Suzuki Vitara (2015) First Drive

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Suzuki specialises in compact, no frills value for money vehicles. You know when you get a Suzuki that it’s going to be reliable, hard-working and allow you peace of mind transportation. Suzuki has seen that the compact SUV market is continuing to grow rapidly and that buyers are most notably looking for a stylish car.

The new Vitara is meant to be just that, an attractive compact SUV with all of Suzuki’s standpoints built in. We took it for a spin around the mountains of George and Knysna.

The new Vitara

Firstly, the Vitara is not a replacement for the previous Grand Vitara, which will likely remain a larger, mid-size SUV. The Vitara fits very much in the new segment of crossovers that includes the likes of Nissan’s Juke, Renault’s Captur and the Ford Ecosport to name the main players. The segment accounts for 30 000 sales a year according to Suzuki and it wants a piece of the rising pie. The Vitara is offered in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive derivatives. There are also manual and automatic gearboxes on offer. Suzuki has also gone to town on the customisation options but more on that later.

Just one engine

Suzuki doesn’t have the largest range of engines to choose from in its parts bin. The one they have selected is a naturally aspirated 1.6-Litre petrol unit. It has 85 kW and 151 Nm of torque available. Power is competitive, but it is a little shy on torque compared to the competition that uses turbochargers to get that extra bit of mid-range shove. We drove with three passengers in the Vitara and it performed acceptably. It’s a bit sluggish in the low end of the rev range but like all naturally aspirated engines it gets better the higher you rev it. Fuel consumption is claimed at 5.8L/100km for the five-speed manual and 6L/100km for the six-speed auto. That seems to be a pretty good benchmark considering that we returned 6.7L/100km over our 300km route.

The cabin

In short, the Vitara's cabin is not as funky or stylish as its competition but it is functional. The plastics are coarse in places and it could do with a more modern dashboard and instrument cluster layout. That said, you can specify the interior with colour-coded trim that matches the exterior. The exterior can also be ordered in two-tone paint schemes if you wish – the red/black and blue/black combinations make quite stylish statements. The seats are quite comfortable and offer decent lateral support on bumpy roads.

Rear occupants have good legroom space and door pockets that can hold a 1.5-Litre water bottle and a few other bits and bobs. The boot is practical with a floor shelf the can be lowered to offer a full 375-Litres or raised to provide a flat loading surface. The rest of the cabin remains functional, but not cool or trendy. It is well specced inside even in the base model GL. The middle of the range GL+ offers solid value for money with climate control, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and 15-inch wheels.

Rough and ready

Suzuki seemed adamant about showing us that its crossover was capable on the dirt track. Our route took us up Montague pass, a decent dirt road before turning back later from Uniondale through to Knysna. That route took us along the Karoo to Coast mountain bike race route, quite a slippery and rocky 90km off road section. The 185mm ground clearance seemed enough to cope with all the obstacles and even with only front-wheel drive in our car, there were no difficult moments. There is an all-wheel drive model available that uses an electronic system to shift power around to where it’s needed on slippery surfaces. All-Grip, as it is called, even has hill descent control. The Vitara is probably specced with more off-roading ability than it will ever need, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you ever happen to need it.

Safety spec

Suzuki has fitted the Vitara with a high level of safety equipment. The standard stuff includes ESP, ABS with EBD and electronic brake assist. Inside, there’s seven airbags as well as pre-tensioning seatbelts. The Vitara scored five-stars on the 2015 Euro NCAP test.

Suzuki Vitara Pricing

1.6 GL 5MT                                         R239 900

1.6 GL+ 5MT                                       R269 900

1.6 GL+ 5MT ALLGRIP                       R291 900

1.6 GLX 6AT                                        R299 900

1.6 GLX 5MT ALLGRIP                        R319 900

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