When it was first launched, there wasn’t much around in the way of competition. In fact, the original Vitara more or less kick-started the whole compact SUV philosophy, blending styling fit for both city and countryside with surprisingly capable off-road ability. Then came the more spacious XL-7 and the perhaps accidentally omnipotent Grand Vitara, which has over the decades attracted a cult image and an ardent fanbase. Despite various nips and tucks keeping the Grand Vitara alive, it had begun to feel long in the tooth and the thirsty 2.4-litre petrol engine was becoming a ball and chain as far as Suzuki meeting overall emissions targets for its range. The compact SUV segment has proliferated in recent years and is awash with myriad crossovers from manufacturers across the spectrum, so to keep the Vitara’s flame burning and shining even more brightly, Suzuki needed to bling up and get with it
With vivid, two-tone exterior colours, attractive LED daytime running lights, a bold grille and a face that rivals the Evoque for presence, the new Vitara looks suitably dope from dead-on, side-on and from the front three-quarters. I just reckon the styling of the Mitsubishi ASX-esque rear looks homogenised to the point of being a little bland, but admittedly it may be a safer bet with more resultant universal appeal than the controversially-styled Nissan Juke or equally divisive Fiat 500X. Atlantis Turquoise and Horizon Orange certainly look distinctive but I’d actually opt for Silky Silver, Cosmic Black, Galactic Grey, Superior White or, most uncharacteristically for me, Bright Red, which does what it says on the tin and is rather splendid in the flesh. An abundance of styling options is offered, from a rear spoiler, black alloys and extra sprinkles of chrome courtesy of the Urban Pack, to black front fog lamp bezels and beefed-up skid plates if you choose the Rugged Pack. The biggest compliment I can give the 2015 Vitara is to say that based on aesthetics I’d pick one in SZ5 trim with the Rugged Pack any day, over a Juke, Mokka, Captur, Cactus, 2008 and even Ssangyong’s new Tivoli. The new Vitara’s most premium rival is the predictably more expensive Škoda Yeti. Other slightly larger SUVs like the ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai aren’t in the frame because the new Vitara is smaller, designed to appeal to trendy urban warrior types and strategically pitched against the aforementioned more compact offerings. Suzuki’s aim is to let the 2015 Vitara compete with similar small SUVs, whilst its very own SX4 S-Cross jostles with the Qashqai et al in the crossover category.
Inside, the new Vitara offers a commanding driving position, typical of a small SUV. Curiously, it doesn’t actually feel that much less accommodating than a Qashqai or S-Cross and the sliding panoramic sunroof enhances the airiness even further. The front seats can only be adjusted manually but offer plenty of support and bolstering and should prove comfortable for most people, and the leather and suede combination in SZ5 spec’ cars is highly recommended. Some of the materials used in the cabin are unarguably harsh but the advantage is that they will stand the test of time and Suzuki has thoughtfully incorporated suede door cards to soften the overall ambience. The rear seating compartment is equally spacious and the Vitara’s 375-litre boot capacity is roughly 20 litres more than a Juke and a mere 2 litres short of a Renault Captur, but less than the 416 litres in a Škoda Yeti.
It’s refreshing to find a conventional handbrake in the new Vitara and not one of those electronic thingies, and the standard kit list is nothing short of impressive, with Bluetooth, DAB radio, Halogen headlights, auto air conditioning and cruise control fitted to the entry-level SZ4. Sat nav, rear privacy glass, a reverse parking camera, smartphone link and larger 17” alloys come with SZ-T trim, while SZ5 gives you keyless entry, electric folding wing mirrors, those lovely suede and leather seats and panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, adaptive cruise control and radar braking, meaning the new Vitara has upped its safety game, too. Seven airbags including a driver’s knee airbag also make their way into the new Vitara. The 7-inch touchscreen infotainment screen looks smart and functions intuitively, looking less of an afterthought than in the S-Cross. Extroverts will love the personalisation on offer, from body-coloured dashboard inserts and vent surrounds, flamboyant gear stick gaiters and steering wheel trim to colourful door sills and carpet mat sets.
