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Car reviews - Suzuki - Vitara - RT-S

Our Opinion

We like
Competitive pricing, strong styling, spacious cabin and cargo area, impressive features, relaxed road manners, high occupant comfort
Room for improvement
Engine needs to work hard, hard plastic dash trim, tinny doors

Suzuki logo23 Nov 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

Price and equipment

MORE for your money. That’s one reason why people buy SUVs. There’s a lot of metal for a relatively modest price and inside there’s heaps of room to fit all the stuff you intend to buy. Even if you never do.

The Vitara is one of the latest compact SUVs to push space and lifestyle attributes and, pleasingly, it arrives at a very acceptable price that puts it hard up against some of its more serious rivals.

The Vitara slips into the compact SUV segment, smaller and less expensive than the Grand Vitara that occupies a niche in the mid-size SUV sector.

Theoretically, they will appeal to different buyers. The Grand Vitara is more suited to a dual-purpose role while the Vitara will be a family-friendly alternative to a hatchback or small wagon.

But the newcomer is in the same league as another Suzuki, the S-Cross. This occupies not only the showroom floor but similar $22,000-$32,000 pricing and because they share a lot of drivetrain bits, driving dynamics.

Side by side, Vitara looks more like an SUV. The S-Cross is more a hatchback.

It also has two variants – RT-S front-drive manual at $21,990 plus on-roads and the $31,990 AWD version called the RT-X – against the four choices offered by the S-Cross.

So why buy the Vitara? It’s smaller than the S-Cross by 125mm and has a smaller boot.

The RT-S model tested came with automatic transmission (at an extra $2000) for $23,990 plus on-road costs.

But the entry-level RT-S has a $1000 on-road price thanks to a company incentive, a saving of about $3000 depending from which state it is sold. The incentive is not available on the more expensive RT-X model.

That puts the RT-S on a strong value footing against its many rivals, including the S-Cross.

A lot of the appeal of the new Suzuki is its standard equipment that includes satellite navigation, a reversing camera and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Its other highlights are the 7.0-inch touchscreen that dominates the centre dash and little touches like the paddle shifters for the automatic and LED daytime running lights.

The wagon, made in Hungary, has two main options – the two-tone paintwork with a white or black roof that costs an extra $995, and metallic paint for $475.

Interior

You’ve probably heard the term “you get what you pay for” a million times. That’s because there’s a million cases where the adage applies.

This is one of them. There’s no doubt that the Vitara is well priced and in a lot of instances, it represents good value for money and can’t be beaten by most rivals.

But it’s at a low cost because there have been short cuts. Externally, it’s a good look. Inside, it’s pretty good but a five-minute sit shows a lot of hard plastic moldings, less-than-perfect trim fit and basic switchgear and instruments.

There’s also the annoying tin-sounding clang of the doors on closing – actually, the doors were often reluctant to close properly despite their light weight – which doesn’t enhance the ambience.

It’s a simple interior and the plastic ware lessens the feeling of quality, though we’d admit it is ergonomic and nothing squeaked or creaked during its test.

There is plenty to like, especially the feeling of space that is extended to the storage areas. There are bottle holders in all doors and even extra space for other small items.

There are three cupholders in the centre console – one for the rear passengers – along with a lidded bin between the front seats, a decent glovebox, and a tiered cubby hole ahead of the gearshifter that is generous in its volume and clever in its design.

Almost hidden – ideal to thwart unwelcome guests – is an ash bin off to the right side of the steering wheel. Perhaps we shouldn’t have mentioned that.

The dashboard incorporates body-coloured slip-in panels that, ostensibly, the owner can change to other colours. This contrasts with satin-silver trim on the doors and console and the gloss back screen surround, so the use of colour cleverly lifts the otherwise sombre black and grey dominance and makes the entire cabin bright and welcoming.

The touchscreen is shown as a quadrant, separating the sat-nav from the phone, and the connectivity links from the radio. It’s easy to use, responsive and graphically, the sat-nav is clear and bright.

This screen becomes the monitor for the reversing camera and, in terms of clarity, is one of the best in the business.

There are four circular vents on the dash that twist to aid the direction of the airflow. Output is good which is just as well because there’s no vents for the rear passengers.

Unusually, front occupants also get three clocks – two digital, once the showcase analogue.

Also a bit optimistic is the 6200rpm red-line on the tachometer (see ‘engine and transmission’ section) and an equally hopeful 220km/h maximum on the speedometer.

The Vitara will seat four adults, possibly an extra in the rear, with excellent headroom and reasonable legroom. Tall drivers will be comfortable but moving the seat backwards will impact on rear passenger legroom.

Seating is comfortable and generous, with long cushions to support the thighs on long trips and good support.

The rear seat splits and folds flat, taking luggage space from 375 litres (the Volkswagen Golf is 380 litres) up to 1120 litres. By comparison with its sister, the S-Cross, the numbers are 430 and 1269 litres respectively, but in its favour, the Vitara has a wide-opening hatch that makes loading easier.

The boot has a false floor, so the depth can be increased. It sits above a space-saver spare wheel indicating that a full-size spare could be carried to make the Vitara an attractive vehicle for the country.

Ideal for the family are small features such as the shopping-bag hook in the boot, and tie-down loops plus deep side pockets for holding loose objects.

Engine and transmission

Suzuki isn’t a big company, operating like Honda in the thin air of independence. That means R&D investment can hurt.

No surprises then that the Vitara shares a lot of components with its family.

The engine, for example, is the same M16A unit that is found in the S-Cross and the Swift Sport.

