When Suzuki introduced the first Vitara in 1988, it was mainly a fun car. The Vitara had serious off-road capabilities and was therefore able to take its occupants to places that were out of reach for ordinary cars. What fun!
In due time, the Vitara became more of a luxury car and less of an off-roader. And with the new Vitara that trend continues. What remains are its tough looks with its tall shoulder line and muscular looking front.
Nowadays, a car like the Vitara is bought more as a lifestyle vehicle and less as a workhorse. That's why the new Vitara can be customised in many ways. For example, the roof and wing mirrors can be executed in a contrasting colour. The grille, sidelights and fenders can be executed in chrome, matt or white.
As standard, the dashboard has matt-chrome decorations, but this can also be executed in the colour of the rest of the car. Even the clock comes in several different flavours. For example, the test car has an analogue clock with the symbols of the Chinese zodiac on the dial.
Underneath, the Vitara shares a lot of technology with the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross. Although its looks suggest differently, the Vitara is in fact smaller than the SX4 S-Cross. The Vitara offers 5 cm less legroom in the rear; although it is still adequate.
The space in the front leaves little to be desired, but regrettably the seats are small and the headrests too low to actually contribute to safety. As it should be with a car like this, the seating position is high and because of that one almost "walks in". Because the bonnet can be seen from the driver's seat, the driver has the illusion of operating a big, mighty vehicle. This means the experience differs significantly from driving the S-Cross.
While the S-Cross is meant as a spacious family car, the Vitara is a lifestyle vehicle. And to make it more special, several technical innovations debut on the Vitara.
The most obvious of these is the integrated audio, satnav and communication system. It features a handy home screen, on which data from all the different applications is available at a glance. Suzuki supports both "Apple CarPlay" (Apple) and "MirrorLink" (Android) to connect the driver's smartphone to the car.
When it comes to safety, the Vitara also means a big step forward for Suzuki. Using a radar, the Vitara continuously measures the distance and the difference in speed to the car in front. If either one of these becomes dangerously small, the Vitara warns the driver with visual and audible clues. If the driver still doesn't respond, the Vitara will apply the brakes itself to prevent an accident or at least reduce the damage.
The same radar is also used for the "adaptive cruise-control", which automatically adjusts the speed to that of the car in front.
The Vitara is available with a diesel engine and a petrol engine. Both have a disposition of 1.6 litres and both develop 88 kW (120 PS).
Thanks to its lightweight construction, the Vitara is by far the lightest car in its segment. The base model weighs 1,125 kg and that's about the same as a little city car! Yet, the performance of the petrol engine is barely sufficient. When going along with traffic, the "1.6 VVT" never feels weak or underpowered. However, when extra power is required to overtake another car or climb a slope, the petrol engine lacks the necessary oomph.
This goes doubly so for the version with an automatic transmission. On top of that, the automatic gearbox doesn't seem to understand what the driver wants and often shifts at the wrong moment. Luckily, the automatic can also be shifted sequentially using flappy paddles behind the steering wheel. Using those, the automatic is a more enjoyable drive than the Vitara with manual transmission.
Modest performance also means a modest thirst. On a very demanding test route with twisty mountain roads, lots of city traffic and a lengthy photo shoot the average fuel economy was 6.2 litres per 100 km (46 mpg).
The diesel engine is more torque strong (320 Nm) and therefore performs with much more ease, giving the whole car a more mature feeling. Also, only the diesel engine can be used to tow a trailer weighing up to 1,500 kg (1,200 kg for the petrol engine).
On the same demanding test route, the diesel used 5.1 litres per 100 km (55 mpg); again a very good score for a car like this.
Because the Vitara is a lifestyle vehicle, four-wheel drive does not come as standard. But... it feels like the Vitara was made to be a four-wheel drive car! The version with two-wheel drive feels unstable and unsure. Also, the two-wheel drive version "suffers" from more body roll in fast corners, which also affects the overall feeling of the car.
When opting for the version with four-wheel drive ("AllGrip") the Vitara is better balanced and feels more stable and predictable.
The version with AllGrip powers the front wheels by default. It's only when wheelspin is detected that power is sent to the rear wheels to improve or regain traction. In this way fuel economy is not affected by the four-wheel drive system. If so desired, at the press of a button the driver can engage permanent four-wheel drive.
The Vitara also offers a "Sport" mode in which the engine power is distributed over the front and rear wheels for optimal performance.
Suzuki emphasises that the Vitara is not an off-roader. That's why there's no "sand" or "mud" mode, but only a "snow" mode. However, when the test driver deliberately ignored Suzuki's instructions and went off-roading, the car performed above average!
By using the permanent four-wheel drive ("lock") the electronics send the engine power to the wheel that has the most resistance (read: most grip). Also, the Vitara has a handy downhill descent function which makes it easy to go down hill without the risk of blocking the wheels and losing control.
In this way the Vitara literally covers more ground than its rivals. Despite renewing itself, all the strong points that made the previous Vitaras so successful remain.
Suzuki keeps the Vitara young and vital by constantly renewing the car. The new Vitara is more of a lifestyle vehicle and less of an off-roader than before, while still honouring its heritage.
Because the Vitara is now more of a luxury car, handling has improved significantly without affecting its off-road capabilities too much. The Vitara is as comfortable as the average family saloon and its technology is innovative. Because the Vitara can now be personalised in many ways, the car also convinces as a lifestyle vehicle.