Suzuki was way ahead of the pack when it launched the original Vitara in 1988, as one of the first offers in the compact SUV segment.
Fast-forward to 2015, and the nameplate was revitalized after the Grand Vitara replaced the non-Grand model in 1998, eliminating the off-road focus of its ancestors for a more city-centered approach.
The current-generation model was again one of the first models to compete in the now-growing segment, although it quickly acquired a large number of rivals when the market was on its way to high-riding hatchbacks.
As more and more manufacturers jumped on the small SUV bandwagon, the little Suzuki got lost in a sea of constantly improving competitors, namely in the field of interior ambitions and driver assistance technology.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the Japanese brand has given its best-selling crossover a mid-life change, complete with design changes and a range of active safety technology previously unavailable in Australia, to keep it competitive in the strongest disputed segment.
Here we test the Vitara Turbo AllGrip flagship, which is listed at $ 33,990 before on-road costs.
If you are at the top of the class in terms of price, you expect an extensive equipment list – and the Vitara delivers.
Unique to the AllGrip is four-wheel drive, hill descent, a panoramic sunroof and a sunglasses holder in the front of the ceiling. This is in addition to the features of the Turbo with front-wheel drive, including leather / suede seats with tread-like inserts, parking sensors front and rear, heated exterior mirrors, automatic LED headlamps with blue lenses and high-beam assistant, 17-inch light-alloy wheels with polished finish, rain sensors with rain sensor and electrically folding side mirrors.
Rounding out the highlights are a 7.0-inch touchscreen with native satellite navigation, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera, air conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input and LED daytime running lights.
The Turbo models also receive autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning and adaptive cruise control as part of the 2019 upgrade, which was previously not available at all.
The safety suite is rounded off by seven airbags (including the driver’s knee), two ISOFIX child seat mounts on the outer rear seats and three upper mounting points.
The Vitara carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating with a 2015 date stamp based on local tests of the pre-facelift model. It is worth noting that the 2015 regime does not require active safety systems for a five star rating.
The outer paint of our Cool White Pearl tester is the only standard finish, with a single-color metal finish that requires $ 500, while two-color options (color plus black roof) cost $ 1,250 extra.
In terms of design, the Hungarian Vitara has not changed dramatically compared to the pre-update model, with revised front and rear bumpers as the most important changes, along with new LED tail lights and new alloy wheels.
The boxy design and bold style elements such as the horizontal slatted frame give the Vitara a tough aesthetic and is certainly more conventional than many rivals such as the Hyundai Kona.
Although you don’t have to say ‘wow’, the looks of the Vitara will not inspire much, but will also offend less, giving it a broader appeal.
The interior is more of the same, with the familiar dashboard layout with a 7.0-inch central touchscreen above the LCD display with climate control. The biggest difference you’ll notice is the soft-touch dashboard top and the new leather / suede upholstery with elements embroidered on the seat insert that look like the tire – it’s pretty funky.
The infotainment interface is fairly easy to navigate, with clear menus and a main menu in quadrant style that makes access to basic functions fairly simple, but as we have previously complained about the Suzuki unit, it can be a bit buggy. Apple CarPlay would simply not start on different occasions, even after disconnecting and connecting my iPhone and the response times for touch input may vary.
Cab atmosphere is also not the strong point of the Suzuki. Despite the addition of the soft dash element, there is an abundance of hard, scratchy and in some cases thin plastic. It is a stark contrast to that of the Toyota C-HR and Subaru XV, although some may like the utilitarian approach. However, most of the main contact points are covered with fabric or artificial leather, which means that there are soft spots to rest your elbows.
The leather steering wheel fits well in the hand and the analog dials are nice and clear. Despite the color TFT driver display, however, there is still no digital speedometer reading. At least it indicates the speed of the cruise control.
