2015 Suzuki Vitara first drive

Suzuki Vitara European sales overall of 4x4s, SUVs and Crossover models are increasing at a brisk rate due to an in-flux of new customers as well as existing owners migrating to more fuel efficient,

less costly to run and more compact ones which do not necessarily have four wheel drive.

In line with this trend Suzuki’s long serving three and five door Grand Vitara 4x4s are no more. But they will be missed by a loyal but decreasing in numbers band of owners who still have the need for a mid-sized semi workhorse, semi family transport 4×4 that is as happy towing as it is motorway cruising or mud-plugging at the other end of the driving scale.

Suzuki expects their relatively new lighter weight SX4 S-Cross medium sized, five door, two and four wheel drive, petrol and diesel powered Crossover range to help fill that gap in the market with prices from £14,999. S-Cross sales in the UK will be around 5,000 units a year.

But the Vitara is not dead. Having been born in 1988 it lives on but without the Grand element. The new Vitara range of compact SUVs goes on sale in the UK from April.

The new lightweight Vitara is a chunky looking five door compact SUV that will compete for sales against the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and the Vauxhall Mokka to name just a few. Its predecessor – the larger Grand Vitara competed against the Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Kuga.

The new Vitara is priced from £13,999 and ranges up to £21,299. With its modern looks, improved road manners and lower running costs it will also probably appeal to a younger generation of buyers than the outgoing Grand version whose prices started from £16,000 for the 1.6-litre petrol three door model and ranged up to £23,875 for the 1.9-litre turbodiesel five door version.

Dale Wyatt, Suzuki’s UK director of sales and marketing said, “The new Vitara is a pillar range for us in our revised model line up. It will attract conquest sales to a market sector in Europe that is doubling in size every year. In the UK we are planning to sell around 6,000 units of the new Vitara during the remainder of this year. That will increase to at least 8,000 sales next year or even 10,000 if the compact SUV sector continues to grow at the same rate.”

Commenting on what Vitara models are likely to prove the most popular from the new line-up he said, “Around 70% of UK customers will choose a petrol powered model and roughly the same percentage of customers will be retail buyers. However in the longer term as the demand for Vitara grows I can see the sales split between retail and fleet customers being around 50-50.”

He added, “I expect sales of 4WD versions of the Vitara to be around 25% of the total as opposed to the average 10% in this sector. This higher than average percentage is because of the heritage Suzuki and Vitara has with 4WD models. As for the number of customer choosing an automatic transmission we could see up to 15% taking that option. The petrol six-speed automatic models arrive in the summer and the diesel six-speed twin-clutch automatics at the end of this year. When it comes to the three levels of trim and specification on offer the starter level of SZ4 will be chosen by 20% of UK customers, the mid level SZ-T will be the most popular with 50% and the top SZ5 versions should be the choice of 30% of customers.”

The new Suzuki Vitara is priced from £13,999 goes on sale from April and is built in Hungary. It has a shortened version of the platform used for the marginally longer SX4 S-Cross. The Vitara is still 4,175mm in overall length making it one of the longest and roomiest compact SUVs on the market. The lightweight body is constructed high tensile steel. The suspension, like the larger S-Cross, uses MacPherson struts at the front but retuned for higher rigidity and better driving stability due to its higher stance which offers a minimum ground clearance of 185mm. At the rear is a torsion beam system also adopted from the S-Cross.

New-age Vitara customers have the choice of two, four-cylinder engines with the option of two and four wheel drive systems. There is a 1.6-litre, 120PS/156Nm petrol unit and a 1.6-litre turbodiesel also producing 120PS of power but with significantly more torque of 320Nm developed from 1,750rpm. The petrol models have the option of a five speed manual gearbox now or a six-speed automatic transmission to come in the summer. The diesel is available with only a six-speed manual gearbox but will gain a six-speed twin clutch auto option at the end of this year.

Suzuki’s ALLGRIP 4WD system is available on petrol and diesel versions BUT only with the top SZ5 level of specification. The petrol models, priced from £13,999, are available with SZ4, SZ-T, SZ5 and SZ5 ALLGRIP spec levels. The diesel models, priced from £16,999, start from SZ-T followed by SZ5 and SZ5 ALLGRIP.

The move by some customers in this sector to lower CO2 emission versions sees the new Vitara models range from 123g/km with the petrol engine with two wheel drive and 130g/km with ALLGRIP, both with a manual gearbox. With the automatic transmission and ALLGRIP these go up to 131g/km. The diesel versions have emissions of 106g/km with two wheel drive and 111g/km with ALLGRIP. Fuel economy for the petrol versions in the Combined Cycle ranges from 53.3mpg in two wheel drive manual form to 49.5mpg with automatic gearbox and ALLGRIP traction. Diesel models with the standard manual six-speed gearbox are 70.6mpg in the Combined Cycle and 67.2mpg with the ALLGRIP option.

