Suzuki adds special vibe to all-new Vitara SUV
While it has been a long-time coming, Suzuki Cars has recognised that a new Vitara is essential to its model line integrity, a factor with which Iain Robertson feels great empathy.
Let’s face it, Suzuki, despite the overall reach of its name, is a relatively small player in world car terms. It can boast immense market shares in places like India, because it manufactures there and the products seem to fit perfectly with minimalist and cost-effective market demands. Despite relatively high popularity in Europe, Suzuki cannot play the role of a major volume car producer, whether it might like to, or not.
Instead, it relies on a strong customer base that is surprisingly undemanding of it. As with many car companies, Suzuki can ride out ‘issues’, such as its most recent and well-publicised braking system failure on its Celerio model. By reacting speedily, a modest trait of the smaller player, it was able to nip in the bud any potential negative issues (not that brake failure is a minor issue, by any stretch of the imagination) and sales could continue.
Thanks to good dealers (in the main), relationships with customers are true and valid. I was privileged to carry out the production of a promotional video for Suzuki last summer. With every respect to the company, all it said in its ‘brief’ was ‘be honest’…and I was. Over the course of seven days, I met a representative string of Suzuki UK dealers, whom had raised a decent customer response, to provide some truthful ‘vox-pops’ for the video. Not that I had endured much doubt beforehand, I was exceptionally enthused by the time I had finished.
It is that combination of genuine customer care and communication that marks out Suzuki as a wholesome company. See a price tag? That’s what you pay. Spot a new model? Everything you need to know is at the dealership. The company and its products are uncomplicated and a joy to work with.
Therefore, because it does not play to the more customary ‘smoke and mirrors’ efforts of its rivals, Suzuki does not play by rules’ expectations either. The old Vitara took its first tentative steps on our soil in 1988. It was an SUV, albeit from the yet-to-be-invented ‘junior league’. Available in hardtop, soft-top and (eventually) five-door variants, it was a pretty car and was adopted predominantly by housewives, for its loftier seating position that offered a better view above other traffic. In typical Suzuki form, it was not seeking banner headlines on any front. It was cost-effective to buy and live with and surprisingly capable on almost any surface.
The second generation arrived a decade later. Again, it set no new standards and followed the market in many ways. Customers flocked to buy it. The third generation was launched in 2005. It was sharper in appearance and served the needs of died-in-the-wool Suzuki fans worldwide. However, late last year, at the Paris Motor Show, a new Vitara was unveiled. The only people to get excited about it were Suzuki fans. They had waited the best part of a decade for the newcomer.
In terms of design, the new Vitara continues to evolve. It is not a standout styling effort. Yet, it does not lack purpose, composure, or street credibility. For the vast majority of urban off-roaders, it fits the bill in the manner it has always done so. Its dimensions remain compact and it possesses enough pizzazz about it to make it market ready. From the front, it has the look of a Range Rover Evoque, which will not harm its aspirations in any way (even though I personally dislike the Evoque), while the rest is pretty much what you expect, with first-class, all-round visibility (what the Evoque lacks).
Targeting the lower end of the SUV sector, Vitara’s prices start at a whisker under £14,000, for which sum of money a buyer can expect front wheel drive and a decent level of trim (SZ4 in Suzuki-speak). Up the price by £1,500 and the SZ-T is available with sat-nav, darkened glazing and bigger alloys. SZ5 factors in projector headlamps, even better alloys, Alcantara-like cloth upholstery, pushbutton start, adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking and a large glass roof, albeit for £17,999. Disappointingly, you need to spend another £1,800 to get onto the 4×4 ladder, the demand for which Suzuki reckons will be significantly less than for former Vitara models. If that is the way the market has shifted, Suzuki will be trusted to know it.
All of the aforementioned models are powered by the same 1.6-litre petrol engine that features in the smaller, lighter S-Cross model, which means that you need not expect ‘ball of fire’ performance from the bulkier new Vitara, because you will certainly not receive it. Therefore, if you seek any ‘oomph’ at all, I would advise the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel unit. It may be a bit snottier than the petrol, not least in its gravelly vocals, but the turbocharger does help with its off-the-line zest. Interestingly, both develop a modest 120bhp but the important mid-range urge of the diesel cannot be underscored enough. Not available in SZ4 trim, in SZ-T form it costs a hefty additional £1,500 for the privilege of running an oil-burner, so you are advised to do your economic sums, which might include towcar capability, before making the financial commitment.
Naturally, the customary raft of accessories will be available but, if you leave Suzuki to do the picking for you, a couple of value-added option packs (Urban and Rugged) are available at £500 a pop. Personalisation was always the firm’s intention for the new Vitara (it is a great way to boosting profits), so there are plenty of other option boxes to tick. Just be careful that you do not runaway with the concept, as the cost implication might become scarily steep.
On the subject of costs, exhaust emissions are the one area that the vast majority of car owners are looking at to reduce theirs but none more so than in the 4×4 arena. Chunky, grippy, all-surface tyres, barn-door aerodynamics and teensy engines in flabby bodies are not an ideal recipe for either record-breaking fuel economy, or resources-sipping CO2 figures. Yet, the front-driven petrols emit 123g/km (127g/km automatic), while the 4×4, also known as AllGrip, emits a modest 130g/km (131g/km auto). The diesel version (front wheel drive) emits a mere 106g/km to make it one of the least polluting models in the class. For VED, the figures equate respectively to: zero cost in year one, £110 annually thereafter. The automatic transmission on the 4×4 version warrants £130 per annum regardless. For really low charges, the diesel is the best bet again; free in year one, £20 annually thereafter. Fuel economy expectations are moderate, with the diesel just edging out the petrols’ 38mpg by around 6mpg, which might help with your frugality breakdown.
On the road, the new Vitara offers no surprises, although the ride quality is best described as firm but compliant. Pleasantly weighted and responsive steering ensures that the driving pleasure is constant, while the overall handling envelope is neat and controlled. The brakes (not the same inexpensive solution applied to the Celerio, where an ‘anchor‘ might be an appropriate acquisition) are strong and dependable. Extraneous noise is subdued, as is wind around the door mirrors and other apertures. In fact, apart from the slight raucousness of the diesel engine, the new Vitara is a very refined offering overall.
Conclusion: Thanks to broad appeal, Suzuki has no problems with brand reputation, or finding buyers for its products. The new Vitara model sits happily with the company’s replacement cycle of around ten years. Inherently well mannered but lacking any real innovation, the Vitara will mosey along picking up customers away from its solid base, because the Suzuki is considered to offer value for money and because SUVs continue to sell in copious numbers. Most will be bought for either private, or business, use by reasonable people, who seek little more than anonymity from their vehicles.