Suzuki’s Vitara range has been a successful staple of the Japanese car maker’s range for some decades now; since 1988, in fact. The first generation models featured a 1.6-litre petrol engine and four-wheel drive, auto or manual transmission options, as well as a choice of fixed roof or convertible three-door bodystyles. Like the Sierra and LJ80 that preceded it, the first-generation Vitara was seen – and promoted – here as something of a modern “beach car”, and proved to be a hit with younger drivers.
New Look, New Style, New Price
Fast forward to 2016, and the Vitara range has gone through three generations, branched off to include the ‘Grand Vitara’ and is now part of a Suzuki SUV/crossover range that also includes the Sierra, S-Cross and recently-relased Ignis. The Vitara was modified again for the fourth generation version, with overhauls in the styling and tech departments followed by an all-new driveline option, classified as its own variant, that arrived here last April. Buyers of the latest Gen IV Vitara now get to choose from three model variants, three engines, two or four wheel drive (Suzuki calls the latter AllGrip), and more autos than manuals in the latest generation, too. Here’s how the range shakes down: there’s the RT-S as the entry model, followed by the RT-X diesel, with the S Turbo being the most recent addition. All are five doors and five-seaters in configuration, but only the RT-X and S Turbo are offered with 4WD.
Pricing starts from $21,990 (manufacturer’s list price, excluding on-roads) for the entry level two wheel drive RT-S, but some sharp driveaway pricing deals back at the new Vitara launch in late-2015 saw the RT-S offered for just $22,990 driveaway. That price got you a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine and five-speed manual transmission. Whack on another $2,000 for the six-speed auto and that’s Step One.
Step Two is the RT-X. It’s diesel only, auto only and lists for $35,990. You get Suzuki’s AllGrip 4WD system as standard in the RT-X, along with a very torquey diesel version of the 1.6-litre engine.
Step Three is where it gets serious. The 1.4-litre ‘BoosterJet’ turbocharged petrol engine is exclusive to the Vitara S Turbo, is matched to an auto transmission, and can be had with either two wheel or four wheel drive, setting you back $28,990 and $32,990, respectively.
While it sounds like the range leader, the S Turbo actually sits below the RT-X in the current Vitara lineup – at least on price.
One of Suzuki’s most endearing traits is being able to offer small cars with bigger car performance. The 1.6-litre VVT engine is the least powerful of the three powerplants offered, but has the luxury of being in a car that isn’t a heavyweight. There’s 86 kilowatts at a typical 6000rpm and 156 Newton metres of torque at 4400rpm, plus fuel economy of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres (combined cycle) on 91 RON for the manual, and 6.0lt/100km for the auto.
The 1.6 diesel in the RT-X is an absolute cracker. Offering just two kilowatts more than the similarly sized petrol (88kW at a reasonable 3750rpm), there’s a thumping 320Nm on tap at 1750rpm; remember, it’s just 1.6 litres in capacity. Combined economy of 4.9lt/100km is claimed for this engine.
The 1.4 boosted petrol engine in the S Turbo offers 220Nm across a mesa-flat 1500-4000rpm, and 103kW at 5500rpm. Economy-wise, there’s 5.9 litres or 6.2 litres (2WD vs Allgrip 4WD) of 95 RON sipped for every 100 kilometres.
What’s more impressive about these numbers is that all Vitaras come with a 47-litre tank as standard. The diesel is, a little surprisingly, the cleanest engine of the three, with 130g/km emissions, while the 1.6 petrol outputs 136/139 (manual/auto) and the BoosterJet’s figures are 138/145 (manual/auto).
Where these numbers win is in the sheer weight, or lack thereof, that the latest Vitaras have. The RT-S tips the scales at 1075kg for the manual and 1120kg for the auto. The RT-X is heaviest, but still a lightweight at 1325kg. The S Turbo lists at 1160kg, or 1235kg if you plump for the AllGrip.
AllGrip and On Road
With AllGrip, you get four drive modes, all of which are front wheel drive biased. ‘Auto’ is simple: it’s FWD until sensors say otherwise, then all paws are on deck. ‘Sport’ is AWD, but this mode’s more about using accelerator position and the torque mapping to adjust the characteristics to a more sports-oriented drive, only bringing the rear wheels into play as required, like for sharper, more controlled cornering. ‘Snow’ brings more from the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) whilst also adding more torque to the rear – up to a 50:50 split – for better traction in slippery conditions. ‘Lock’ activates the limited slip diff, braking traction to slipping wheels and sending it to the wheels with grip. Basically, Lock is for situations such as mud, sand and heavy snow - any surface that requires maximum traction. . . . like being stuck.
