On the comeback road: Revived Suzuki Vitara ready to explore the city

BY CHARL BOSCH - AUGUST 18, 2016

There is no doubt that Suzuki has been on the up since re-launching its local automotive operations as a separate entity some ten years ago.

Although known as the maker of 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 and capable Grand Vitara SUV, to the SJ’s spiritual successor, the Jimny.

Fast forward to 2016, Suzuki has continued bolstering its appeal by offering something for every need, whether it be the budget focused Celerio, compact Ciaz sedan, or seven-seat Ertiga people mover.

With the shift in the local market still favouring crossovers, the Japanese automaker announced in November last year it would re-enter this segment by breathing life back 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.

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.

Inspired to an extent by the iV-4 concept from 2013, the Vitara foregoes Suzuki’s current styling direction, in favour of a more striking appearance thanks to a pronounced front bumper, colour-coded grille housing the oversized Suzuki logo, and angular looking headlights.

Lifting its appearance even more, our mid-spec GL+ tester also sported a standard two-tone paint finish with a white roof and Cosmic Black body colour, as well as black 16-inch Mojave alloy wheels.

Unlike its flamboyant exterior, the Vitara’s interior conforms to the traditional 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 its stay.

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 impressive 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 underneath, allowing for the board to either be lowered, or removed completely.

In spite of its mid-range placing, creature comforts have 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 Bluetooth 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 turbocharged rivals, the M16A engine is by no means a sluggish as it provided a nice 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 through a five-speed manual gearbox.

Although likely to be frowned 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 rutted.

While no longer the plucky off-roader it once was, the return of the Vitara name has given Suzuki a worthwhile challenger in a segment where conquering the urban jungle has become the biggest obstacle. 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.

To book a test drive, visit Suzuki Auto East London at No.5 Devereux Ave in Vincent, or contact them on 043 726 9377.