Suzuki has revived an old product name from its 4x4 history for a new model, but it’s a well-rounded crossover rather than a hardcore off-roader.
THE first Suzuki Vitara I ever drove, some 20 years ago, was as tough as a recruit’s army boots, but rough on the move and sparsely equipped. It didn’t even have an anti-lock braking system (ABS). The latest Vitara has ABS, state-of-the-art RBS (Radar Brake Support, which employs millimetre-wave radar to prevent or mitigate a collision with the vehicle in front) and adaptive cruise control. These and other modern features make the Vitaras of the late 1980s and early 1990s seem even more like rough old boots. And the smooth new Suzuki is handsome. Unlike the original first-generation model, whose rugged appearance – complete with a “backpack” spare tyre on the tailgate – is almost incidental, the newest edition is meant to look outdoorsy from the get-go.
Therefore, its boxy shape is “supported” by good ground clearance, a solid clamshell bonnet, substantial pillars and strong-looking bumpers. More importantly for the fashion-driven crossover crowd, the chunky Vitara comes in funky colours. The funkiest paint jobs for the car are Atlantis Turquoise and Horizon Orange, with a choice of black or white (or mono-tone body colour) for the roof and side mirror caps. Various trim choices for the grille and fenders give the trendy buyer more things to consider, while the blue projector covers for the LED main headlamps provide extra design chic. And there’s a tailgate-spoiler option for those who wish to add slightly more “sports” to this sports utility vehicle. There’s also a so-called “rugged package” of skidplates and other forms of bodywork protection to satisfy the adventure seeker (or poser).
This is not a serious offroader, but it can negotiate a simple obstacle course off the beaten path.
If the adventure involves ulu outskirts with patches of slippery ground, this car will be ready, thanks to its AllGrip 4x4. A similar driveline serves the SX4 S-Cross, but the one in the Vitara is an improved version – its AllGrip is able to predict front wheelspin and divert torque to the rear axle before it occurs. The result is all the grip needed for multi-storey “hills” in a concrete jungle and during low-impact suburban excursions I take the Vitara through a short off -road course and it’s a walk in the park.
The Vitara’s instrument panel offers several design options and compatibility with smartphone applications.
Easy, too, is driving this SUV in Cascais. Road surfaces made harsh by cracked tarmac and protruding manhole covers litter this coastal area of Portugal, so the car’s suspension (with 215/55 R17 tyres) is challenged frequently. The Vitara’s general stability and steering accuracy are obvious, but any pliancy in the ride is only evident on smoothly paved motorways. There’s noticeable wind noise from just 100km/h upwards, but a bigger surprise is the eagerness of this vehicle’s 1.6-litre engine during a full-throttle rush towards the 180km/h top speed. Surprising, too, is the responsiveness of the 6-speed automatic gearbox, which comes with paddle-shifters. The Vitara is a livelier drive than the S-Cross, but doesn’t sound sportier. Both Suzukis have the same M16 motor and their kerb weight figures are just a few kilograms apart, so it’s probably the transmission (the S-Cross uses a less responsive CVT) that accounts for the diff erence.
The 375-litre boot has a backseat and luggage board that can be repositioned to suit the cargo being transported.
Behind the wheel of the Vitara, the driving position is like that of the S-Cross but elevated. Too bad the materials and construction quality of the cockpit environment haven’t been elevated above the standard of the S-Cross. For instance, none of the cabin plastics is soft to the touch, and the doors need a hard tug to close properly. The dashboard is where this automobile scores against its S-Cross sibling, even though they share switches, fixtures, lights and instruments. The Vitara dash has been given a designer clock (with a selection of three distinctive dials, one of which has kanji characters), attractive air outlets and a decorative finish (with a choice of colours).
The vitara shares a lot in common with the s-cross – mechanicals, dimensions and off-roading pretensions
The Vitara’s front seats are broader and more supportive than those in the S-Cross, and the semi-suede upholstery is nice. Nicer still is the 7-inch infotainment touchscreen. It’s speedy, user-friendly and compatible with today’s multitasking smartphones. Sat-nav and a rear-view camera function are built neatly into the system. In terms of interior space and exterior size, the Vitara is comparable to the S-Cross. It’s roomy enough for four adult occupants, but the rear seatback might be too upright for passengers who prefer to slouch.
Despite this vehicle’s SUV vocation, its level of utility is no better than average, with a smaller boot (375 litres) than the S-Cross (430 litres), a strangely narrow glove compartment and too few stowage points for personal items. Comparing this Suzuki against the S-Cross is unavoidable, because they share a lot in common – their mechanicals, dimensions, off -roading pretensions and country of manufacture (Hungary). The new-generation Suzuki Vitara is expected to cost a little more than the equivalent S-Cross model when it comes to Singapore in the third quarter of this year.