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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.