2015 Suzuki Vitara review
Paul Murrell’s launch-based 2015 Suzuki Vitara review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
IN A NUTSHELL: Suzuki claims to have invented the compact SUV, but then so does Toyota and Subaru, and now it claims to have re-invented it.
2015 SUZUKI VITARA
PRICE from $22,900 (driveaway); WARRANTY three-year, unlimited kilometres; SAFETY RATING five-star ANCAP; ENGINE 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder petrol engine, 86kW @ 6000rpm, 156Nm @ 4400; TRANSMISSION six-speed manual or auto; BODY 4.18m (L); 1.78m (W); 1.61m (H); WEIGHT 1075-1185kg; THIRST 5.8L/100km (combined).
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WHEN SUZUKI OCEANIA AND LATIN AMERICA General Manager Takanori Suzuki explains that the company sells 1.2 million vehicles annually in India alone, the Australian market looks like a very small target indeed. However, Suzuki will be launching 20 new models over the next five years and concentrating on SUVs and passenger vehicles in the micro and C Segments. Australian managing director Mac Kato points out that local sales are up by 15% and heading towards a useful 30,000 units per year, partly thanks to an impressive 68% customer satisfaction rating (although rated by Suzuki’s own research rather than an industry-recognised body).
The importance of the new Vitara becomes clearer with predictions that compact SUVs will outsell small hatches in Australia by 2017. Suzuki is determined to lead the category it says it invented way back in 1970 with the Jimny Sierra LJ10 (the first Vitara was released in 1988).
Compact SUVs have to fulfil various functions including the daily commute, the school run and occasional forays off-road (very occasional, according to Suzuki who suggest that something like 95% of Vitara owners will never venture further than an unsealed road).
The new Vitara is well placed to capitalise on this expanding market. Designer Takehito Arai has incorporated many traditional Vitara design elements such as the clamshell bonnet, side vents and tall stance to tackle the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Renault Captur head-on. Like them, the new Vitara can be had in 2WD as well as 4WD.
The Suzuki boasts better ground clearance (185mm) than either the Honda (an extra 15mm) or the Mazda (30mm extra). Bold colours will appeal to a younger demographic, while empty nesters are also well catered for. The shoulder line is strong and the grille picks up hints of the Jimny slotted grille.
Individuality is assured with optional two-tone colour schemes and a number of personalisation options such as black wheels. Exterior colours can be reprised inside with a broad panel across the dash and colour-matched trim rings (these are dealer-fitted options, allowing faster delivery than if they were factory-fitted). The RT-S gets attractive fabric seats with silver stitching while the more highly-specified RT-X has leather seats with suede inserts. The interior has a strong horizontal motif and a simple but appealing and uncluttered design. The RT-X adds keyless start, auto wipers and auto self-levelling headlights. It also gets a large panoramic sunroof with a fairly flimsy (and probably fairly useless under Australian conditions) mesh cover.
Driver selected modes give the all-wheel drive Vitara a multi-faceted personality. Auto mode will spend most of its time in 2WD. Sport mode delivers a better take-off and an altogether more aggressive throttle response. Snow mode employs full-time all-wheel drive with ESC supressing excessive wheelspin. Lock mode delivers maximum “extrication ability” with 50:50 torque distribution. There’s also hill descent control and hill hold control.
The Suzuki’s extra height allows for the much-loved high driving position and delivers the extra bonus of more headroom. Cargo space is a class-leading 375 litres with the rear seats upright (1120 litres with the seats folded almost flat) in a vehicle that’s actually slightly shorter overall than a Mazda CX-3 or even a Toyota Corolla. Ground clearance is 185mm, comfortably more than many of its competitors and this means an approach angle of 18.2 degrees, ramp over angle of 17.7 degrees and a departure angle of 28.2 degrees. For anyone contemplating off-roading, these are important numbers.
Aligned to the 1.6-litre petrol (a diesel as offered in Europe is being considered, but there are no plans as yet to introduce one into Australia) is a new six-speed auto with manual operation using paddles or a six-speed manual (entry-model only). Suzuki’s claim that the new Vitara performs more like a 2.0-litre hatch than a 1.6-litre SUV is a little ambitious, but performance is certainly sprightly and economy outstanding at just 5.8L/100km.
Perhaps a little unusual is the absence of the increasingly-common stop/start technology. The reason, Suzuki tells us, is that it is generally disliked and many buyers simply switch it off and leave it off.
The Vitara impresses on the open road with very little wind or road noise, although it’s more noticeable at highway speeds than around town. The ride is firm to stop it from wallowing around in corners, but well controlled. The engine can sound a little stressed when revved hard, but that’s to be expected. The smart transmission “learns” your driving style in as little as 30km and adapts to suit… to a point. Remember, these ‘smart’ transmissions don’t truly learn your driving style, rather they adapt to suit the situation they’re experiencing at that moment. The steering is light and sensitive, perhaps too sensitive, and can require constant adjustment in the straight ahead on the highway.
The new Vitara is very-well equipped in either of the two models (RT-S or RT-X). A reversing camera is standard, as is sat nav in the multi-media unit (the operation of which imitates smart phone inputs). Both models get cruise control with speed limiter function, digital climate control, audio controls on the steering wheel, power windows and mirrors and daytime running lamps. Optional equipment includes additional chrome trims or black accessories including wheels and grilles. The RT-S is available only in 2WD with manual or auto transmission. The RT-X gets Suzuki’s Allgrip fully integrated 4WD system and the new six-speed auto.
Safety has also been a major consideration. There are seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and knee), pedestrian protection and a five-star ANCAP rating. Active safety features include electronic stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
Limited availability will constrain early sales to around 300 units a month, but Suzuki predicts sales rising to more than 500 per month as supply loosens up. With a price of $21,990 for the RT-S (plus $2000 if auto is optioned) and $31,990 for the RT-X, we suspect their predictions may prove to be on the low side. To make the equation even more appealing, Suzuki has introduced a driveaway price for the RT-S models from $22,990 (manual) and $24,990 (auto), including a three-year/100,000km warranty and capped price servicing.