DRIVING IMPRESSION: Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL+
There is no doubt that Suzuki has been on the up since re-launching its automotive operations as a separate entity from previous distributor, General Motors, a decade ago.
Although locally famous for the diminutive but extremely capable SJ410 / 413 jeep, the Hamamatsu based firm signalled its return to South Africa in a big way with the unveiling of a full-range of models ranging from the budget friendly Alto, to the capable Grand Vitara SUV and the SJ’s spiritual successor, the Jimny.
Turn the clock to 2016, the marque has continued bolstering its appeal by offering something for every need, whether it be a budget beater (Celerio), compact family sedan (Ciaz) small people hauler (Ertiga) or even off-roader (Grand Vitara / Jimny).
With the shift in the local market still favouring crossovers instead of the traditional sedan or hatch, Suzuki took the decision in early November last year to enter the segment by breathing new life into one of its most iconic nameplates.
Credited as one of the inventors of the compact SUV, the original Suzuki Vitara broke new grounds with its launch in 1988, by dispelling the notion of the SUV as a big, heavy, gas drinking behemoth.
Boasting a short wheelbase, low range gearbox, fuel efficient 1.6-litre petrol engine and bodystyles ranging from a three-door softop to a five-door wagon, the Vitara became a hit in a number of global markets, and remained popular until the arrival of the more powerful and luxurious Grand Vitara in 1999.
With Suzuki steadily phasing out the current Grand Vitara in a number of markets since 2014, the unveiling of the all-new fourth generation model at the Paris Motor Show that same year, also heralded the return of the Vitara name, minus the Grand prefix, for the first time in almost 15 years.
On first glance, the new Vitara, inspired to an extent by the iV-4 concept from 2013, breaks from Suzuki’s current styling direction with a more striking appearance thanks to a pronounced front bumper, clamshell bonnet, colour-coded grille housing the oversized Suzuki logo, and angular looking headlights.
Lifting the looks even more, our mid-spec GL+ test model sported a standard two-tone paint finish with a white roof and Cosmic Black body colour, as well as polished black 16-inch Mojave alloy wheels.
Unlike its flamboyant exterior, the Vitara’s interior conforms to the usual Suzuki mantra of function over style. That said, despite the mixed use of hard and soft plastics on various surfaces, the cabin cannot be faulted for build quality as no rattles or squeaks emerged during the weeklong stay.
While the omission of a touchscreen display might seem somewhat odd by today’s standards, the traditional knob-activated audio system was easy to use, while the Bluetooth connected with my Sony Xperia Z1 Compact without hassle.
Despite its somewhat compact dimensions, the Vitara is not found lacking when it comes to space. Popping the driver’s seat into my driving position revealed more than enough rear legroom with front and rear headroom also being generous.
Luggage space is also commendable with Suzuki claiming a total capacity of 375-litres with the rear seats up, and 710-litres with the 60/40 split back folded down. Adding to this, the boot floor features a false compartment allowing for the board to be lowered or removed completely depending on preference.
Oddment storage is provided underneath the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) panel, in the door pockets and by a deep slot to right of the steering wheel.
In spite of its mid-range placing, creature comforts in the GL+ has not been skimped on with items including a leather covered steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, electric windows all around, four-speaker sound system with aux input and USB, cloth seats with sliver stitching, height adjustable front seats, cruise control, traction control, seven airbags, ABS with EBD and daytime running lights.
As with its interior layout, the Vitara’s choice of engine represents simplicity rather than difficulty with motivation, like the original, coming from a normally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine that makes 86 kW and 151 N.m of torque.
Though appearing down on power compared to its smaller displacement forced-induction rivals, the M16A engine is by no means sluggish as it provided a constant flow of power and proved willing to rev even past the 3 000 rpm mark.
Keeping with its newfound crossover identity, the Vitara’s traditional four-wheel drive system has been shelved in favour of the same permanent AllGrip setup used on the SX4, although our tester fed its power to the front wheels via a slick five-speed manual gearbox.
Although likely to be frown upon by those who admired the Vitara’ for its off-road prowess, the drivetrain setup did translate to an average fuel consumption of 6.6 L/100 km, not bad considering it spent most of its stay doing the daily commute and running errands.
Using the same underpinnings as the SX4, the Vitara’s combination of MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear offered a comfortable ride setup even when the road surface became badly broken or rutted.
While no longer be the plucky off-roader it was 28 years ago, the return of the Vitara name has given Suzuki a worthwhile challenger in a segment that seemingly becomes more congested with each month. With its honest level of spec, decent looks and simple as pie mechanicals, the Vitara deserves a second look if going with the flow is not your priority.
|ENGINE LAYOUT||DOHC 16v Inline 4|
|MAX POWER||86 kW @6000 rpm|
|MAX TORQUE||151 N.m @4400 rpm|
|DRIVE LAYOUT||Front engine; Front-wheel drive|
|ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H]||n/a|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION||6.6 L/100 km*|
*As claimed during tenure
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