The Suzuki Vitara has been in the vanguard of the blossoming SUV crossover set for many years. While Nissan hoovers up all the plaudits for its runaway-successful Qashqai and Juke, it’s worth reflecting on just what domestic rival Suzuki has achieved too.
Don’t forget Suzuki launched the Jimny in 1970 and the Vitara you see here can trace its lineage all the way back to 1988. It’s gone on to sell 3 million worldwide since, so it’s worth revisiting the Vitara to see what all the fuss is about. These guys know a thing or two about SUVs in no-frills, good-value packages.
We drove the new 2015 Suzuki Vitara in prototype form to find out what you can expect from next year’s new crossover.
Suzuki Vitara (2015): the detail
This new 4×4 is based on the architecture underpinning the S-Cross SUV. It’s a similar size to rivals such as the Peugeot 2008, Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti and you can see an attempt at personalisation in the dual-tone rooftops and blacked-out window pillars to give a dose of Mini chic.
Two engines are offered in the new Vitara: a 1.6-litre petrol and diesel, both producing 115bhp. Pick the diesel if you often drive four-up with luggage, or tow, since the derv produces a lustier 236lb ft at just 1750rpm.
What’s the new Vitara like inside?
You won’t mistake the Vitara for something wearing a premium, German badge, on the evidence of the late prototypes we drove. It’s certainly roomy enough (if not quite as big as a Yeti in the cabin), and the 375-litre boot has a handy adjustable floor to let you configure the loadbay to carry all sorts of stuff.
Our beef is with the dashboard plastics. You can spec body-coloured trim to lift the otherwise dark interior, but many of the materials used in here are shiny and resoundingly cheap-looking to the eye and the finger. A shame when so many rivals now offer more stylish, peppier cabins.
You can spec accessory packages dubbed Urban (chrome trim aka bling) and Rugged (faux-by-four look, with skid plates at both ends and plastic body cladding for extra bump protection) if you want to personalise your Vitara further.
How does the 2015 Suzuki Vitara drive?
We tested both the petrol and diesel models and came away much preferring the oil-burner. The diesel can be a little grumbly at times, but it’s a far more flexible powerplant. The diesel also comes with a six-speed manual, where the 1.6 petrol makes do with just five ratios. You can spec the petrol engine with a six-speed auto, however.
The diesel is also a better bet from a running costs perspective: CO2 emissions from 106g/km in front-wheel drive guise are exceptionally low (no mpg figure has been announced yet, but it’ll be frugal), whereas the 1.6 petrol has claims of 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and 123g/km of CO2.
Suzuki’s AllGrip four-wheel drive system is familiar from cars such as the S-Cross and it lets you select Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock modes to prepare the 4wd hardware. It works well, traction proving grippy and failsafe on our test. Not that performance is electric with the humble 1.6s available: the 0-62mph times are likely to fall somewhere in the 11.5sec bracket.
As these are late prototypes, their spring and damper rates are still being finalised, says Suzuki, so it’s unfair to get stuck into the chassis too much. We found it a sharp-steering, fun drive though; if anything, the ride felt slightly too firm for UK roads.
Should you consider a Suzuki Vitara when it arrives in UK dealers in March 2015? It feels like a strong new entrant in the affordable compact crossover segment, especially when you factor in the likely £14,000 starting price. For a family friendly SUV with the option to have Mirrorlink smartphone compatibility, excellent seven-inch touchscreen sat-navs and even radar-based safety systems, that’s got to be something of a steal. We’ll be testing the finished production cars soon enough to make a definitive judgment.