The PB review: Suzuki Vitara SZ5 AllGrip

The Suzuki Vitara is part of the furniture in Britain. Since its launch in 1988, it has become the near brand generic for the lifestyle-led SUV. Equally at home on the streets of Chelmsford as it is on the tracks of Ceredigion, the Vitara was a crossover in the days when a crossover was simply a means of getting to the other side of the road.

Loyal fans have grown to love its no-nonsense appeal. A Suzuki Vitara gives you the sense it will always get you out of trouble, whilst doing its best to keep you out of trouble in the first place.

The flip-slide is the ‘Barbie and Ken’ image of the 1990s. Humping rhinos on the spare wheel cover and a range of aftermarket accessories delivered in the worst possible taste, meant the Vitara appealed to those with a penchant for fake tan and white stilettos.

Unfortunately for Suzuki, as disposable incomes grew, customers realised The Only Way Wasn’t Vitara. And the Essex people moved on.

What’s more, the outgoing Suzuki Grand Vitara was becoming a bit of a dinosaur. Things like sky-high CO2 emissions and a seriously dated interior were leaving the old stager feeling like a bit of an also-ran in the sector. Heck, it even inherited a new sibling in the shape of the SX4 S-Cross.

2015 Suzuki Vitara: now more orangey than before

So this is the modern interpretation of an 80s classic. Rather than fade to grey, Suzuki has remastered the Vitara, removing the crackle and giving it a fresh lick of paint. Horizon Orange Metallic is now an optional colour, not the name of something you’d apply to your face.

The 2015 Suzuki Vitara makes a strong case for itself. Prices from just £13,999, CO2 emissions as low as 106g/km, a choice of two- or four-wheel drive and a host of personalisation options. Add to the mix the kind of heritage other SUVs and crossovers can only dream of, and you’d think Suzuki is on to a winner with the new car.

Suzuki Vitara SZ5 headlight

And the good news is, the Suzuki Vitara makes a very good first impression. Forget thoughts of the styling making it look like a poor man’s Range Rover Evoque, it’s actually better looking than the ‘squished Land Rover’*. At least it is from certain angles.

At the front, the clamshell bonnet, imposing front grille and striking headlights give it a purposeful and almost premium look. The theme continues on the side, with neat air inlets, muscular arches and good proportions.

It’s just around the back where things start to go wrong. At best it looks like the S-Cross, but it all becomes too generic and a bit of an afterthought. It’s as though Suzuki was so pleased with the results of its day perfecting the front-end, it decided to take the next day off. And then forgot to come back to finish the, er, back.

Rear of 2015 Suzuki Vitara

2015 Suzuki Vitara: coming out of the dark ages

Inside it’s typically Suzuki. And as PetrolBlog’s regular reader will know, that’s a good thing. Anyone obsessed with soft touch materials will find little joy in the Vitara, but the rest of us will come away thinking it’s built to last and fit for purpose. Choose the top-spec SZ5 trim level and you even get a touch of suede on the door cards to match your suede seats. Fancy.

Having spent some time reading the ‘Modern SUV/Crossover for Dummies’ book, Suzuki has given the Vitara a fancy new 7-inch infotainment screen and some personalisation options to colour-code the cabin. Bluetooth, digital radio, USB port and steering wheel-mounted controls are standard across the range.

All but the poverty-spec Vitara SZ4 get smartphone integration including mirror-link technology and a rather natty four-way split screen for the main options available through the touchscreen. As far as the rest of the segment goes, there’s nothing groundbreaking about any of this, but it does see the Vitara stepping out of the dark ages.

Suzuki Vitara SZ5 interior

2015 Suzuki Vitara: diesel is best. No, really

There are two 1.6-litre engines to choose from – one petrol and one diesel. Both offer 120hp, but crucially the diesel positively pummels the petrol when it comes to torque. The 236lb ft on offer in the diesel is more than double the 115b ft of the petrol.