Although Suzuki has clearly and effectively created a car that will appeal to the fashion-conscious lifestyle brigade, I get the feeling that DNA and heritage were still hugely motivating factors in the new Vitara’s development as, despite being more compact than the Grand Vitara, it retains a definite sense of ruggedness. Having experienced Suzuki’s ALLGRIP four-wheel drive system in the S-Cross, I would highly recommend that SZ5 buyers should tick it when specifying their cars. Although I miss the endearingly simplistic low range and diff lock controls in the outgoing Grand Vitara, the ALLGRIP system is a doddle to use. Auto manages the proceedings for you, Snow locks the diff for when surface conditions dictate, Lock manages traction from each corner in sticky situations via the limited slip differential and Sport really does sharpen the throttle response noticeably. The off-road sections tackled during the UK launch in Somerset were fairly tame, each car shod with road tyres, but by including hill descent control on SZ5 ALLGRIP models, it’s safe to say that aside from the Yeti and 500X, the new Vitara should beat a Captur, Mokka or 2008 when the going gets rough. It’s heart-warming to see that the new Vitara is still proud of its off-road ability.
Two 1.6-litre engines are offered, one diesel, one petrol, Suzuki again keeping things simple. My pick is definitely the DDiS diesel unit, which, despite being noticeably vociferous in 1st and 2nd gears, is much punchier and becomes pleasantly refined when speed is built up, making the diesel Vitara a decent 6-speed cruiser. Physical operation of the manual gearbox, with a lever that is leaps and bounds more tactile than the stick of rhubarb effort in the Grand Vitara, takes a few up and down shifts to overcome any initial notches, after which it becomes nothing but agreeable. Floor the accelerator and all you get at 6,000rpm is a lot of clatter and no noticeable pace, the 120PS diesel engine’s forte found in the mid-range, where it pulls nicely. The steering doesn’t abound in communicative feel but is nicely weighted and combines with effective damping to grant the new Vitara with decent cornering ability and general handling.
Having covered around 25 miles in a diesel Vitara, I then drove a mere handful of miles in a petrol model, mainly on moderate off-road surfaces. Typically, it needs more revs and for gear changes to be made as late as possible using the 5-speed manual gearbox, to get the best out of its identical 120PS. Compared to the diesel engine’s 320Nm torque, the petrol only produces 156Nm, meaning some will find it less refined to live with than the likeable if slightly gruff diesel unit, which is actually one tenth of a second faster to 62mph. Both petrol and diesel engines are Euro 6 compliant, the ALLGRIP diesel emitting 111g/km CO2 and claiming 67.2mpg combined, compared to 131g/km and 49.5mpg from the ALLGRIP petrol model. The two-wheel drive diesel is unsurprisingly the most economical choice, with figures of 70.6mpg and 106g/km, which are pretty impressive.
Prices for the new 2015 Suzuki Vitara start at £13,999 for the base SZ4 model, £15,499 for an SZ-T and £17,999 for an SZ5, all with the petrol engine. Adding £500 to the SZ-T gives you the Rugged or Urban Pack. The cheapest way to own a 4×4 Vitara is by buying a petrol SZ5 ALLGRIP priced at £19,799. My pick happens to be the range-topper in the form of the SZ5 ALLGRIP diesel with Rugged Pack, costing £21,799. A similarly-specified Fiat 500X will require you forking out a couple of grand more, making the Vitara seem like a no-brainer in the value stakes, but a Qashqai from higher up the SUV pecking order is only a few grand more, too.
The new for 2015 Suzuki Vitara should without a doubt make it onto the shortlist of anyone toying with the idea of a compact SUV. Its styling is attractive from most angles and the bright colour palette is just what’s needed, considering the raft of competition out there. Utterly radical it isn’t, but that’s a good thing as it should hence attract both Suzuki loyalists and newbies. The cabin may not showcase the plushest materials but at least it’ll wear well after years of use and even abuse, and the standard equipment fitted to the new Vitara is very impressive, not leaving it lacking in any department. Although its steering is a bit woolly and the diesel engine sounds slightly unrefined when initially fired up, it settles down into a very decent cruiser with strong mid-range pull, surprisingly controlled handling with little body roll in corners and nicely spaced gear ratios. The petrol needs working harder and noticeably lacks torque, and if you can afford the small uplift, it’s well worth going for ALLGRIP for added peace of mind along with better off-road ability than many of its rivals. It’s not the cheapest small SUV but the middling pricing seems perfectly reasonable considering what you get in terms of space, features and economy, with a hint of Suzuki’s revered ruggedness woven into the package.