Suzuki Vitara Suzuki Vitara Suzuki Vitara Suzuki Vitara Suzuki Vitara The SZ4 models specification highlights include seven airbags, 16-inch painted alloy wheels, DAB radio, air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, front and rear electric windows and projector beam headlights. SZ-T versions add 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, Smartphone link and sat-nav. SZ5 adds LED headlights, 17-inch polished alloys, suede seat fabric, keyless entry with start button, adaptive cruise control, radar braking support and a panoramic sunroof. In keeping with market trends there are various option personalisation packs including a choice of 10 colours. There is also a £500 Urban pack which sees the addition of extra exterior brightwork and a roof spoiler. There is a £500 Rugged pack which emphasises the Vitara’s SUV toughness and includes front and rear off-roading skidplates, body-side mouldings and loading edge protection for the top of the rear bumper.

The interior of the new Vitara is attractively styled and some of the plastics are best described as durable rather than plush but it is well equipped even in its least expensive form. All the controls and instruments are well positioned. The elevated seating positions give good visibility and it is relatively roomy in the rear seats for adult passengers. The double sliding panoramic sunroof fitted as standard to the top SZ5 version does reduce headroom for six-footer occupants. There is a seating capacity for five passengers. With the rear seats in use the boot has a capacity of 375-litres and with the seat backs folded down this goes up to 710-litres. Usefully there is there is a removable double floor in the boot but the seat backs do not fold completely flat so loading of long items might be an uphill task. Access to the load area is through a good sized wide tailgate.

Both engines have a 120PS (119bhp) power output and are flexible and responsive enough at low revs in urban driving conditions. The diesel with much more torque is better for open-road driving and with its six-speed gearbox it is more relaxed on the open roads and motorways but it is noisier. The petrol engine is £1,500 cheaper to buy so that will appeal to customers not covering high mileages even though the diesel is more fuel and tax efficient. For those drivers wanting the ALLGRIP added traction that adds another £1,800 to the price over two wheel drive petrol and diesel models.

Despite the extra cost for some customers the ALLGRIP option will remain an important function. This system has four driver-selectable modes. In auto mode as front wheels start to lose traction then the rear wheels come into use for added grip. In Sport mode it maximises engine response and the use of four wheel drive in accordance with the demand placed upon the vehicle. Snow mode brings in all wheel drive by default for slippery or unpaved roads, tracks and fields. Lock mode is used for maximising traction at low speeds in snow, mud or sand with the limited slip differential system braking any spinning wheel so transferring the torque to the wheels with grip.

As for driveability and handling? The suspension coped well with the neglected Portuguese road surfaces. There was some, but not too much, body-roll due to its elevated SUV body styling but it proved to be nimble and the steering gave good feedback at low to medium speeds. Driving faster and it became vague. There seemed to be good cornering grip with the front wheel drive version but the on-demand ALLGRIP option just gave that extra security on-road and of course it proved it worth during some off-road driving. On our test driving programme the petrol ALLGRIP model returned 41.3mpg but unfortunately there was no petrol 2WD model available to try. The 2WD and 4WD diesel models both returned exactly 50mpg which rather proves that the ALLGRIP on demand 4×4 function is no more fuel-thirsty than the 2WD model during on road use.

Overall the new Suzuki Vitara is a neat and compact SUV – just what the majority of customers seem to want these days. It looks totally modern in terms of exterior styling and its high level of standard specification even in the SZ4 form which will make it very appealing especially at the range-starter price of £13,999. I think that is the most sensible model price-wise to go for.

MILESTONES: Suzuki Vitara 5-Door 1.6 petrol SZ-T 2WD. (Expected best selling model). Price: £15,499. Engine/transmission: Euro 6 compliant, 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol, 120PS (118bhp), 156Nm (115lb ft) of torque from 4,400rpm, 5-speed manual. Performance: 112mph, 0-62mph 11.5-seconds, 53.3mpg Combined Cycle, CO2 123g/km VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £110 Year Two onwards, BIK company car tax 19% from April. Insurance group: 13 tbc. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,175, W 1,775mm, H 1,610mm, boot/load space 375 to 710-litres, braked towing weight 1,200kg (diesel 1,500kg). For: Good looking chunky styling, spacious, easy to drive, even the base SZ4 model has a comprehensive level of specification, diesel engine is more responsive to drive than the petrol unit, competitive pricing for SZ4 petrol model, expected high residual values. Against: No SZ4 spec diesel model so the diesel range starter price is £3,000 more than the petrol, no 6-speed manual gearbox for the petrol models, ALLGRIP available only on top spec models. Miles Better News Agency

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