Which 2016 Suzuki Vitara is best? Diesel RT-X AWD, petrol RT-S 2WD or S Turbo 2WD?
Suzuki has another small SUV hit with the Vitara, but there’s so many to choose from. We’ve driven the range and can help you pick between RT-X, RT-S and S Turbo AWD.
THE BASIC VITARA formula is what Suzuki have focused on for decades; a small SUV, very light, modern looks, no-frills motoring. But now there’s a huge variety of Vitaras to choose from:
|Engine (kW / torque)||Drive||Fuel cons (L/100km)||Kerb Weight (kg)|
|RT-S (man/auto)||$21,990 / $23,990||Petrol 86 / 156, 91RON||2WD||5.8 / 6.0||1075 / 1120|
|S Turbo 2WD||$28,990||Petrol turbo 103 / 220, 95RON||2WD||5.9||1160|
|S Turbo 4WD||$32,990||Petrol turbo 103 / 220, 95RON||AWD||6.2||1235|
|RT-X diesel||$35,990||Diesel turbo 88 / 320||AWD||4.9||1325|
The models in bold are the three we’ve run on test; the RT-S we had for three months on long-term test, and the other two for a week each. The two Turbos don’t have a RT-* designation, but are close to the RT-X in terms of trim.
The base car is the same across all variants – all five doors – so our long-term review is mostly applicable across the range. That means this article will focus on the differences, which starts with the looks.
The Vitara is a modern-looking SUV, and Suzuki have done a great job with the two-tone finish you can see on the petrol turbo in the centre of the title image and above. However, the most expensive and least expensive versions; the RT-S on the left and diesel RT-X on the right look pretty much identical.
Inside it’s the same story:
If you want a bit more zing there are several option packs for the vehicles which allow you to customise the look. That comes at a cost, but here’s some sample results:
You have to admit that’s stylish. The interior can be customised too, with swappable trim panels:
The Turbo has red trim around the instrument panel, and stitching:
Overall, it’s good that Suzuki have thought about styling and offered a good range of customisation for those customers that want it. Few other SUVs can offer the same.
All the Vitaras are decent handling little SUVs, thanks mostly to their superbly light weight. None are hot hatches, but you won’t lose time in corners. Visibility is good all round, the ride is very comfortable and there’s plenty of clearance for any urban situation. All the cars are pleasingly responsive to control inputs such as throttle and steering. The RT-S is the lightest at 1075-1120kg and certainly feels the most manoeuvrable, in contrast to the all-drive diesel at 1325kg. Sadly though, the weakness of one is the strength of another.
The RT-S has the agility, but lacks power. It’s just about alright for one person around town, even if it gets a bit too revvy, but any more than that or an open road and you find yourself wishing for more than the 86kW the engine can muster at a frantic 6000rpm. The real problem is torque, with only 156Nm on offer at 4400rpm. Simply, the RT-S is underpowered.
That’s unlike the S Turbo 2WD, which has 103kW at a lower 5500rpm and 220Nm of torque at 1500 to 4000rpm from its 1.4L turbo. Now you have more than sufficient power…again, it’s no hot hatch but there’s no complaints from the right foot. However, the car’s ability to put that power to the ground suffers; it’s easy to spin a front wheel, and the steering is prone to a bit of torque-induced interference. It’s not a big issue, just not ideal. The Turbo also asks for 95RON fuel whereas the RT-S is happy on 91…yet the turbo doesn’t really deliver the performance you’d want from the high-cost fuel. However, at higher revs, there’s even a nice little throaty exhaust note.
Then there’s the diesel. It offers 88kW, only two more than the petrol. But that’s at 3750rpm, much lower than 6000, and look…320Nm of torque at 1750rpm. That’s more than my 2004 Land Rover Defender TD5 could muster. All that torque result means you get the wonderfully pleasant feeling of dieselly wafting along with rather little effort, and the Vitara doesn’t really notice extra weight like passengers. It’s the best engine of the lot, but pricey. The engine is however not ideally setup with the transmission as it uses too high a gear for any situation, for example holding fifth at 70km/h when the engine is more than capable of maintaining sixth. It works, just not as efficiently as it could.
The diesel’s transmission is a modern DCT or dual-clutch system that Suzuki call TCSS, or Twin Clutch System by Suzuki. These DCT transmissions offer an efficient drive and very quick gearchanges, but such systems often have a little trouble with smoothness at low speeds and such is the case here.
Suzuki’s all-drive system is called All Grip, and as with most of these things it’s very much a front-drive biased system which doesn’t employ the rear axle as often or well as it should in day-to-day driving. For example, in the diesel we turned right at a T-junction in the wet, accelerating briskly but not speedily and there was a bit of front wheel slip, nothing to worry about but had the rear axle been usefully engaged that wouldn’t have happened. There is a Sport mode but it makes very little difference. It’s always a disappointment to drive an alleged all-drive car that feels and acts front drive – you’re wasting the money spent and dragging extra weight around without getting all the value. Had there been serious wheelspin the rear axle would have woken up and done it’s bit, but a good all-drive system never feels two-wheel-drive.
All the Vitaras can tow 1200kg braked, 400kg unbraked. We didn’t do any towing, but would pick the more powerful models if we had to.
The seats are rather flat-based, but the steering is reach and tilt adjustable and there is plenty of headroom.
Dirt roads and offroad
The Vitaras aren’t bad on dirt roads, but they’re no market leaders. There’s not the plushness of say an Outlander, or the rally feel of a Subaru. As you’d expect, the 2WD models do struggle for traction out of dirt corners. The all-drive unit is better, but doesn’t send as much torque to the back axle as it should as often as it should.
