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DRIVEN ➤ Vitara : Suzuki’s trusty anchor holds true

02 Mar

By Wayne Gorrett, Cascais, Portugal.

Last month, I joined several of my peers over in Cascais, Portugal for the UK media launch of the new Suzuki Vitara. The 190km test route wound it way through the picturesque Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, approximately 40km west of Lisbon. The next morning we switched to different cars for a shorter 50km route before returning home.

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🙂  Whisper quiet petrol engine, especially when paired with the auto.
🙂  Strong, flexible diesel is far more refined than many rivals.
🙂  Attractive pricing, starting from £13,999 for the SZ4 2WD petrol.
😦  Excessive noise around the B-pillars at cruising speeds.
😦  Budget plastics spoil an otherwise contemporary interior.


➤ UPDATE @ 22.04.2015: The Suzuki Vitara today received a full five star safety rating after independent crash testing results by Euro NCAP. Full results here.

There was a time when the only new car reviews you could read described conventional three-box sedans, their estate derivatives or hatchbacks. To stir things up, there would be an occasional 4×4 or pick-up in the mix.

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One of those 4×4 reviews, written around 1988, would have been for the original Suzuki Vitara, a sort of bigger and more luxurious Jimny. Through several iterations, the Vitara became softer and more comfortable, until it was replaced by the Grand Vitara. The smaller Vitara has not been sold in the UK since 1998…but that’s all about to change.

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The all-new Vitara was initially shown as a concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2013. It is built at the Magyar Suzuki plant in Hungary and sits on the same platform as the new Suzuki S-Cross, introduced in the autumn of 2013. This fourth-generation Vitara is taller than the S-Cross which gives it more of a classic off-roader stance, but is 12.5 cm shorter overall and with a shorter wheelbase by some 10 cm. It’s similar in size to rivals such as the Peugeot 2008, Nissan Juke and Skoda’s Yeti.

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➤ The Style Factory

As looks go, I prefer the Vitara’s chiselled bodywork over the S-Cross’ styling. There are faint nuances of Range Rover’s Evoque about it, particularly the front end with its clam-shell bonnet while the rear roofline looks slightly less ‘thumped’ than the Evoque. I especially like the way the grille lines up with the headlights, the creased shoulder line and the angular bulge over the rear wheel arch. It’s about as unfussy as you can get while looking very smart in the process.

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Along with an increasing number of automotive brands these days, Suzuki has adopted the lucrative trend for style personalisation by offering 10 body colours (able to be matched with various trim pieces in the cabin), a choice of black or white contrasting roofs and two styling packs – ‘Urban’ which adds chrome-plated fog lamp bezels, body side mouldings and a rear spoiler, and ‘Rugged’ which deploys front and rear skid plates, black fog lamp bezels, body side mouldings and loading edge protection for the boot.

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➤ The Inside Story

The interior is far from glamorous, but some simple touches like the central analogue clock and the trim panel that swathes across the dash give it a fresh, young feel. You’ll find scratchy plastics in abundance, but at least they feel solid and well put together.

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The heating, ventilation and air-con (HVAC) controls are straightforward and intuitive. The instrument dials are easy to read and while the driving position is good, some drivers may wish for a tad more lateral support. It’s easy to access the main infotainment functions on the touch-screen, but responses can be slow and the touch-sensitive buttons for the volume and home screen are fiddly and unresponsive.

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Space throughout the cabin is plentiful. The extra height over the S-Cross means there’s generous headroom in the rear, despite the roofline bearing a noticeable slope. An average-sized adult can sit behind a tall driver without feeling impinged upon and the airy cabin feels as roomy as Skoda’s Yeti. The boot is a practical size at 375 litres, or 1,120 litres with the rear seats folded, plus there’s a handy height-adjustable floor tray.

➤ Safety First, then Security

Safety kit on the new Vitara includes seven airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist function, radar brake support (standard on SZ5), ESP, tyre pressure monitoring system, speed limiter, adaptive cruise control (SZ5), hill hold control, hill descent control (SZ5 and ALLGRIP models) and two ISOFIX anchorages.

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Security includes an immobiliser, alarm, remote central locking, deadlocks, locking wheel bolts as standard across the Vitara range in all trims.

➤ Trims and Prices

Suzuki UK has confirmed the trim line-up for the new Vitara; the familiar SZ4, SZ-T and the top grade SZ5. Prices in the six-model Vitara line-up start from a very respectable £13,999 for the 1.6 petrol 2WD, peaking at £21,299 for the 1.6 diesel ALLGRIP AWD. Order books are open and first deliveries are expected to dealerships during April.

The Vitara is generously equipped, more so than quite a few rivals in this class.

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The ‘poverty-spec’ SZ4 wears 16in alloys with roof rails, projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, radio/CD/DAB/USB, Bluetooth, driver and front passenger seat height adjust, multi-function steering wheel, electrical/heated door mirrors and automatic air conditioning with pollen filter complete the standard kit list across the Vitara range.