But the Vitara uses a six-speed automatic while its stablemates have a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) as its automatic alternative to the manual gearbox.

The engine delivers a modest 86kW at a high 6000rpm while the torque output is 156Nm at 4400rpm. Both figures are industry average for aspirated engines but typically arrive too high up in the rev band to be useful.

The Swift Sport, by comparison, pumps 100kW/160Nm using the same hardware. How long before Vitara owners figure out the software needed to boost their performance?Performance isn’t generally high on the list of requirements for buyers in this vehicle segment. But it would be nice.

The Vitara is not a responsive drive, its engine asthmatic and though willing to rev, produces little but a reluctant swing of the tacho needle and a lot of noise.

Freeway overtaking manoeuvres were discouraged after a couple of initial – embarrassing – attempts. This is my reference to the optimism of the tacho and speedo dials.

That aside, the engine is smooth and quiet and tractable below about 3500rpm.

It can also be fuel efficient. Claimed at 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres, the actual drive program averaged 7.4 L/100km in city, suburb and freeway driving.

That’s the figure urban buyers should expect from the automatic version and it’s pleasing to see it only needs standard unleaded petrol.

The RT-S has a front-drive layout so is expected to average better fuel economy than its all-wheel drive RT-X sister. However, the difference is only 0.3L/100km.

But the AWD system of the more expensive RT-X model may not suit many buyers.

This model has limited off-road ability and will be chosen more for its extra equipment – leather and sunroof among the extras – than any assumed traction advantages.

On the road the Vitara is a smooth ride and will suit suburban trips. It’s a very easy car to drive and only when called on to deliver some modicum of power does it let itself down.

Ride and handling

While performance isn’t the Vitara’s strongest point, it will please owners with its quietness and its supple ride.

This is supported by the generously padded seats, the general roominess of the cabin and the fact that it’s not a vehicle that can – or should – be driven quickly so its accent is on a relaxed ride.

Beneath the chunky body is a platform shared with the S-Cross and that includes the passenger-car standard MacPherson front struts and torsion bar at the back.

No surprise that the ride is car-like and more than sufficient for urban and rural duties, though as an aside, the space-saver spare isn’t suitable for country trips.

The Vitara will suit young and elderly owners, the former for the features and the cabin space and the more mature people because the high hip point of the seats which make it easy to enter.

The wagon’s squared shape and high seat height also improve driver visibility and makes parking less stressful.

This is a vehicle designed for general consumption and does its job very well but all the factors mentioned here that make it attractive to a broad audience also work against it.

The height makes the body lean through corners and the higher centre of gravity doesn’t encourage handling and in the front-drive model here, induces some understeer.

The steering has electric-assistance that is generally pretty good though just off the straight ahead position becomes artificially weighted – a strange sense of the wheel being tugged from the driver’s hands.

Safety and servicing

Suzuki has a three-year or 100,000km warranty and has a short six-month or 10,000km service interval.

The capped-price service program is a generous five years or 100,000km but the Vitara’s prices are steep in comparison to its main rivals.

It will cost $1540 to service the Vitara for three years, which compares with the Mazda CX-3 at $867, the Honda HR-V at $880 and the Holden Trax at $687.

Glass’s Guide reports that the Vitara RT-S will have a resale after three years of 50 per cent of its original purchase price.

That equates with its competitors, with Mazda at 52 per cent, the Honda at 50 per cent and the Holden Trax at 48 per cent.

Verdict

Suzuki returns to the SUV market with a popular fit. The Vitara meets all the needs of the compact SUV buyer and adds more value than most of its rivals.

But the engine is a bit lacklustre. Fortunately, there is nothing outstandingly bad about the Vitara. It’s spacious, comfortable, versatile and fuel efficient.

The service costs are higher than the market average but the current driveaway incentive is a good deal. The Honda HR-V is better.

Rivals

Mazda CX-3 Maxx auto from $24,390 plus on-road costs
Mazda’s new baby is pounding up the sales charts as it replicates the magnetism of the Mazda 3 small car and Mazda CX-5 SUV. The wagon is small so perfect for a single or a couple based in the suburbs, less so for a family. It has a 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic.

Fuel use is 6.1L/100km. Standard features include sat-nav, 16-inch alloys, rear camera, rear park sensors and six-speaker audio. The boot size is 264-1174 litres. Mazda’s warranty is three years or unlimited distance and service intervals are annual with capped price servicing at $867 for three years.

Honda HR-V VTi from $24,990 plus on-road costs
New small SUV sits under the CR-V and uses a modified Jazz platform with a 105kW/172Nm 1.8-litre petrol engine. It has a CVT automatic and claims 6.6L/100km. It’s a clever wagon with Jazz’s “magic seats” versatility able to offer 437-1032 litres and carry two mountain bikes upright, with front wheels removed. Few rivals can do this.

Features include 16-inch alloys, stability control with passive steer, reverse camera, tyre pressure monitor and six-speaker audio. It has a three year/100,000km warranty. It has a capped-price service program costing $880 for 30,000km/three years and intervals are annual.

Holden Trax LS from $26,190 plus on-road costs
Once a competitive small SUV, the Trax has been pummeled by newer rivals. It is the most expensive and thirstiest here and has less features. Power is from a 103kW/175Nm 1.8 litre petrol driving the front wheels through a six-speed auto. It claims 7.6L/100km.

Features include 16-inch alloys, reverse camera, rear park sensors and six-speaker audio. The boot space is 356-785 litres. Holden’s warranty is three years/100,000km and the service interval is nine months or 15,000km. The capped price service program is for life and costs $687 for three years.

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