Iain Curry and Jules Lucht with 2019 Suzuki Vitara
Iain Curry and Jules Lucht with 2019 Suzuki Vitara

Vitara, the cheap and cheerful SUV

Suzuki's Vitara has just been given a minor nose job and equipment tweaks, boosting its credentials as one of the best-value small SUVs on sale.

Vitara Series II may not have the retro cool or off-road talents of its new little brother, the Jimny, but priced from just $23,990 drive away, it's a more sensible and practical choice for bitumen-bound buyers. Our family of four tests the base version.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

JULES: What's this cutie?

IAIN: The updated Suzuki Vitara, perfectly packaged for the small SUV fan.

JULES: It's attractive, not too big or small and quite chunky. Will it go off-road?

IAIN: You can get an AllGrip all-wheel drive version but ours is the dirt-cheap 2WD, with manual gearbox and basic engine.

Iain: “Minimal safety kit and weedy engine.” Jules: “It’s hardly a sports car.”
Iain: “Minimal safety kit and weedy engine.” Jules: “It’s hardly a sports car.”

JULES: How dirt-cheap?

IAIN: $23,990 drive away, or $1000 more if you're in Queensland where Suzuki has a different distributor.

JULES: So an alternative to a family hatchback then?

IAIN: Yep. For Toyota Corolla or VW Golf money you can live out your SUV desires. Expect similar space to a small hatchback but fewer interior niceties and kit.

JULES: Yes but these are easier to get into, you ride higher and the world and his wife want SUV styling these days.

IAIN: True. Our entry-level Vitara gets attractive grey 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and smart keyless entry but there's minimal modern safety kit and its petrol engine has a weedy 86kW.

JULES: Performance doesn't matter. It's hardly a sports car.

IAIN: Turbo Vitaras are available with more guts and decent safety kit, but you're looking at $29,990 drive-away at least.

THE LIVING SPACE

JULES: It's no frills inside, isn't it?

IAIN: I wouldn't say no frills. Few frills. If that's a thing. The seven-inch touchscreen runs Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satnav and rear camera - add push button start and climate control and it isn't bad at this price.

JULES: Yes, but the cloth seats feel very basic and upright and there's an awful lot of hard plastic around.

No frills: Utilitarian cockpit’s touchscreen has smartphone mirroring, satnav and rear camera
No frills: Utilitarian cockpit’s touchscreen has smartphone mirroring, satnav and rear camera

IAIN: I'm with you on the hard plastic; Suzuki doesn't mind plastering the stuff everywhere in its cars. The dash top is soft to the touch but the centre console and doors - which you touch the most - are solid slabs of hardness. There's not even a surround for the door handles.

JULES: I like the old-school clock in the dash. Phone connectivity is great and so are steering wheel controls. What's with the digital screen in the instrument cluster?

IAIN: That's your multi-information colour LCD display. Shows stuff like instantaneous fuel economy and power and torque telemetry.

JULES: Wow, vital stuff on a small SUV. Anything useful like a digital speedo?

IAIN: Er, no.

THE COMMUTE

JULES: Is it just me or are manual SUVs as rare as rocking horse poo?

IAIN: There are a few examples out there but barely anyone buys them. This one has just five forward gears - these days the norm is six.

JULES: If your commute doesn't involve traffic, it's all good. I like the Vitara's easy shifting manual and it cruises comfortably at 110km/h - a sixth ratio to drop revs on the freeway would be handy.

IAIN: The 1.6-litre engine takes some convincing to get up to speed but it sips such a small amount of fuel
I can see the benefit. We averaged 5.9L/100km. Excellent for a non-turbo petrol SUV, helped by it weighing just 1135kg - a mighty 200kg less than the segment-leading Mitsubishi ASX.

THE SHOPPING

JULES: The boot's a good height for loading in the shopping but it's not that big.

IAIN: At 375L, it's less than a small hatchback such as a VW Golf or Hyundai i30, a bit less than small SUV rivals, the ASX and Toyota CH-R, but loads more than the Mazda CX-3's shoebox boot.

JULES: The rear camera's good for parking but sensors would be good too.

SUNDAY RUN

IAIN: Suzuki makes excellent, small off-roaders and, even though this is just 2WD, I'm happy slinging it along unsealed roads. Its 185mm ground clearance makes it less soft-roader than most of the genre.

Not-so-soft-roader: Vitara handles and steers well and has decent ground clearance
Not-so-soft-roader: Vitara handles and steers well and has decent ground clearance

JULES: I reckon it's at its best as a city or town car; it's easy to manoeuvre and I wouldn't hunt out fun roads due to the engine's lack of power.

IAIN: It suffers from being non-turbo. You really have to hold revs with the manual gears to get some oomph, and it sure laboured up a hill with the whole family on board. It handles and steers really well for an SUV, even when pushed hard in the turns.

THE FAMILY

JULES: Plenty of rear space for the two kids in car seats. Two adults do well on headroom but legroom is a bit tight.

IAIN: Lack of rear air vents for the kids isn't great and modern active safety kit is lacking. Higher-grade Vitaras get autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. This should be a $1500-or-so cost option on our entry grade but it's not available.

JULES: These features are standard on a lot of cheaper cars. As a safety-conscious mum, I'd prefer my car to have them.

IAIN: Fuel economy helps the family budget but Vitaras need servicing every six months, ending up being quite costly and inconvenient. Five-year warranty and three-year roadside assist are wins though.

VERDICT

No title, From: Supplied
No title, From: Supplied

JULES: The safety kit may be lacking but, if you didn't want a family hatchback, the Vitara's a cheap and cheerful way into SUV ownership for similar money. It looks funky too.

IAIN: As long as you don't get rental car white like ours. Spend $1250 (or haggle with the dealer) on yellow, red or turquoise with black roof and it's a jazzy number. The Vitara's a solid, value choice for the unpretentious SUV shopper.

SUZUKI VITARA GL

PRICE $23,990 ($24,990 Qld) drive-away

WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/140,000km, $1540 for 3 years/60,000km

SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, reversing camera, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, brake assist, speed limiter

ENGINE 1.6-litre 4-cyl, 86kW/156Nm

THIRST 5.8L/100km

SPARE Space-saver

BOOT 375L


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