Suzuki demonstrates that ‘honesty is the best policy’ with new Vitara
For so long a vital component of the junior league SUV scene, Suzuki’s durable and lovable Vitara has been comprehensively reworked but, highlights Iain Robertson, it has lost none of its charm and consumer appeal.
Rare and infrequent these days, taking an honest approach is a characteristic that seems to have been under-employed judiciously by politicians, bankers, journalists and even the formerly hallowed professions, such as teaching, policing and managing people’s health. Corrupting, or simply avoiding, the truths is now a de rigueur practice of all and sundry, as we lose our grip on the sometime honourable trait of being ’God-fearing’.
The motor industry is a premier league perpetrator of falsehoods. Led by its various, multi-national marketing departments, through which telling the truth is as far removed from second nature as might be imagined, the rot infests every channel, from brand development (at factory) to brand representation (on the street). We have been sold lines via aggressive takeovers, future promises and questionable premises.
The not-so-poor and certainly not-so-pure consumer is taken in by corporate deceits and conned into up-front opportunities that are price enhanced and bolstered by extra-cost extras that have a counter effect on values at trade-in time. If this sounds as though I am heartily sick of the automotive merry-go-round, then you are right and I urge you to investigate your personal instigation behind acquiring your next set of wheels. The bravest question you can ask yourself is: ‘Do I really need this?’.
Yet, just as I throw up my hands in despair, a tiny but strident glow illuminates the horizon. As you might have gathered, while I do not own a Suzuki at this moment, I have been and I remain a staunch supporter. My logic is simple. Suzuki is a sterling performer. It is the consummate engineer. It possesses a reputation that places it head and shoulders above many other brands. Dependable and packed with integrity, it tackles severe assaults with relaxed ease, is proud of its achievements but seldom crows about them and simply never lets down its customers. Suzuki is the most honest carmaker on the planet.
The latest, Hungarian-built Vitara honours an image that the brand has portrayed for many years. In the words of the garden decking varnish specialist, Suzuki ‘does what it says on the tin’. In terms of styling, while its present outline may be little more than an evolution of its former stance, the links with other Suzuki models, from the baby Celerio to the mid-range SX4 S-Cross, are evident from grille outline to tail-lamps. Suzuki might not offer a ‘challenge’ to the Range Rover Evoque but it is at least 50% more capable than it, at more than a third less cost.
The Vitara is not the prettiest sporty off-roader on the block but it is not prissy either. Instead, it exudes a frankness of design that is intrinsic to its brand integrity and is thankfully more manly than its predecessor. While its interior detailing might be devoid of ‘soft-touch’ surfaces, it possesses a wipe-clean honesty, with which ardent Suzuki fans feel eminently comfortable. In fact, it would be all to easy to state that the Vitara is much-of-the-same, thank you kindly, except that the car imparts an air of freshness and vibrancy that is more than competent at holding its own in today’s ever-upwards-spirallingly hectic SUV market. Yes. The new Suzuki Vitara lives up to modern expectations of the breed but it delivers neat little advancements in spades.
Among them is the ‘stop-start’ technology, which you can switch off, when it becomes annoying. I cannot accept that its benefit is anything other than reducing CO2 levels to satisfy the EU, although a consistent return of 43mpg does highlight the Vitara’s 1.6-litre petrol engine, more on which in a moment. In addition, a ‘Near/Far’ button for the Radar Brake Support, an aspect that the EU is considering as standard fitment for all future makes and models, will inform the driver, via a combination of audible and visual warnings, that tail-ending other vehicles might result in a sorely increased insurance liability. Utilising milliwave radar, it works 24/7, in all weather conditions, providing the aforementioned warnings, brake assist and, ultimately, automatic retardation. If you do overcook a situation, seven airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and even a mechanism that restricts rearward movement of the brake pedal are all practical aids, while the various structures constituting the prow of the Vitara also make it slightly more pedestrian-friendly in the event of an urban clash.
