If it didn’t say ‘Vitara’ on the back, we wouldn’t guess it either.
Sometimes, we watch once-honourable nameplates take sharp descents while trying to cling desperately to their heritage. We don’t spend much time looking at the flip side though, at cars that have little heritage to be proud of. That, is the story of the Suzuki Vitara.
While its little brother, the Jimny, has found its way into the hearts of enthusiasts, the Vitara never really caught on. It was sort of a white good: Serviceable, but never extraordinary, and entirely forgettable. Seems Suzuki got the message, threw away the bathwater, the baby… and the bath. The new Vitara is a revelation, and has more flair in one iteration than the nameplate has had in its lifetime.
The new Vitara packs looks, value, and ability on- and off-road. And while the list of variants could make your head spin, we’ll help you make more sense of it. It’s a good thing the Vitara is now on its A-game, what with competitors like the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and Toyota CH-R getting their complicated, hyphenated names sewn firmly into the consciousness of the buying public. Does it have what it takes, or is this a case of a little too late?
“The chunky styling focuses on sharp lines and striking details.” - AutoExpress
Where the original Vitara hit the 90s trend on the nose with its rough-and-tumble kind of style, the new one takes trendy, current style to a whole new level. There’s a bright two-bar grille on the nose, linking the wide, slim headlights to help make this compact SUV look wider than it actually is. Those slim headlights hide coloured headlamp projector rings, which seem insignificant at first, but really work. There are silver skid plates on either end, as well as bright LED daytime running lights pushed right up to the corners of the front bumper.
The Vitara does remember its heritage somewhat, with a clamshell bonnet and faux vents at the edges. There are bold lines that extend from that bonnet all the way to the rear to add athleticism to this sport utility vehicle. The dual-tone paint job endows the Vitara with a dose of cool that it needs to cut the mustard against Japan’s best compact family wagons.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The Suzuki Vitara engine range is small but perfectly formed, with engines that feel quite sporty.” - Carbuyer UK
Three engines are on offer in the Vitara range. The base engine is the 1.6-litre four-pot petrol, packing 86kW and little torque. Step up a little and you bag a 1.4-litre BoosterJet turbo petrol, which is good for 103kW and 220Nm. Despite the extra punch, this diminutive little engine provides all that twist while consuming as little as 5.9L/100km. The range-topping engine here is an oil burner, a four-cylinder unit offering 88kW and a staggering 320Nm of torque. While those numbers might not be a lot in the grand scheme of things, in a car that weighs just a little less than two tons, it really gets up and goes.
Three transmissions here, too. A choice of a five-speed manual and six-speed automatic are available through the RT-S and GL+ range, with the higher petrols available only with the six-speed automatic. The diesel gets a dual-clutch automatic transmission, also with six speeds. We recommend the automatics, as they’re really very well sorted, and command only a small premium above the do-it-yourself alternative.
“The interior feels built to last, but the materials, and in particular the plastics, are horribly hard and scratchy, with details such as the analogue clock looking particularly cheap.” - Telegraph UK
The Vitara’s value becomes apparent when you step inside. The level of standard-kit is nothing short of impressive, with the 7.0-inch touchscreen (with smartphone mirroring and GPS navigation), cruise control, climate control, and a reversing camera. There’s a multifunction steering wheel here too, which unfortunately only adjusts for rake, not reach. There’s iPod compatibility and USB input for your media, and really comfy seats that you really don’t expect from a compact SUV or hatch competing at this price point.
Suzuki understands that a lot of buyers in this end of the market are young (or pretend to be). As such, the interior can be customised with funky coloured trim pieces to liven up an otherwise dark cabin. We quite like the big clock in the middle of the dash, sitting above the touchscreen infotainment unit. S-Turbo models get partial-leather seats and six speakers, adding a little premium-ness to this value-driven product.
Of course, there are drawbacks. The materials employed in the cabin are of the cheaper variety, with hard plastics abound, and finished in black. But that said, its immediate competitors (that are mostly more expensive, mind) don’t offer much better. And while the surfaces might not be plush, they certainly feel hard-wearing. Just the sort of thing you want to have weathering abuse from boisterous children.
Behind the Wheel
“It’s a hot-hatch, but not as we know it.” - CarsGuide
With a stiff chassis and Europe-tuned suspension, the Vitara is best described as a tidy steer. It’s not particularly rewarding in any regard, and the steering wheel is almost entirely bereft of feel, but the Vitara is entirely capable of making you giggle. The tiny BoosterJet turbo-four makes for a particularly giggle-inducing experience, with tons of torque on offer and an eagerness to rev. This might look like a high-riding compact SUV, but we assure you that this is a hot-hatch in disguise.
