In February this year I had the chance to attend an early European media test driving event in Portugal for the brand new Suzuki Vitara five door compact SUV range which replaces the long serving three and five door Grand Vitaras.
The all-new Vitara – no Grand version is planned, will sell alongside Suzuki’s other relatively new crossover elevated estate models, the five door SX4 S-Cross. The reduced in size Suzuki range now includes the all new Celerio five door city car sized hatchback, the tiny Jimny 4×4, the very popular Swift supermini hatchbacks plus the new Vitara and S-Cross. Gone due to their age are the Alto, Splash and Grand Vitara models. Despite the loss of these popular models the new overall Suzuki range is still expected to match last year’s UK record sales total of 37,400 units.
To reach this overall sales target the new Vitara models have big boots to fill but expectations are high with 6,000 units available this year and up to 10,000 next year said Ed Norman, Suzuki’s UK product planning manager.
The Suzuki Vitara and the SX4 S-Cross are the right models at the right time because the UK’s crossover/compact SUV market sector is booming, as it is globally. Ed Norman said last year this sector accounted for over 250,000 UK sales, that is more than 10% of all new cars sold making it the third largest sector in the overall car market.
Supermini sized models such as the Ford Fiesta is the highest selling segment followed by lower medium sized cars such as the Ford Focus and then comes crossover/SUVs with the market leader being the Nissan Juke but other strong selling models include the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Mokka. In reality the new Vitara will also do battle with mid-sized crossovers/SUVs such as Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX and Ford Kuga.
New Vitara prices start from £13,999 and range up to £21,799. With its modern styling, improved road manners and lower running costs over the outgoing Grand Vitara, the new generation range will appeal to a wider buying audience. These will include younger families and a high proportion of conquest customers buying a Suzuki for the first time. Whereas the Suzuki range overall has been bought by 90% retail buyers, fleet and business customers are expected to take up to 40% of new Vitara sales. This is because of crossover/SUV design popularity, the Vitara’s wide ranging model line-up with Euro 6 compliant 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines, the option of 2WD and 4WD models and SZ4, SZ-T and SZ5 specification levels.
Ed Norman estimates around 60% of UK customers will choose a petrol engine because of the lower purchase price, SZ-T will in the long-term be the most popular specification choice but initial orders are in favour of the top SZ5 level. When it comes to the 2WD or 4WD choice around 30% of customers are taking the Suzuki Allgrip 4WD option which is much higher than the average 10% demand in this sector for modern crossover/SUVs. This higher demand can be accounted for by Suzuki’s long heritage of producing 4×4 models and suggests there is a significant demand from previous Grand Vitara 4×4 customers.
Both engines have a 120PS (119bhp) power outputs 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. The petrol unit is available now with manual and automatic transmission options, the diesel is manual only for now with an automatic gearbox due at the end of this year.
What these figure tell us that in the longer term the most popular version will be the 1.6-litre, 119bhp petrol, manual with 2WD and SZ-T specification priced at £15,499. Officially this model will return 53.3mpg in the Combined Cycle with CO2 emissions of 123g/km which means no VED road tax for the First Year rate but then £110 for Year Two onwards. The insurance is rated as Group 13E.
During the UK media launch, which used winding Somerset lanes, busy main around Bath and undulating routes over the Mendip Hills plus some off-roading, the free revving 1.6-litre petrol engine with a five speed manual gearbox proved to be responsive but less so with the on-demand Allgrip 4WD system driving off-road. It was easy to use too many revs so the wheels lost traction on gravel surface or by not using enough power the engine stalled on take- off. During off-roading I didn’t find it flexible enough as it develops its maximum torque of 156Nm (115lb ft) at 4,400rpm which is too high up the power-band. This is where the lack of a low-ratio transfer box, which the previous Grand Vitara had, becomes an issue. On road for everyday driving it is good enough with a top speed of 112mph and zero to 62mph taking 11.5 seconds. But apart from price best overall is the diesel engine.
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.
The bulk of the UK on-road driving I did with the 1.6-litre DDiS turbodiesel but without the Allgrip function. With the same 119bhp power output as the petrol engine for outright performance there is nothing to choose between the two. Top speed is 112mph and zero to 62mph takes 11.5-seconds but this engine comes with a six-speed manual gearbox and that gives a more relaxed drive at motorway cruising speeds. The big advantage is the much larger 320Nm (236lb ft) of torque available from 1,750rpm. This makes it much more responsive for on-road driving and is more user-friendly and its progress power delivery for off-road conditions. During my test driving the vehicle returned an impressive 59.3mpg. The official figure is 70.6mpg in the Combined Cycle with CO2 emissions of just 106g/km with the 2WD option or 111g/km with Allgrip. The VED road tax is £0 First Year rate then just £20 for year two onwards, the Allgrip model is still £0 First Year and then just £30 for Year Two onwards. For company car drivers the Benefit-in-Kind tax rate is 19% and 20% respectively and with the SZX5 spec level both are rated at 17E for insurance.
As for driveability and handling? The suspension coped well with the rural Somerset 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. There seemed to be good cornering grip with the front wheel drive version but the on-demand Allgrip option will give that extra security on-road and of course it will very worthwhile during off-road driving.
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. 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. For those that need to use their Vitara as a tow vehicle all petrol models have a maximum braked towing weight of 1,200kg and all diesel models 1,500kg.
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. For those new customers to this sector I think that is the most sensible model price-wise to go for. More accustomed SUV owners might be willing to pay more for the stronger but noisier diesel engine but the overriding feature of the new range is that there is a version to suit most pockets.
MILESTONES: Suzuki Vitara 5-Door 1.6 DDiS diesel 2WD, SZ5. Price: £19,499. Engine/transmission: Euro 6 compliant, 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol, 120PS (119bhp), 320Nm (236lb ft) of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual. Performance: 112mph, 0-62mph 11.5-seconds, 70.6mpg Combined Cycle (59.3mpg on test), CO2 106g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £20Year Two onwards, BIK company car tax 19%. Insurance group: 17E. 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 1,500kg. 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 only available on top spec models. Miles Better News Agency