And wait for it. Because here comes a radical broadcast on behalf of the PetrolBlog party…

The diesel-engined Suzuki Vitara is better than the petrol-engined version and is therefore the one to have. Take some time to pick yourself up from the floor…

It’s just that the petrol-engined Vitara makes you feel like you’re being shortchanged. The lack of torque can make motorway driving a tiresome business and you’ll find yourself changing down to fourth, sometimes third, just to maintain momentum up hills. The lack of a sixth-gear in the petrol version is also a problem and you will find yourself trying to find a gear that just isn’t there.

And throwing the engine whine associated with 3,000 revs at 120km/h into a mix that already includes a fair amount of wind noise and you’ve got a recipe for annoyance. If you want the petrol engine, you’re better off waiting for the six-speed automatic transmission, which arrives in the summer.

2015 Suzuki Vitara dials

2015 Suzuki Vitara: most customers will buy the wrong one

In the meantime, the diesel-engined Vitara feels more refined and a far better allrounder. All the power and torque comes in at a far lower level in the diesel and you’ll have a far better chance of achieving the claimed 70.6mpg as a result. Note, there’s only a marginal drop to 67.2mpg if you opt for the AllGrip four-wheel drive system.

The new Suzuki Vitara also behaves in a way that will feel alien to fans of the old versions. Gone are the hippo-in-blancmange handling characteristics of old, replaced by something that – whilst not razor-sharp – is more confidence inspiring. The limited amount of body-roll is impressive for what – at 1,610mm high – is one of the tallest cars in the segment.

It’s just a shame the steering is so poorly weighted. It’s all too easy to apply too much lock going into a corner, demanding tiny adjustments to stay on your desired path. That said, the steering does come into its own when parking or manoeuvring through tight streets.

Suzuki reckons the vast majority of sales will come from front-wheel drive, petrol-engined Vitaras, which is a surprise given the refinement and economy of the 1.6-litre diesel. But perhaps more surprising is the forecast for the AllGrip four-wheel drive version. Seriously, it’s well worth the upgrade.

2015 Suzuki Vitara SZ5 in Horizon Orange Metallic

Here’s the thing. The AllGrip system adds a mere £1,800 to the purchase price, taking a top-spec SZ5 diesel from £19,499 to £21,299. Yet the CO2 emissions increase from just 106g/km to 111g/km. Both small prices to pay for what’s a more authentic-feeling Vitara. And Suzuki’s AllGrip system is delightfully simple to use and more than capable for handling the kind of conditions a typical Vitara owner will encounter. And yes, that means more than just mounting the kerb outside the hair salon.

It’s also worth mentioning the ground clearance, which sits at 185mm. This is more than the Juke, Captur and 500X, with only the excellent Skoda Yeti coming close at 180mm.

In so many ways, the new Suzuki Vitara is late to the market. The old Grand Vitara was way past its sell-by date, especially in the light of the aforementioned rivals. But perhaps that has simply given Suzuki time to perfect the recipe. You’ll find yourself nodding in appreciation when you start to really explore this car. Everything feels tight, focused and thoroughly well thought out.

Central clock Suzuki Vitara

2015 Suzuki Vitara: SUV first, lifestyle second

Opt for the SZ5 model and you’ll witness Suzuki embracing the likes of radar brake support and adaptive cruise control. The SZ5 also gets a Land Rover-style hill descent control system, with all models getting hill start assist.

Other points worthy of a mention include a 385-litre boot, which feels small in comparison to the 465 you’ll find in the Captur, or 426 in the Yeti. That said, all models get a 60:40-split folding rear seat and a double floor in the boot. And there’s plenty of head and legroom in the rear seats, even for the tallest of passengers.

So should you buy a new Suzuki Vitara? Well you should certainly add it to the list of possibilities. Unlike some modern crossovers or SUVs, the Vitara doesn’t feel like some marketing-led, horribly lifestyle-focused vehicle. It feels like Suzuki set out to build a competent SUV and then thought about how to make it appeal to today’s customers.

Which is why it gets a range of new colours, including two-tone combinations, along with a small selection of personalisation options and a decent level of kit.

Horizon Orange Metallic Suzuki Vitara SZ5 AllGrip

Quite where the Vitara’s arrival leaves the S-Cross is anyone’s guess. Suzuki will tell you there’s room for both, arguing the S-Cross is a crossover and the Vitara is an SUV. That maybe so, but do Suzuki customers really care two hoots what Suzuki calls them? And will the dealers be able to make a strong enough case for choosing between the two?

