­ver­tise its in­ten­tions as a ve­hi­cle ready and will­ing to take you away.

It might sound a bit weird, but by the end of the day I was start­ing to feel like the Vi­tara was my mate. Okay, that does sound weird. Take it for a proper spin and you’ll see what I mean. It’s so will­ing to please, so keen to do ev­ery­thing well, that you’ll start to un­der­stand why peo­ple have SUVS and swear by them. They can be com­fort­able and yet sporty on the road, as­sured and safe away from it. The Vi­tara Turbo is, for my money, an in­spir­ing all-rounder, great for a city dweller who likes to get out of town. (And okay, it is fun.)

The roof box is a good op­tion; pack up and you’re any­where in no time.

Sure-footed in the icy gravel on the way up to Craigieburn ski field.

The South­ern Alps on a clear late win­ter’s day. This is why we head out of town.

Per­fect spot for a tent.

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The per­fect ski wagon: safe, stylish, ready for snow. And more pow­er­ful than you’d think. [Photo cour­tesy War­wick Ma­clach­lan, Hol­land's Suzuki Cars, Chch.]

Com­fort­able, rel­a­tively sim­ple, func­tional in­te­rior packed with fea­tures like GPS, trac­tion se­lec­tion, Blue­tooth… [Photo cour­tesy Suzuki.]

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