SUZUKI ADDS TURBO POWER TO THE ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED COMPACT SUV AND COMES UP WITH A DIMINUTIVE ALL-ROUNDER PRIMED TO TAKE THE FIGHT TO THE COMPETITION
Surprisingly it’s not often you get to chuck a compact SUV around a muddy bog. Despite the traditional image of SUVs as the ideal tools with which to carve paths through difficult terrain, few owners actually buy them for this sort of activity.
Many manufacturers dispense with the pretense altogether these days, offering up 2WD versions of their mid-size SUVs with unashamed straight faces.
Buyers, it would seem, are equally unashamed; usually cheaper, a bit lighter and with less to potentially go wrong, front-driver models are rapidly increasing in popularity for every manufacturer that makes them.
So it goes with Suzuki. You can buy a 2WD version of the Vitara with either a manual or automatic gearbox. The entry-level JLX 2WD manual is only $27,990, which is very good value considering the amount of compact SUV that price gets you.
But as we were recently reminded while attending the media launch event for the just-released turbo version of Suzuki’s revitalised Vitara, plumbing for the two-wheel-drive model — while cost effective — is kind of missing the point of this particular compact SUV. The Vitara, after all, is a seriously accomplished off-roader, with both pedigree and technology on its side.
A soggy grey winter’s day proved the perfectly inclement conditions to send the Vitara Turbo out on to a four-wheel drive track which, quite frankly, I would have approached with caution were I in some loftily suspended 4x4 ute, let alone this small SUV.
A few cringe-inducing thumps from rocks to the underbody aside (the Vitara belies its crossover status with ground clearance of 185mm), the car skipped its way through the muck with confidence.
No, you’re not going to ford a river in the new Vitara (try a snorkel-wearing Jimny for that). But while you might never feel you’d need to deploy any of its ALLGRIP Drive Mode Select settings, it’s nice to know they’re there; even if it’s simply to take the fear factor out of negotiating a metal driveway on a frosty mid-winter morning.
As the nameplate suggests, Suzuki has gone all-out with the Vitara Turbo in terms of upping the sportiness stakes. In addition to the more powerful Boosterjet turbo engine (it offers up an extra 17kW of power and 64Nm of torque over the bigger 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine in JLX models), the Vitara Turbo takes on a more aggressive exterior look with standard gloss black 17” alloys, a racier chrome grille and satin silver door mirrors. It even sees red (sort of), boasting red ring surrounds on its LED headlamps.
Inside the cabin, the red theme continues, with red stitching in the leather-and-suede sports seats and around the steering wheel and red accents around both the air conditioning vents and the dials in the instrument panel. At your feet you’ll find the sports theme continues with aluminium pedals.
Otherwise, the same generous specification from the JLX grade applies. The Turbo replaces the old Vitara Limited, so this is as good as it gets. And with convenience features such as satellite navigation, a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay compatibility with Siri voice control, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming and privacy glass remaining, the getting is pretty good.
The turbo engine really delivers on-road as well. Suzuki’s efforts on the scales mean the car feels light on its toes.
Suzuki is proud of the fact the Vitara Turbo offers up a power-to-weight ratio that is “best in class”; in 2WD guise it weighs less than the Mazda CX-3, Holden Trax and Honda HR-V.
With maximum torque being delivered low in the rev range and that Boosterjet turbo charger coming on-song in a lovely, measured manner without any discernable lag, the car responds brilliantly to a boot from the right foot. It’s not a big SUV to start with, but out on the road it hides its bulk well, feeling nimble and never short of breath. In many ways it feels like a Swift Sport to drive, which I think is about as good a compliment as I can deliver.
This is the first time we’ve seen the new direct-injection turbo engine, but Suzuki says there will be other uses for it in the future, which sounds promising. A Swift Sport Turbo? Now that would be fun. Your top-spec Vitara Turbo AWD will cost you $37,990 and if you want a contrasting black roof you’ll need to find another $800. That’s getting up there for a small SUV, although a 2WD version can be had for under $35k (remember what I wrote earlier about front-driver versions becoming more popular?).
Comparing the entry-level Vitara Turbo with its main competitors suggests Suzuki has done well with its pricing; the equivalent Mazda CX-3, Holden Trax, Mitsubishi ASX and Honda HR-V all cost more. And in my opinion, apart from the Mazda CX-3 which remains a pretty wee thing in its own angular way, the Vitara Turbo is the pick of the bunch in terms of exterior design too.
Augmenting those sportier looks with the Vitara Turbo’s decent level of specification and genuinely enjoyable on-road manners makes for a real all-rounder compact SUV.
All of a sudden the suggestion that Suzuki’s quality range offering begins and ends with the Swift seems thoroughly outdated.
SUZUKI VITARA TURBO
1.4-litre four-cylinder Boosterjet petrol turbo (103kW/220Nm)