Car reviews - Suzuki - Vitara - RT-X Diesel
Price, fun to drive, low fuel economy, cabin flexibility, engineering quality
Room for improvement
Tinny door-close noise, hard plastics in cabin, front spoiler constricts off-roading
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18 Oct 2016
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
FOR the sake of duplicity, the Suzuki 1.6 RT-X diesel all-wheel drive has the same equipment as the S Turbo petrol, save for the diesel adding a sunroof at no extra costs and having different cabin trim.
The Vitara range opens with the entry-level 2WD at $21,990 plus on-road costs, rising to $32,990 plus costs for the most basic (and it’s not really) all-wheel drive model, lifting to $35,990 for the single diesel variant – the RT-X – tested here.
Most attention will be on this new relative comer, combining a diesel engine with an automatic transmission and a part-time all-wheel-drive system.
It is the only diesel in the Vitara range and, in fact, the only Suzuki with a diesel engine these days.
For buyers wanting an oil-burner, this is an excellent variant with all the sensible features of the S Turbo at a comparatively minor $3000 premium over the top-spec petrol.
The RT-X naturally sits on the same platform as the rest of the Vitara range and its generous 2500mm wheelbase gives good cabin space.
The rear seats will comfortably seat two adults and perhaps three at a stretch – the centre drive hump being the main obstruction – and it shares the petrol variant’s 375 litres of boot space with the rear seat up and 1120 litres when folded almost flat.
Side by side, the diesel gets a panoramic glass roof and sliding glass section as standard. The petrol model misses out so buyers may feel that with the more expensive and more frugal engine, plus the roof, they have got value for money.
The diesel also gets an additional cabin light – no, I don’t know why this innocuous item appears here and not on the petrol – but misses out on the red stitching in the seats and the suede-look inserts.
For all other details, read the Vitara S Turbo review.
Engine and transmission
Suzuki uses its own, highly lauded, engineering to produce its petrol-fuelled engines but doesn’t have any in-house diesels.
Despite having a relationship with Volkswagen – one that was at best, strained, and has now ceased – it didn’t use the German’s diesel engines. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Instead it sources its diesels from Renault. It used the French manufacturer’s 1.9-litre turbo-diesel in the Grand Vitara 4WD but, with Renault ending this engine’s production, Suzuki has found no replacement. The Grand Vitara range is now an all-petrol business.
The Vitara uses Renault’s newer 1.6-litre unit delivering 88kW at 3750rpm and 320Nm of torque at 1750rpm – figures that perfectly suit the automatic-only transmission offering.
This engine is related to the unit in the Trafic commercial van, but unlike the Trafic, has only a single turbocharger.
Suzuki claims the diesel is capable of an official combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 4.9 litres per 100km – an excellent return for a compact all-wheel drive.
The surprise was that a blend of freeway, slow off-road and lots of suburban and traffic crawling, the test wagon averaged 5.7L/100km.
Lots to be happy about here because that will give the Vitara a possible range of 825 kilometres.
It is also a fun engine to operate, with loads of low-speed grunt for quick traffic-light getaways and a wide gearbox ratio spread so it cruises at 100km/h at around 1500rpm with minimal engine noise.
The engine drives through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission to an on-demand drive system dubbed Allgrip by Suzuki. Like the petrol Allgrip version, it is a front-drive layout with rear drive selected automatically.
It has a Sport button for more engine and transmission response, a Snow button for low-speed slippery work and a Lock button that – as it says – locks front and rear drive at low speeds.
This combination of the frisky small-bore diesel and the rapid-change gearshift is one of the best around in the small-SUV sector. The excellent fuel economy is just the icing on the cake.
Ride and handling
Like the petrol variant, the diesel is a nimble handler. Suzuki announced when the Vitara was launched that it wanted the new SUV to have similar on-road performance as its neat small-car, the Swift.
It’s more than just a patriotic brag. The Vitara has confident handling and precise – if a little light – electric-assist steering so it can be pushed quickly into corners with neutral handling and only some disconcerting bodyroll to slow the driver.
The same pleasant experience can be levied at its ride, which is supple and only gets a bit jumpy when the road has a rough, corrugated finish.
In the dirt it handles as well as many larger SUVs, despite its relatively lightweight body that turns the scales at 1325kg, some 90kg more than the S Turbo.
Going deeper into the rough off-road tracks starts to show up the limitations of the ground clearance and – especially – that deep front spoiler.
But the gutsy diesel engine and the broad-ratios of the transmission, plus the hill descent control, make it quite capable on smooth gravel and on firm sandy tracks.
Safety and servicing
The specifications of the safety inventory are identical to the S Turbo model but here they are again for good measure.
Suzuki has a capped-price service program that will cost $1540 for three years.
The program lasts for five years. The downside is that it has a six-monthly service schedule that could become tiresome for owners.
The warranty is an industry standard of three years or 100,000 kilometres, and there is no roadside assist program.
Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control with brakeforce distribution, brake assistance, seven airbags, reversing camera and front and rear park sensors.
For off-road work there is also a hill holder and hill descent system. It is let down by a space-saver spare wheel.
It has received a five-star rating from ANCAP.
Glass’s Guide estimates that the S Turbo will retain 52 per cent of its purchase price after three years. Other Vitara variants are rated at 50 per cent, indicating future buyer interest in this turbocharged-petrol model.
The RT-X diesel is the best choice in the all-wheel-drive Vitara range. Easy to drive, compact to park and roomy enough for four, it is only let down by its conservative design and the strength of competitors such as the Mazda CX-3. One that has to be driven if you’re in the compact-SUV market.
Mazda CX-3 sTouring from $33,390 plus on-road costs
Slick baby Mazda crossover is hard to go past with lots of features and looks. It has a peppy 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine and six-speed automatic with on-demand AWD. Fuel use is 5.1 L/100km. Standard gear includes sat-nav, leather, LED headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels. Luggage space is 264-1174 litres. But it has a small cabin and poor rear-seat legroom.
Mitsubishi ASX XLS from $36,490 plus on-road costs
This has been around for yonks and is still a reliable, durable and desirable SUV. It’s bigger than most rivals (it shares the platform with the Outlander) so has spacious cabin room and a 393-1193 litre boot. Standard kit includes leather, heated front seats, sat-nav and 18-inch alloy wheels. Warranty is an excellent five years or 100,000km.
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