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Suzuki still gets it. The company that turned the Swift, an inconsequential small hatchback, into a raging sales success, worn as a good taste badge of honour by males and females of all ages, may have done it again.
The fifth-generation Vitara comes in two-wheel and four-wheel drive in two specification levels – RT-S and RT-X – the former in five-speed manual or six-speed automatic format; the range topper RT-X only in six-speed auto with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifts.
Both are powered by Suzuki's M16 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine putting out 88kW of power and 156Nm of torque. The RT-S manual 2WD comes to market at $21,990, while the RT-X flagship, which adds a panoramic sunroof, suede/leather interior and Suzuki Allgrip 4WD system, among other upgrades, carries a $10,000 premium.
At launch, drive-away pricing is being offered – $22,990 for the manual, with the auto available from just $24,990. The entry-level RT-S two-wheel drive manual was the test vehicle.
Suzuki has taken a leaf out of the Mini manual to offer a long shopping list of options, including contrasting roof colours, matching interior panels and unique wheels to attract the individualist car buyer.
Besides the black roof with silver rails, the red test vehicle featured just enough garnish, including grey grille and bumper inserts front and back, plus similar shade wheels. Exterior accessories like black grilles and black alloy wheels, born out of Suzuki's pre-launch ‘Design and Win a Vitara competition', can add even more attitude.
All models come standard with satellite navigation, reversing camera, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass and more, while Vitara's traditional clam shell bonnet has been carried over, so everything's not all shiny and new.
Audio sound quality is that of a more expensive vehicle
Following on from exterior options, buyers can mix and match two-tone body colours with interchangeable accessory panels to create their own unique interior look.
Instrument and controls are simplicity themselves, with speedo and tacho rings, and digital info centre, bringing up fuel status, range and more. The centre console is home to climate control air-conditioning controls, while directly above is an analogue clock – a nice, quality touch usually only found in luxury vehicles.
The touch screen displays a quadrant of information including audio, sat nav, phone and Bluetooth connectivity. Simple screen switching and control of some of the four offerings is complemented by steering wheel-mounted buttons.
Screen clarity is excellent, with 3-D mapping and a wide-angle view from the reversing camera some of the best around. Audio sound quality is that of a more expensive vehicle too.
The new Vitara is powered by the M16 1.6-litre petrol engine. Lower friction and weight savings in the engine and related components are designed to come up with fuel economy and generous power output (88kW) and torque (165Nm), both available when most needed – in this case 6000 and 4400rpm, respectively.
The five-speed manual transmission is fitted with a shift-lever counterweight to produce a smooth, positive action, making for pleasant driving, the six-speed automatic's wide gear-ratio range allows precise control over gear ratios to help with response at low vehicle speeds.
The Vitara cries out for a sixth cog
Standard fitment on every new Vitara is an electronic stability program, hill hold control and reversing camera; seven airbags including dual front, side and curtain airbags and drivers knee airbag.
Suzuki's impact absorbing body technology and pedestrian protection impact absorbing structures also add to Vitara's safety credentials.
While performance far from matches European SUVs, handling of the two-wheel drive test car was easy going with little to take the driver by surprise, neither was it enough to stir his or her blood.
Fuel consumption of the 1.6-litre powered manual vehicle was 7L/100km around town and four on the open road, against the maker's claim of 5.8L/100km on the combined urban/highway cycle.
The new Vitara is left behind somewhat by its five-speed manual transmission. Many of today's manuals are six speed to cash in on fuel economy and performance. The Vitara cries out for a sixth cog.
For a stubby gearshift, the lever has a surprisingly long(ish) throw and requires the full attention of the driver between notches. On the other hand, optimum shifts are suggested on the system information screen directly behind the steering wheel.
The car also suffers from Sunshine State Syndrome. With the windscreen at such a raked angle in bright sunlight, reflection on the instrument panel glass all but completely obscures the speedo and tacho dials.
It may have been the fire-engine red paintwork with contrasting black roof and grey bits, but the test car turned quite a few heads, which is a good start for sales in such a congested market. It's no hot hatch but a well-spec'd versatile vehicle with competitive pricing. The latest Vitara could well be the new Swift.
|GL (2WD) (qld)||1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$9,900 – 14,850||2015 Suzuki Vitara 2015 GL (2WD) (qld) Pricing and Specs|
|GL+||1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$10,700 – 15,730||2015 Suzuki Vitara 2015 GL+ Pricing and Specs|
|GLX (4X4)||1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$15,400 – 21,780||2015 Suzuki Vitara 2015 GLX (4X4) Pricing and Specs|
|RT-S||1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$13,990 – 19,990||2015 Suzuki Vitara 2015 RT-S Pricing and Specs|