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Mid-spec SZ-T removes the 16in alloys and replaces them with a larger 17in set and adds rear privacy glass, Smartphone link audio and a satellite navigation system.

Top-spec SZ5 has all that and…17in polished alloys, LED projector headlights, 50-50 leather/suede seats, adaptive cruise control, radar brake support and an expansive panoramic sunroof.

➤ Engines and Transmissions

Choosing an engine for your new Vitara will be easy as there are only two available – a 1.6-litre petrol (M16A) and a diesel of the same capacity (D16AA), which is ably assisted by a turbocharger. Both have outputs of 118hp but that’s where the similarities end.

The M16A 1.6 petrol engine.

The M16A 1.6 petrol engine.

The petrol unit needs to rev at around 6,000rpm to deliver its 118hp, while the peak torque of 156Nm arrives at 4,400rpm.

The stronger and more flexible 1.6-litre diesel only needs 3,750rpm to return its peak 118hp, but its 320Nm of torque – more than double that of the petrol – becomes available at a lowly 1,750rpm.

The DDiS 1.6 diesel engine (D16AA).

The DDiS 1.6 diesel engine (D16AA).

Paired with the petrol engine is a five-speed manual gearbox in two- or all-wheel-drive. Alternatively, a conventional six-speed automatic will arrive in the summer and will be available via a two- or all-wheel-drive transmission, but only on the top SZ5 trim level

Transmission pairing for the diesel is a six-speed manual, via two- or all-wheel-drive ALLGRIP system. There will be no automatic gearbox offered with the diesel engine at launch, although a senior Suzuki representative told me the pairing was under consideration and might follow later in the year.

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Engine auto stop/start is standard across both engines and all transmissions.

➤ Fuel Efficiencies

Claimed fuel figures across the engine and transmission range, given on the combined cycle:

  • 1.6-litre Petrol:
    5-speed manual 2WD – 53.3mpg / 123g/km CO2
    5-speed manual ALLGRIP – 50.4mpg / 130g/km CO2
    6-speed auto 2WD – 51.3mpg / 127g/km CO2
    6-speed auto ALLGRIP – 49.5mpg / 131g/km CO2

  • 1.6-litre Diesel:
    6-speed manual 2WD – 70.6mpg / 106g/km CO2
    6-speed manual ALLGRIP – 67.2mpg / 111g/km CO2

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➤ ALLGRIP System

Suzuki’s ALLGRIP four-wheel drive system – first seen in the S-Cross – will be available on the Vitara. It provides four settings, including an automatic mode, which maintains front-wheel drive until it detects slip and reverts to four-wheel drive. The system is controlled by a dial down beside the manual hand brake.

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➤ On the Road

The Vitara is a perky drive and ride comfort was firm but very well damped over Portugal’s challenging roads, so while you feel big bumps and dips, it rarely gets thumpy and there’s not too much body-lean through the twisty bits. The steering is good and is well-suited to urban speeds, being light and predictable. However, on faster roads you are made aware of how vague it is at the dead-ahead and, being electronic, there’s not a lot of feedback.

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Only those who regularly clamber up mud tracks or suffer severe winter weather need consider the on-demand four-wheel-drive ALLGRIP system, as the front-wheel-drive models have plenty of adhesion in normal, everyday road use.

Wind noise around the B-pillar was beyond acceptable levels at cruising speeds and once you notice it – and you will – it gets in your head and is difficult to ignore. Folding the mirrors on the fly did nothing to alleviate the din.

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The efficient six-speed automatic gearbox is very well paired to the 1.6-litre petrol engine, offering smooth, refined and barely perceptible gear changes. Under normal driving conditions it is very well refined. But when ‘pushing on’ it tended to drop down two gears and make quite a raucous din while it caught up with the driver’s demands. As a remedy, I deferred to the rapid-response flappy paddles for safe overtaking or for those more spirited driving opportunities through the twisty bits. You soon get used to it.

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However, the diesel cuts the mustard for me with its strong pulling power, flexible driving character, greater fuel efficiency and – to poke the eyes of the trendy diesel naysayers – LOWER CO2 emissions. And, there’s more…the braked towing capacity of the diesel is 1,500kg, compared to the petrol’s 1,200kg.

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With the possibility of a 6-speed diesel auto to follow later in the year (likely in SZ5 trim only), I wouldn’t have to think very long or remotely hard to include it in a buying shortlist of three.

➤ SUMMARY

The intrusive wind noise around the B-pillar, coupled with budget interior plastics let the side down somewhat, but there is an element of charm about the Vitara’s sheer unpretentiousness and upfront honesty – especially in the pricing.

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The Vitara isn’t trying to be premium; it’s just built to last and engineered to drive with very likeable character. That the car is spacious, comfortable and looks very smart should be regarded as a bonus and I see no reason why it shouldn’t compete with bigger hitters in this class.

I will bring you a full road test in the coming weeks. Until then and because you have been, thanks for reading.

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1 Comment

Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Driven

 

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