The 220Nm of torque from the 1.4 BoosterJet doesn’t seem much, at least not compared to the diesel, but on the road it delights in its own way, with a greater spread of revs to play with via the six-speed auto. This too was economical; in an urban environment, the torque comes into play for off-the-line starts and an utterly relaxed attitude on the freeway: “a delight, it is,” as a certain Jedi Master might say.
Both auto-equipped cars made good use of the spread of ratios, and they’re helped by a smooth change, which feels sharper under heavier throttle applications.
And the manual? It’s light, useable, with a well-balanced clutch mechanism and pick-up point. The gear lever itself falls to hand naturally and movement through the gate is slick and without issues.
Outside and Underneath
Aiding the quest for small engines with big performance is the size of the new Vitara. 4175mm is the overall length, 1775mm the width and 1610mm the height. If you go off road, there’s a ground clearance of 185mm, but overhangs front and rear allow just 18 degrees of approach angle, with a more agreeable 28 degrees for departure.
The exterior of the Vitara range has been moved around and remoulded over the years, but the 2016 versions hark back to the popular model of a decade ago, with sharp, angular lines, a broad expanse of glass for great visibility and, in the case of the S Turbo, a unique grille compared to the other grades. This is all plastic and largely for show, though, as the air intake is located right at the bottom, underneath the number plate holder.
On the S you’ll get LED daytime running lights, halogen front fog lights, along with some extra black urethane trim at the front, sides, and rear. None of the latest Vitaras come with a powered tail gate.
All have MacPherson struts and coil springs up front, while the rear consists of a torsion beam axle and coil springs.
On the wheel front, the RT-S comes with alloys, the RT-X with polished alloys, while the S Turbo gets black-painted alloys. Size? 17 inches on all, thank you. Rubber is 215/55 and is supplied by Continental. If Sir or Madam wants a full sized spare wheel, sadly, they’re out of luck; a space saver is all that’s on the menu.
Inside, you’ll find all Vitara variants are loaded with a swag of standard comfort and safety equipment, including front/side/curtain/knee airbags. Automatic transmission-equipped models also get Hill Hold Control, while AllGrip models take that and add Hill Descent Control, too.
All cars get leather for the steering wheel, with the Turbo models getting red stitching to highlight and contrast. Oddly, and not unwelcome is the standardization of the steering column, with all variants getting both telescopic (reach) and tilt adjustability.
The seats will match the tiller, to a point, with the RT-S getting cloth, the RT-X leather and suede (totally negating the need for heating of the seats, by the way), while the S Turbo gets red-stitched leather.
The rear seats get two ISOFIX child seat mounts, are standard at 60/40 split fold and the rear doors get bottle holders. Up front there are bottle holders in the doors, too, with two cup holders in the centre console. Storage wise, the rear has a 375-litre capacity; fold the seats and you’ll see 710 litres.
What you Get, What you Don’t
The RT-S is the only model to go “old school” when it comes to getting under way, using a key (quelle horreur!): the others are the handy Start/Stop button. 12V socket? Of course. You’ll find that fitted to the centre console.
Also front and centre is the touchscreen navitainment system, but if you’re a fan of the silver plastic disc, unfortunately Suzuki aren’t - they see them as reflective beer coasters, so there’s no CD slot. You will get USB/Aux/Bluetooth as standard, with Apple’s CarPlay app in the connectivity stakes, too. None of the tuners come with DAB, but all bar the RT-S have separate tweeters for an improved soundstage.
Heading back outside, the RT-S dips out on LED-powered headlights and dusk sensing Auto On functionality, instead running halogen driving lights. It’s also the only Vitara variant to miss out on power-folding mirrors and mirror-mounted indicators.
For the S Turbo, in keeping with its sporty aspect, its wing mirror covers are silver, compared to the body-coloured or black covers for the RT-S and RT-X.
The RT-S misses out on parking sensors and auto wipers, but does get the reversing camera of the other model grades. For something different, the RT-X is the only variant with a two-panel panoramic sunroof as standard.