We ran the RT-S offroad and it was impressively good – read the full story here. We also ran the RT-X diesel AWD model offroad, expecting great things due to its much greater torque and all-wheel-drive, yet it disappointed for one reason alone and that is the transmission.
The Vitara has no low range (crawler gears) and that means it has to drive the wheels very slowly, yet spin the engine fairly quickly. Think of this like slipping a clutch in a manual car…because that’s exactly what the diesel has to do. And you know how that ends; overheated, smelly clutch – which is exactly what happened. We took the diesel to our usual softroader testing grounds, and it was barely past the first obstacle before we noticed the clutch was overheating, so we terminated the test.
Many other no-low-range vehicles have run around this area for hours, and the only other car we’ve had with a similar issue was a Subaru Forester which runs a transmission called a CVT, prone to the same sort of overheating problem at low speed. That’s why you don’t see serious low-range 4WDs running either DCT or CVT transmissions.
Even if the DCT transmission was up to it, the Vitara is clearance-limited as you’d expect, although it has pretty effective traction control. The All-Grip system has a Snow/Mud mode, and once that’s activated you can “lock” front and rear axles together. Except you can’t of course, all the “lock” system does is bias a bit more torque to the rear axle.
On the 2WD models disabling stability control kills traction control. On the AWD models the same button just disables stability control, leaving traction control active. That’s the way it should be.
There is a hill descent control system but the target speed is too fast to be effective.
Overall, the non-TCSS turbo petrol AWD would be the pick for any offroad use. It would be effective in slippery conditions like mud or snow, or soft conditions like sand, but its limited clearance would see it struggle anywhere else. The RT-S 2WD is impressive for a front-driver, and the diesel needs a transmission better suited to low-speed work.
The differences in the range are the engines and interior detail trim. There’s no difference in practicality; same 40/60 seat, 5-seat arrangement, same storage systems, same space-saver spare, good room in the rear seats. The trick dual-level boot is the same too, and it offers useful room given the overall size of the vehicle. The Vitara does nothing wrong on the interior, just the usual well though out basics that Suzuki are good at. Refer to the long-term test for more details.
All of the vehicles get the same Mirrorlink infotainment unit. More on that here.
The doors feel light, but that belies Suzuki build quality. You get used to it and give them a bit of a harder slam than other cars.
All the Vitara have 5-star ANCAP ratings but none of the range has any special safety features relative to each other, with the exception of the all-wheel-drive models which offer better traction in slippery conditions and the omission of parking sensors on the RT-S.
While the Vitara does score 5 stars, there aren’t any advanced safety aids like blind spot detection, AEB or lane departure warning. You do get three tethers for child seats, and ISOFIX mounts on the outboard rear seats. A reversing camera is standard.
Let’s walk through the specs and see what you get for your money, excluding cosmetic flourishes:
RT-S – (man / auto)
- Cruise control, satnav, aircon, Bluetooth, reversing camera, 86kW. There is a manual version. Fuel consumption is 6.0L/100km (auto), fabric seats.
RT-X (diesel) extra over RT-S
- Keyless entry (on three doors) with button start, 103kW, slightly different wheels (same silver colour), slightly greater fuel consumption (6.3), leather with suede inserts on the seats, front cabin interior light, an extra pair of speakers, LED headlights with dusk sensors, folding mirrors, sunroof, rain sensing wipers and parking sensors. The sunroof is very large, amount 1m long.
S-Turbo (petrol) compared to RT-X (diesel)
- Black alloy wheels, red stitching on steering wheel and seats, no front cabin light, no sunroof.
The RT-S is very cheap but very good, priced significantly below most comparable vehicles. That makes the RT-S a bargain, provided you can live with the lack of power.
If you want reasonable grunt, it’s the S-Turbo 2WD for another $5000. Aside from a proper engine, the useful goodies you get are keyless entry, better headlights and some convenience features like automatic wipers and lights. It’s still below $30k, making it relatively cheap to its competition and good value. The engine is the main reason you’d hand over the extra money, not so much the features.
The case for another $4000 for the all-wheel-drive version of the 1.6L and Turbo is tough. You don’t get much benefit onroad, and these cars are not designed for serious offroad work. In many cases, the 2WD will be the better option as it’s cheaper, lighter and slightly more frugal on fuel.
The case for the diesel – auto/AWD only – is hard but not impossible to make. It commands a $3000 price premium over the similarly equipped turbo petrol AWD, and that’s likely to take 4 to 5 years of driving at 20,000km a year to pay off. In that time you’ll have a wonderfully efficient powerplant that really does move the Vitara along very nicely indeed, although not significantly better than the turbo petrol. You also don’t want to take that particular diesel transmission offroad. The maths for the diesel really doesn’t stack up if you consider it against the petrol Turbo S as there’s now a huge gap of $7000, and that’s a lot of driving to pay off with lower fuel consumption.
Also be aware that as usual the nicer-looking versions will cost more with “special” paints and options.
Overall, Suzuki have a great reputation and the Vitara name is not new, so you can expect few problems and good resale for what is a very solid and useful small SUV which is somehow less expensive than many other vehicles. It’s easy to see why Suzuki are selling so many!
- Suzuki Vitara RT-S long-term test
- How far can a 2WD SUV drive offroad?
- 2016 Suzuki Swift Sport review
- Suzuki’s 4WD heritage
An original-model Vitara and the 2016 equivalent. Few SUVs can claim a heritage dating back to 1988, and that doesn’t even count the models before the Vitara. The bullbar isn’t standard, but otherwise it’s a well-preserved example.