The fact is, the Vitara looks better, feels better and is better than the S-Cross in just about every single department. It also has proper heritage and is likely to command a higher price on the used car market. All of which could make Suzuki’s crossover angry. Time to rename it the Is-Cross?

But for goodness sake, when you do order a new Suzuki Vitara, do everyone a favour and get it painted in a bright colour. The array of Atlantic Turquoise and Horizon Orange test cars lined up in Lisbon looked like a breath of fresh air. Splash out and spend £430 on a decent colour and £500 for one of the two styling options pack. Don’t revert to type and order something dreary like Slough Silver, Wigan White or Glasgow Grey. Go on, live a little.

One final thought. The front-wheel drive Suzuki Vitara with the 1.6-litre petrol engine weighs in at just 1,075kg. In other words, that’s only a touch more than the Suzuki Swift supermini. Proof that the Suzuki Vitara really has come a long way since 1988.

*the words of my eight-year-old son.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

7 comments

  1. February 26, 2015
    EndlessWaves

    This recent import of the ‘SUV’ terminology from the US seems to have made things even more confusing. I thought the ‘Crossover’ label applied to something that was styled like a 4×4/Off roader but whose 4×4 system was either non-existent or only sufficient to placate those who feel ESC, ABS and all the other modern safety tech still isn’t enough for the occasional light dusting of snow.

    To me ‘SUV’ means American excess like the Cadillac Escalade. I kind of assumed when journalists started using it that they were saying touches like the fake skid plates were equally tasteless but now that some of the manufacturers are using it too I’m completely at sea about what the implied meaning is supposed to be.

    The colour scheme on the Vitara is nice, especially if that roof is the white it looks in pictures rather then silver.

    Reply
  2. March 1, 2015
    rotation

    I still don’t understand dashboard materials.
    Is there a professional code of conduct for motoring journalists that states that they must be mentioned in every review? Okay, you’ve given them a passing mention here, but in certain ‘respected’ outlets, they’re 70% of the review.

    Reply
    • March 24, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Growing tired of the fascination with soft-touch plastics and the like. Drove the new Subaru Outback last week. The interior is functional, robust and fit for purpose. But some people will still criticise it.

      Apparently the Japanese favour longevity and ergonomics over soft-touch materials.

      For me, the Japanese and Volvo get it right.

      Reply
  3. March 27, 2015
    Leno

    And if you don’t like diesels, wait for the upcoming vitara sport with 1.6 turbo charged engine (which will also make its way into the next gen. swift sport).

    Reply
  4. April 9, 2015
    Nick Stewart

    Ive just ordered a 1.6 Diesel SZ5 Allgrip and as the article noted, I didn’t like the ‘grayscale’ colours so have ordered Tarts Lipstick Red with a Black Roof and Rugged Pack.

    Reply
  5. June 29, 2015
    Jon Critoph

    I am looking at replacing my 2011 Jeep patriot. The 2007 version I had before was pre particulate filter and I had no problems. With a lot of stop start and short runs and doing just 10000 miles a year the Patriot is suffering with DPF problems and it has just cost me a lot to get it sorted. Hence despite the recommendation I would need to go for the petrol version. I drove one and it did feel a little slow and lacking in oomph to my 2.2 litre diesel. However when you look round the SUV 4×4 sector there are few petrol versions with 4 wheel drive and then many of them force you to have an automatic which I do not want. So the list becomes quite short indeed. living well into the countryside and often getting some winter weather the 4 wheel drive feels necessary. I spoke to Suzuki about the new turbo engine and they said there is nothing in the pipeline for the vehicle that they have been made aware of despite the press reporting it is coming soon. Do you have y ideas of when so I might wait for this if it is to be soon.

    Reply
  6. July 14, 2015
    Robert Key

    I have owned a Vitara SZ5 Allgrip and would like to know when the i phone 6+ can be set up as a smartphone?
    They seemed to have made it available in Australia.
    This Bosch screen system installed in the new Vitara is behind the times!!!

    Reply

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