Out On The Road
I was lucky enough to drive three variants of the Vitara - the RT-S 1.6L manual 2WD, the S Turbo petrol 2WD and the RT-X diesel AllGrip. Thanks to some very welcome support from Suzuki Australia, the RT-X diesel was taken on a weekend run from Sydney to the snow fields and back, via Canberra, Cooma and Australia’s cheese capital, Bega. The RT-S, with the standard 1.6 and manual, would make the ideal first car for a newly-licensed beginner. It’s an easy driver, cheap on fuel and has the safety features parents desire for their kids. The BoosterJet would be a fun runabout in the city, as would the diesel, which is also a great country driver. Both the turbo-boosted petrol and diesel engines have ample torque, however the diesel’s 320Nm is a winner. It makes country highway runs a relaxed, easy cruise, loping along at the limit with just 1600rpm on the revcounter. Overtaking is, for 90% of the driving experience, not an issue, but on a busy highway there were times when a larger engine’s torque would have been welcome. I have to quantify this by saying the RT-X was loaded with two adults, two kids, and the somewhat too small cargo section was full. Even with all that on board, fuel economy barely moved from 4.9-5.0 litres of the good oil per 100 kilometres over a 1450km trip. It was somewhere around the 750km mark when a top up was first needed.
Under normal driving, the diesel is quiet, almost unnoticeable, and will pull the Vitara and passengers along with a minimum of fuss. Press it, and it will make itself very well known as a diesel engine, with plenty of chatter and even a hint of thrash as it tops 3500rpm. Being an auto only, most of your driving in the RT-X diesel is controlled via a flex of the right ankle. Overtaking, on the sections designated as such between Sydney and Canberra and further south, was mostly without pain, but this was traffic dependent. What I mean here is this: if there were just a few cars/trucks/caravans, then the move was done in plenty of time, with plenty of safety and plenty of ability from the small diesel. Simply flex, push, feel the auto drop down a cog or two, and see the numbers on the dials change appropriately
However, that diesel “smallness” came into play a couple of times, aided (or not) by the driving habits of others that seemed to forget the right lane is the overtaking lane. With a line of traffic in the left lane, that 320Nm is starting to look a little on the “I need more” side.
Ride quality on all three Vitaras was, unsurprisingly, identical. Front suspension is good and works well, but there’s a tendency for the rear to skip sideways on unsettled surfaces in a turn, indicating lateral suspension movement is not entirely controlled. On the straights and on smooth tarmac turns, the back end is fine, but if you hit a ripple or broken-up road surface, there’s that momentary uncertainly before the chassis gathers itself up.
All up, the new Vitara range should satisfy most buyers’ needs in the compact/city SUV field.
The performance from the diesel and turbo petrol are acceptable for most applications, but larger families would do well to look for something that’s more spacious and powerful, as the Vitara does struggle with a full load.
The aforementioned rear end instability on rough surfaces is another cause for concern, but it’s not a big deal and probably not isolated to the Suzuki in this size/price range.
It’s also worth remembering here that the Vitara, like many of its direct competitors, is more of a high-riding road car than a true off-roader. As such, it shouldn’t be judged only on its abilities in rough conditions, as that’s hardly where it’s going to be spending most of its time.
On tarmac, the Vitara proved to be composed and unflustered, and that’s a big part of the enjoyment the new model brings to the table.
2016 Suzuki Vitara (S Turbo 4WD)
ENGINE: 1.4lt ‘Boosterjet’ turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
MAX POWER: 103kW @ 5,500rpm
MAX TORQUE: 220Nm @ 1,500-4,000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
DRIVE: ‘Allgrip’ part-time 4WD
CONSUMPTION – COMBINED CYCLE: 6.2lt/100km
FRONT SUSPENSION: Independent MacPherson strut w/coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Torsion beam w/coil springs
STEERING: R&P w/power assist
WHEELS: 17-inch Fr/Rr
TYRES: 215/55 R17
SPARE WHEEL: Space saver
BRAKES: Ventilated disc Fr/Disc Rr
SEATING CAPACITY: 5
LxWxH: 4175mm x 1775mm x 1610mm
GROUND CLEARANCE: 185mm
WADING DEPTH: N/A
APPROACH/DEPARTURE/BREAKOVER ANGLE: 18/28/18 degrees
FUEL CAPACITY: 47lt
KERB WEIGHT: 1235kg
CARGO CAPACITY: 710lt max
TOW CAPACITY: 1200kg braked
SAFETY RATING: ANCAP 5-Star
PRICE: $32,900 + ORCs
WARRANTY: 3yr/100,000 km
NOTE: measures like weight, fuel consumption and GVM vary with model grade. See suzuki.com.au for full specs of other Vitara variants.