Equipped with adaptive cruise control (in SZ5 trim) that also engages with the radar technology, maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front, with the system adjusting speeds accordingly, is a useful characteristic. While I remain a fan of driver education above absolving the driver of all responsibilities electronically, I can perceive a positive place for these devices.
A full-length, double-opening glazed sunroof, complete with electric retractable blind, provides both tremendous light influx and a decent open-air experience for all occupants. The radically revised touch-screen for Suzuki’s in-car entertainment package provides an easy link to one’s mobile-phone, as well as full DAB audio. I just wish that DAB performed better than it does. The sat-nav, while not being entirely intuitive in operation, or set-up, does work well, as long as you can tolerate having to stop to re-enter the post-code, or destination information; another example of intolerable (to me) automotive nannying.
While on the subject of in-car accoutrements, the air-con system is neither cold enough in its lowest temperature setting, nor particularly efficient at changing the in-cabin air quality at its highest, a factor noticeable during the warmth of the test period. Yet, all other controls work satisfyingly enough, especially the simplicity of the 4WD controller. The Vitara will hike up its skirts and deal with rough off-road surfaces with aplomb, even though it is abundantly clear that the AllGrip 4×4 system provides more of an on-road safety benefit.
Beneath the bonnet is the same 1.6-litre petrol engine that powers the excellent SX4 S-Cross model. It develops the same 117bhp as the turbo-diesel alternative, although that version also delivers a mountain of torque. Having said that, the petrol unit will operate uncomplainingly from little more than idle speed, even in fifth gear (intriguingly, the diesel gets a seriously overdriven sixth gear, which is aimed clearly at reducing diesel engine noise at higher speeds).
While both variants share top speeds, the 0-60mph benchmark time of the petrol version is around 11.7 seconds, while the diesel deals with the increment in 11.1 seconds. The petrol’s mid-range pull is more than adequate for the majority of on-road situations. The difference is so negligible that it is only the fuel economy figures that might urge you along a DERV route. As you will be aware from my earlier comment, I maintained an excellent 43mpg, against a stated Official Combined figure of 50.4mpg. That of the diesel is a significantly better 67.2mpg (around 59mpg in reality), which would mean that you should be able to offset the extra £1,498 price premium (over the petrol equivalent model) within around 18 months of ownership. Incidentally, an auto-box is an option.
Thanks to supple suspension and a good resistance to body-roll, the Vitara handles exceptionally well. Its well-weighted steering is informative and faithful to driver input, while manoeuvrability is helped by a tight turning circle that makes in-town parking a doddle, a situation aided in no small part by the rearview camera that displays automatically a colourful on-screen image. Mid-corner bumps do not deflect from the dialled-in route and hard braking is not accompanied by excessive front-end dive.
In terms of running costs, the Vitara slots into a most affordable Group 11E, while its CO2 emissions are pegged at 130g/km, which equates presently to Band D and an annual VED charge of £110. As the transmission uses front-wheel-drive by default, only engaging 4WD by way of tyre slip, engine torque, steering wheel angle deflection and throttle position (unless locked into an AWD situation), tyre wear is less of an issue than with some 4×4 models.
Conclusion: As tested, including a £500 charge for the Urban Pack (tail spoiler, side mouldings and front fog lamp bezels), the Vitara in top SZ5 guise costs around £20,299 (prices start at £13,999), which makes it one of the most affordable SUVs in its class. The dual-tone paint finish (black on top, body colour below) costs a whopping £800. However, it is very well equipped, comfortable (with its leather and Alcantara trimmed seats), spacious and eminently practical as a family, or business proposition. It is also built impeccably well, is devoid of creaks and groans and feels as though it might survive the daily cut and thrust for many years. I admire its unburstable qualities and the fact that most drivers will neither want, nor desire, anything else. As stated up-front, the new Suzuki Vitara is an honest, all-round crowd pleaser that I feel confident in recommending to any potential SUV driver.