SUZUKI VITARA

DECLARED ‘LIKEABLE’ RIGHT WHEN IT NEEDED TO BE EXCEPTIONAL

NATHAN PONCHARD

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Stage ONE

EXUMING a nameplate has many dangers, particularly if there’s a residue of bad blood still floating in the vernacular. But when a car weaves itself into popular culture, much like the original Vitara did in 1988, you can understand why Suzuki’s marketers had no qualms in resurrecting the title for this totally unrelated vehicle.

Based on the SX4 S-Cross wagon, this monocoque-bodied Vitara is a proper car parading as a small SUV, and that’s a good thing. Light and compact, yet surprisingly roomy, with decent seats and great vision, this new-age Vitara combines a chunky, individual look with a touch of Mini-style personalisation to introduce a point of difference to its competitor set. And that includes an ‘AllGrip’ all-wheel-drive version, albeit for a price.

The line-up kicks off with a bang. The $21,990 RT-S – a simple, front-drive five-speed manual – is a value golden child, garnished with kit that few would expect for the price, like sat-nav, 17-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, LED daytime running lights, a rear camera and seven airbags, scoring Vitara a five-star ANCAP rating. An auto RT-S comes next ($23,990), with an effective Aisin six-speeder extracting the most from Suzuki’s 86kW 1.6-litre atmo four, but at 110kg and $8000 more, the range-topping RT-X AWD ($31,990) is positioned in dangerous territory.

Thing is, the all-paw RT-X sees the Vitara at its best. Leather/Alcantara upholstery, piano-black trim and a panoramic glass sunroof do their best to lift the Suzuki’s overly hard and plasticky interior beyond budget motoring, as do the round air vents and an oversized analogue clock, but it’s the AllGrip variant’s improved chassis dynamics that give the new Vitara a much-needed lift.

Admittedly, while the Vitara is arguably a better package than the S-Cross, it simply isn’t as sweet or as dynamically accomplished as a Swift. The front-drive version handles neatly but ride isn’t its strong point and its steering is, er, unusual. It is inconsistent in both weighting and response, feeling sticky and viscous, to the point where it can ‘set’ at a position, as if it’s stuck.

With its switchable drive modes – including a Sport setting for the steering and transmission/ throttle – and De Dion rear suspension, the AWD Vitara steers more consistently, feels more cohesive and is slightly more involving. It’s also good on dirt, despite an ESC calibration that isn’t too clever.

Vitara’s drivetrain does a better job than its rather undernourished on-paper specs suggest.

Economy is reasonably competitive and the engine itself is surprisingly effective, even though Suzuki’s five-speed manual shift suffers in comparison to the well-oiled brilliance of Mazda’s CX-3 six-speed.

Our choice would probably be the auto, despite its propensity to short-shift from first to second at just 5400rpm, 600 revs before peak power.

But the new Vitara is utterly unremarkable.

Besides a few quirky details, it does nothing out of the ordinary. And when the competition at base level includes Mazda’s CX-3 Maxx manual, with its gutsy performance and terrific interior, the likeable Vitara becomes just another also-ran.

BODY

Type 5-door wagon, 5 seats Boot capacity 375 litres Weight 1075 – 1185kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout front engine (east-west), FWD/AWD Engine 1586cc 4cyl (86kW/156Nm) Transmissions 5-speed manual; 6-speed automatic

CHASSIS

Tyres 215/55R17 ADR81 fuel consumption 5.8 – 6.3L/100km CO emissions 136 – 147g/km Collision mitigation .

Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $21,990 – $31,990

R E V I VA L

Teased hair, scrunchies, tomatosplotch decals and Jason Donovan were all huge when the original Vitara (below) hit the streets, loved predominantly by women the world over. But underneath its fashionable exterior was an agricultural separate-chassis 4WD.

In contrast, today’s reborn version is a thoroughly modern passenger car whose only link to the past are some familiar Vitara styling cues.

“FEELS CHEAPER THAN THE MORE AFFORDABLE FABIA” ALEX INWOOD