IT’S a hot hatch, but not as we know it.
Suzuki has added a turbocharged boost to its Vitara SUV, just six months after the arrival of the all-new model.
Powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the flagship of the fleet undercuts its peers on price (when compared against equivalent model grades), starting at $29,990 drive-away for the front-wheel-drive automatic. A manual is not available.
The all-wheel-drive version is $32,990 plus on-road costs; there is currently no drive-away offer on this model.
According to Suzuki, the Vitara Turbo does the 0 to 100kmh dash in 9.5 seconds versus a rather leisurely 12.5 seconds for the regular non-turbo 1.6-litre model, which starts at $22,990 drive-away.
But when CarsGuide ran numbers on the Vitara Turbo we recorded a string of identical 8.4-second 0 to 100kmh times, proving it’s quicker than Suzuki’s claim, and extremely consistent.
While that performance may still not get revheads excited, it’s more than enough oomph for this class of “high riding hatchbacks”.
It’s also a helpful pointer to what we can expect when the next generation Suzuki Swift Sport arrives in a couple of years.
For something that has so much fire in its belly the engine is surprisingly quiet; you can barely hear it or feel it at idle, and on the move it’s a smooth operator.
When accelerating, there is a slightly deeper sound to the engine note and the rush of energy comes from low revs; there is no power delay or “turbo lag”.
It’s matched well to the six-speed automatic, which can be operated manually via tap shifters on the steering wheel if you’re so inclined.
Unlike most other engines in this class, the Vitara Turbo insists on premium unleaded (95 minimum) but in return it produces exceptional fuel economy numbers. We saw an average of 6.6L/100km after a 250km mix of freeway, city and suburban driving (skewed towards freeway running).
The strong engine and transmission combo thrive in the well-tuned chassis.
The steering, suspension and brakes are unchanged from the regular Vitara model.
The brakes have strong bite, and the steering makes the car feel much smaller than it is.
It rides comfortably over bumps and corners with precision and confidence thanks to European tuning (this Suzuki is made in Hungary) and superb Continental 17-inch tyres.
Unlike two of the regular Vitara models we road tested six months ago, the Turbo’s steering doesn’t hunt or wander in the straight ahead position at 80kmh. If there has been a subtle change in steering calibration (we suspect there has, for the better) Suzuki isn’t saying.
As the top of the Vitara range, the Turbo comes well equipped with LED headlights, front and rear sensors, a rear view camera, Apple CarPlay plus a built-in navigation unit, auto up and down window for the driver, cruise control, sensor key, sports leather seats and steering wheel with red stitching, and red highlights around the cabin air vents.
Just don’t go looking for a Turbo badge. The only way to pick this model is the black wheels (rather than grey) and vertical bars on the grille (rather than horizontal).
The Vitara Turbo is close to perfect but, alas, no car is without room for improvement.
It lacks a large digital speed readout in the instrument cluster, the guiding lines for the rear-view camera don’t turn with the steering, and the doors need a decent shove to close properly (as is the case with the regular Vitara model).
We’re not sure if it’s the light weight of the doors or the strong rubber seals around the frame that make the Vitara doors hard to close, but it’s something you quickly adjust to.
A full-size spare would be a welcome addition, too, given there is so much available boot space.
Overall, though, the Vitara Turbo was a pleasant surprise. The extra grunt complements one of the sharpest handling and most comfortable chassis in the baby SUV class.