Sensible and affordable shouldn’t mean boring. The Suzuki Vitara manages to combine practicality and fun in one single, charming package.
The Suzuki Vitara was introduced in 1988, which means that the little SUV is close to 30 years old. When it was first produced, the concept of a compact SUV didn’t really exist, so the Suzuki had a big hand in creating what is one of the most popular vehicle segments today. Sadly, though, the fact that the segment is popular today doesn’t mean that it is particularly interesting. Practicality tends to be prioritised in the segment, so vehicles are all about price, fuel economy, space and convenience. It’s more about ticking boxes than providing anything new, and what this has resulted in is a whole bunch of vehicles that look and perform more or less the same.
Price is particularly important, so creating a vehicle that is genuinely fun and involving to drive can be a challenge. How do you make a frugal and affordable SUV that also provides blistering performance? Well, you don’t. It isn’t possible. But it’s a mistake to automatically equate ‘fun’ with ‘fast’. True, the two often go together, yet it is possible to create a vehicle that is fun to drive at sane and legal speeds. The Vitara is not a brisk vehicle. Its 1.6-litre engine delivers 86kW of power and 151Nm of torque, which isn’t a lot, but the crossover is nevertheless fun to drive. It is agile and light, and handles much like a city car. At the same time, however, it has the ground clearance and AllGrip system needed to handle a bit of adventure driving. The Vitara’s styling also plays a significant role in making it a fun little crossover. It has a contemporary, streamlined shape that’s very different from the design of the original Vitara, but there is still something a bit retro and old school about it. It isn’t bland or purely functional. There are all sorts of design flourishes that add visual interest and imbue the SUV with charm and personality.
The cabin is also a pleasant place to be. The smart, spacious interior features durable upholstery through-out. Both front seats offer height adjustment in addition to adjustment for reach and backrest handle, while the rear bench seat is split 60:40, allowing each section to be folded flat individually. Comprehensive instrumentation is standard, and includes a trip computer with a digital display between the analogue rev counter and speedometer. It shows selectable information on average speed, instant and average fuel consumption, operating range, exterior temperature and gear selected. The display includes a gear shift indicator, seatbelt reminders, door ajar alerts and a low fuel warning light. A tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel is equipped with multi-function controls for the audio system and hands-free telephony. The interior of the flagship GLX gains an even more upmarket ambience, thanks to suede upholstery, while there’s a further equipment upgrade courtesy of front and rear parking sensors, as is hill-hold control, automatic headlight activation and keyless starting.
On the outside, the GLX has 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 215/55 R17 tyres and a panoramic glass sunroof as standard. The roof is electrically operated, and features a motorised internal blind. Unique to the GLX 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. At R356 900 (the range starts at R267 900), the Vitara was one of the most affordable vehicles on our trip, yet it did the job as well as any of the others. It definitely illustrated that you don’t need a big SUV with a powerful engine to go on an enjoyable road trip.
Open-road rating 7 out of 10.
The good Fun yet frugal. Affordable yet well equipped.
The bad Could do with more power.
Specifications – Suzuki Vitara Allgrip Glx
Engine 1.6-Litre Petrol
Power 86kw @ 6 000r/Min
Torque 151nm @ 4 400r/Min
Transmission Five-Speed Manual
4wd System Allgrip Awd
Fuel Tank 47 Litres
Fuel Consumption 8.5 Litres Per 100km (Claimed)
Tyre Size 215/55 R17
Luggage Space 375–1 120 Litres
Price R356 900