That raised ride height serves a purpose, though. In all-wheel drive models, the Vitara is a properly capable little off-roader. It may lack a low-range gearbox, but it has an ALLGRIP all-wheel drive system, which works like a more rudimentary version of Land Rover’s ‘TerrainResponse’ system. It even has hill-descent control, endowing the Vitara with more outright capability than it’s likely to ever need.
While there’s plenty of stability and composure during long motorway jaunts, you may find that tyre noise can be rather intrusive. For long-distance cruising, the BoosterJet turbo-petrol remains the favoured powerplant, as the diesel remains a little clattery at speed. The all-wheel drive system isn’t a necessity here, we think, though it’s a great option to have should you regularly find yourself on unsealed surfaces.
Safety & Technology
“The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Vitara five stars for safety, its maximum.” - WhichCar
Further cementing its family-car ability is its impressive level of safety kit. Seven airbags (!) are standard across the range, along with a reversing camera, and electronic stability control. RT-S models and higher get automatic headlights and wipers, and all-round parking sensors. There are ISOFIX tethers for little ones, and the strong impact cell of the Vitara means that it easily scored the maximum five-stars for safety in ANCAP testing.
The standard-fare GPS satellite navigation, cruise control, and capable multimedia system makes for a very compelling purchase, with LED headlights available higher up the model range. The fact that this car comes with a terrain-selection system underlines the value and capability of the new Vitara, which remain as the bywords to describe this little SUV.
We cannot stress enough that the Vitara is truly remarkable value, regardless where you end up in the range. The entry-level models really embody the definition of the phrase, with sharp pricing paired to tremendous levels of standard kit. It’s worth remembering that in this segment, some cars still have manual windows. The Vitara has satnav.
Pair the great kit with funky styling and a capable chassis, and you’re left wondering why you haven’t bought one already. Furthermore, the personalisation options offered are (relatively) inexpensive, and allow you to push your Vitara even further away from dour, mainstream alternatives. And as Suzuki enjoys a great track record for reliability and dependability, you know that your Vitara won’t let you down no matter whether you’re cruising down the high street or greenlaning. It’s a very impressive little car this, and the competition should be scared.
If value is your thing, the entry-level RT-S has all the kit you need and more, and with a claimed fuel consumption figure of just 5.8L/100km, it won’t break the bank on the move either. Of course, if you can stretch, the S Turbo models are the ones to go for. If you do motorway cruises more than anything else, the diesel is worth a look, though the premium commanded by the range-topper could get you a BoosterJet turbo-petrol and a lot of fuel…
TopGear - 4.0/5.0 - “Previous generations of Vitara, and their suspect body kits, probably make it a bit uncool to fall for its charms if you reside among car enthusiast circles. But in a genre of crossovers that like to over-promise, this one over-delivers. And there’s plenty to like about that.”
WhatCar? - 4.0/5.0 - “There are cheaper compact SUVs, but the Suzuki Vitara is one of the most spacious and best-equipped.”
AutoExpress - 4.0/5.0 - “The Suzuki Vitara has been transformed from a utilitarian family-friendly SUV into more of a crossover with Range Rover Evoque-inspired styling and more advanced equipment. With a responsive and agile chassis for the class, and great efficiency from both the petrol & diesel options, the latest Vitara is a much more alluring proposition than its off-road biased predecessors.”
WhichCar - 3.5/5.0 - “The Suzuki Vitara presents as a stylish small SUV at a modest price. It offers a well-finished cabin and a choice from three engines, among them a very zippy turbocharged petrol and a strong but frugal turbo-diesel. There are front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions.”
Autocar - 4.6/5.0 - "For a robust crossover, the Vitara drives well. With that safely in the bank, we're inclined to look on its shortcomings kindly.”
CarBuyer - 3.7/5.0 - “While this Vitara might not be as revolutionary as the original, it does most things very well, and should prove very desirable and dependable for many customers.”
Telegraph UK - 7.0/10 - "If you can overlook the cheap interior plastics, you will find the Suzuki Vitara a capable car with a good level of standard equipment and frugal engines. Just avoid the higher-spec versions, which are priced too close to the classier Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai.”
CarAdvice - 7.5/10 - “The Suzuki Vitara returns to the fold, with a whole lot more competition. It’s cheap, well-specced and looks the part, though its engine is adequate at best.”