It doesn’t get much better in the back either. Although the legroom is reasonable, the headroom for taller passengers is really compromised, especially with the panoramic glass sunroof of the AllGrip. Anyone over 6ft tall will find the second row a bit hard in the neck.
Over the sunroof, the thin shadow does little to protect the cabin against the hot summer of Australia. The Vitara can get very hot if left in the sun for a long time and it can take a while to cool down, even with the air conditioning running at full speed. There are also no rear vents and there is no folding center armrest.
Behind the second row is a luggage space of 375 liters that is expanded to 1120 liters with the rear seats folded down. It is not a high point in the outside arena, but it is par for the class. A space-saving spare wheel lives under the luggage compartment.
The power of the Vitara Turbo models comes from a 1.4-liter four-cylinder petrol engine with turbocharger that delivers 103 kW at 5500 rpm and 220 Nm between 1500 and 4000 rpm. In the case of our tester, it is sent to an on-demand four-wheel drive with switchable modes via an automatic torque converter with six speeds.
As one of the growing number of turbo offerings in the class, the Vitara Turbo feels pretty spicy. The output looks fairly soft on paper, although the acceleration off-the-line is pretty enthusiastic – it also helps that the Suzuki only weighs 1235 kg.
The responsive engine is linked to a relatively smart transmission that shifts quickly and intuitively, and is also tough to pedal when you want to make a fast dash. By saying that, it can sometimes send the revs past 3000 or 4000 rpm if you give the gas pedal a shot to go up a hill, which is not super refined.
Speaking of refinement, the Vitara does not have the best insulation against road noise, especially on rougher surfaces. The roar observed was reasonably noticeable at most speeds, although wind noise was reduced to a relative minimum.
The ‘Boosterjet’ gasoline engine can also become a bit noisy under load, which in turn detracts from the refined aspect of the driving experience.
Where the Vitara folds back a bit is in the handling department. Thanks to its light weight and direct steering, the Suzuki feels more like a big hatchback in the curves than a high-riding crossover. However, you can’t defy physics because there is a bit of body roll, but it never feels top-heavy or untidy as you might find in some competing vehicles.
There is also a lot of grip enhanced by the certainty of four-wheel drive, and colleague Mike Costello noticed great traction and stability on loose surfaces during a longer period of dirt roads.
It also drives pretty well. Despite being a bit on the firmer side, the Vitara does a good job absorbing most road imperfections, with only the heaviest bumps that upset it.
Regarding fuel consumption, we have returned a specified 7.5 L / 100 km over 277 km of mixed driving. Officially, Suzuki claims 6.2L / 100km on the combined cycle. Using our travel computer as a guideline, you can reach a theoretical range of more than 600 km per fill of its 47L tank.
From a ownership perspective, the Vitara range is covered by a five-year factory warranty of 140,000 km, provided that the vehicle is serviced every six months / 10,000 km through the company’s five-year maintenance program at a fixed price.
Scheduled maintenance is required every six months or 10,000 km, as mentioned above, which is nowadays a lot shorter than most other brands. The first five visits will give you $ 175, $ 175, $ 175, $ 359 and $ 175 respectively, although that only covers 30 months or 50,000 km.
For the life of the five-year program, the Suzuki costs $ 2362 in maintenance, averaging about $ 472 a year during that period. That’s a bit on the higher side for the class, and the extra inconvenience of having to go to the dealer every six months should be taken into consideration.
In such a fiercely contested segment, the Vitara Turbo AllGrip does not stand out as a leader in any way. At first glance, it is a fairly good offer – it drives well, has many functions and there is good space for children and luggage in the back.
However, the compromised accommodation for larger rear passengers and the cheap-looking interior count against it, and it is also quite expensive in the Turbo AllGrip appearance.
We recommend the Turbo with front-wheel drive, which also cancels the panorama roof selection, reducing the price by $ 4000 and improving the headroom in the rear. In this specification, the Vitara is much better and its shortcomings are less painful given the cheaper prices.