As you’d expect from a company that’s over 100 years old, Suzuki has earned itself a solid reputation.
This reputation mostly has to do with them faring rather well in two distinct vehicle categories – 4x4s and small cars. You think Suzuki, you think Grand Vitara, Swift, Wagon R and the ultimate expression of both categories, the Jimny.
A crossover between multiple categories is a fairly tough nut to crack, because it has to do so many things at once. It should be funky, comfortable, modern, lightweight, safe, spacious and willing to get dirty every now and then. Oh, and before we forget, it should be affordable as well.
But luckily Suzuki invented the compact crossover before it was actually a thing when it launched the first Vitara 27 years ago. That car was actually quite aggressive in terms of 4×4 ability and it found favour with those who appreciate such things. Over the years it grew larger until it eventually left a gap in Suzuki’s line-up, which has now been filled with the all-new Vitara.
It’s not as aggressive as the first Vitara, but, then again, it doesn’t have to be. It’s the spirit of an SUV that matters and in that department the new car delivers in spades.
Hey, good lookin’
The Vitara manages to be something completely new, yet familiar at the same time. There are hints of old Suzuki design traits and that’s probably why it looks more masculine that any other compact crossover out there. A few of them stray too far on the cute side on that thin line between cute and funky, but the Vitara manages to toe the line perfectly.
We also like the personalization options available on this new model. With eight exterior colours, four roof colours and three grille finishes (chrome, black an white), prospective buyers are offered a wide range of options to choose a Vitara that matches their personal preference.
On the inside
The MP3/WMA-compatible multi-speaker audio system includes a CD player and FM/AM tuner, as well USB connectivity. In addition, integrated Bluetooth connectivity allows hands-free phoning.
The steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach, and depending on model, is equipped with convenient multifunction controls for the audio system, hands-free telephony, and cruise control and speed limiter systems.
Space is generous all round, especially in the back. We can totally vouch for rear seat room, as we were forced to sleep in our test unit after arriving at a destination after the sun had set.
The boot also deserves a mention. Offering 375 litres of space, it’s large enough for most families and adventures.
While we’re on the topic of families, it’s worth mentioning the Vitara’s safety credentials. The active systems include ESP, ABS, EBD and brake assist, while seven airbags, smart crumple zones and Isofix mounting points should look after the family if the worst should happen.
The same 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is used in all models. It delivers a healthy 86kW/151Nm kick through a five-speed manual, or six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s a rev happy unit that responds well when you poke it with a stick, but also settles down nicely when you don’t. Most important of all, it won’t break the bank every time you need to refuel it.
The gear change on the manual is smooth and positive, while the automatic is worth opting for if you live in the city, if only for that additional bit of comfort. Suzuki will be introducing an all-new GL+ automatic in October due to this transmission’s popularity on the local market.
It’s not hard to see why. It shifts smoothly through the gears and responds well when you want to overtake. Automatic models also allow the driver to take control via shift paddles behind the wheels, which isn’t a standard feature you’ll find on other cars in this particular segment.
Down and dirty
The new Vitara may not be as aggressively geared towards off-roading as the first generation, but it feels happy on a gravel road – more so than any other competitor.
Only one top-of-the-line model is equipped with AllGrip all-wheel drive.
By using information such as the road surface condition, accelerator pedal position and steering angle to predict a loss of traction, it can send torque to the rear axle even before front wheel spin actually occurs.
The AllGrip system operates in a default Auto Mode, which aims to make the car as fuel efficient as possible. It also has Sport, Snow and Lock modes. The latter gets a limited slip differential involved, which brakes the spinning wheel and transfers power to the wheels that have grip.
It’s very nice to have, but as we’ve experienced twice before on encounters with the Vitara, you don’t strictly need it.
On the local launch the AllGrip impressed on a badly corrugated gravel pass, but it was the front-wheel drive model that really stood out for us. It had loads of grip to begin with, while the electronics quickly sorted any sideways action on those rare occasions it occurred.
We experienced its planted nature again a few weeks after while driving on a terrible washboard gravel road in the Cape. It tracked straight and true at 80km/h, which is mighty impressive for a front-wheel drive car. It was so good in fact that we had to pull over and wait for a member of the crew who found himself behind the wheel of a competitor vehicle that turned out to be fairly unhappy in the same conditions.
There’s a Vitara model for everyone, starting with the GL manual. This model comes as standard with most of the everyday niceties and, crucially, all of the safety trim that has resulted in this car receiving the full five star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Next in line is the GL+, available in manual or automatic (from October). This is the sweet spot in the range, as it offers every conceivable gadget and exterior trim you could possibly want.
The GLX top-of-the-line trim is a must if you can afford it. It’s available in AllGrip manual and front-wheel drive automatic.
Exterior features unique to the GLX models include17-inch alloy wheels shod with 215/55 R17 tyres, while a panoramic glass sunroof is standard. The roof is electrically operated, and features a motorised internal blind.
Also unique are the silver roof rails, while the front grille and fender garnishes boast a chrome finish. The headlights feature LED projector low-beam elements, and LED daytime running lights. The exterior mirrors feature integrated indicators, and fold away at the press of a button.
The interior gains an even more upmarket ambience, thanks to the suede upholstery, while there’s a further equipment upgrade: front and rear parking sensors are standard, as is Hill Hold Control, automatic headlight activation and keyless starting.
The Suzuki Vitara range is backed by a comprehensive three-year/100 000 km warranty, as well as a four-year/60 000 km service plan, and a three-year roadside assistance package. Services are at 15 000 km intervals.