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Suzuki Vitara 2018 review: S Turbo 2WD

Has the Vitara badge been tamed? (image credit: Tom White)
EXPERT RATING
7
Suzuki has carved out a unique position in the pantheon of Australian motoring. It sits alongside Subaru in that ‘aspirational off-roader’ market space. For people who want something sensible for the everyday, with a bit of capacity for adventure. Most of that legend was built by one nameplate: Vitara.  This one,

Suzuki has carved out a unique position in the pantheon of Australian motoring.

It sits alongside Subaru in that ‘aspirational off-roader’ market space. For people who want something sensible for the everyday, with a bit of capacity for adventure.

Most of that legend was built by one nameplate: Vitara

This one, launched back in 2015, is the latest to wear the badge, but as it’s now in one of Australia’s most hotly contested market segments, it’s had to soften up a bit.

Should that scare off buyers? With all it’s Suzuki charm, I’d argue, no. But let me explain.

Saturday

The day was bright and clear, and we took the Vitara for a drive around Syndey's inner west and north. It let me acquaint myself with the quirks of the interior, and the interesting exterior of the little SUV.

There's plenty of that Suzuki DNA still present in the Vitara. (image credit: Tom White) There's plenty of that Suzuki DNA still present in the Vitara. (image credit: Tom White)

As you can probably see right away, the design of the latest Vitara hasn’t strayed too far from its blocky past. It’s all squared off at the front and back, has plenty of ground clearance and those plastic guards allude to a bit of off-road prowess. It’s way more funky than ever before, though.

At this grade, the S-Turbo, it has blacked-out alloy wheels and a three-tone colour scheme with black and grey highlights. There’s a selection of seven colours to pick from, this ‘Atlantis Turquoise Pearl’ proved a bit controversial among the friends I took for a ride in it. Can’t say I blame them. The whole package is certainly eye-catching, for better or worse.

The 17-inch blacked out alloys help to make it an eye-catching package. (image credit: Tom White) The 17-inch blacked out alloys help to make it an eye-catching package. (image credit: Tom White)

Inside, the funk factor wears off a bit. You’re met with cold, hard plastics across the dash, a design ethos that looks about a decade old, and componentry that will be familiar from other Suzuki products that have been on the market for quite some time. It’s all very sensibly laid out though, and I never found myself wondering where anything was, or how anything worked. 

There’s something to be said for delightful simplicity. The Jeep-esque clock in the centre of the dash is a nice touch, and the S-Turbo grade gets fake leather/suede seats that are not convincing, but quite comfortable, even in the summer heat.

It's not the most modern interior, but there's something to be said for the simplicity of it. (image credit: Tom White) It's not the most modern interior, but there's something to be said for the simplicity of it. (image credit: Tom White)

At $28,990, the Vitara S Turbo 2WD’s natural enemies are the Mitsubishi ASX LS ADAS ($28,500) Honda HR-V VTi-S ($27,990) and Hyundai’s new Kona Active AWD ($28,000).

The S-Turbo 2WD is in the middle of the range. At the price you get upgraded to the keyless entry (I found this useful when wrangling two dogs), push-start, gloss black versions of the standard “17 alloy wheels, auto-levelling LED headlamps (nice), and a slightly upgraded sound system to go with the multimedia system (still somehow pretty bad).

The interior is ‘red accented’, because red is fast and turbos are fast, and, well, you get it. My weekend guests noted how the red doesn't match anything else on the car, though. There’s also the addition of some ‘suede’ door trim which is nicer than plastic I suppose, but looks a bit out of place.

The 7.0-inch multimedia system looks terrible, like an off-the-shelf unit, but UI design aside actually functions reasonably well. It has a slightly buggy Apple CarPlay (ours crashed a few times), but weirdly no Android Auto, so tough luck if you’re in that camp. It also won’t let anyone input anything when the car is moving, which annoyed my partner no end.

You’ll note that Hyundai will offer you AWD on the Kona at this price, but with Suzuki that luxury will set you back a whole $4k more for the S Turbo AWD which is identically-equipped.

Despite compact dimensions, headroom and legroom are plentiful. (image credit: Tom White) Despite compact dimensions, headroom and legroom are plentiful. (image credit: Tom White)

The Vitara is neat dimension wise, I have a decent amount of room behind my own driving position, and that boxy shape really comes into play in the headroom space, where there is plenty. Competitors like the HR-V and Toyota’s C-HR are a little tighter in this space thanks to their swoopy coupe-like rooflines.

Boot space as well hits on class-average at 375 litres (VDA) and will max out at 1120 litres with the 60/40 seats down. For perspective, that just perfectly fits the big awkward CarsGuide pram, or a medium dog, but definitely not both.

Its cargo capacity is way bigger than Mazda’s CX-3 (264 litres), but also much smaller than an HR-V, which has an impressive 437 litres. There’s a strange false-floor in the boot where you can slide extra objects, a toolkit springs to mind. I put ironed shirts in there, so they didn’t get crushed.

  • Boot space with the seats up hits on class-average at 375 litres. (image credit: Tom White) Boot space with the seats up hits on class-average at 375 litres. (image credit: Tom White)
  • It'll max out at 1120 litres with the 60/40 seats down. (image credit: Tom White) It'll max out at 1120 litres with the 60/40 seats down. (image credit: Tom White)
  • There's also a false floor where you could put a toolbox or shirts, but not much else. (image credit: Tom White) There's also a false floor where you could put a toolbox or shirts, but not much else. (image credit: Tom White)

Elsewhere in the cabin there’s a slew of nicely sized bottle-holders in the doors, front passengers get four, rear passengers get two, plus there’s a deep extra space you can fit another bottle in. There’s no console bin for storage, so you’ll have to make do stowing loose objects in the passenger-side glove box.

Rear passengers get no air con vents. Tough in an Aussie summer, as we found out.

Sunday

Enough bits and bobs. How’s that turbo? I had a long drive to find out.

The Vitara S Turbo has a 1.4-litre turbocharged (duh) engine that produces 103kW/220Nm. That’s a very decent torque figure for such a small capacity engine.

It's a small engine, but also surprisingly willing thanks to some smart design. (image credit: Tom White) It's a small engine, but also surprisingly willing thanks to some smart design. (image credit: Tom White)

It makes all the difference because, while it’s less powerful than the HR-V, ASX and 2WD Kona variants, it has higher peak torque than those three, available across the important part of the rev range (1500-4000rpm). Thankfully, there’s no CVT auto to dull out the performance either, as all automatic Vitaras have six-speed torque converter transmissions.

What does all that engine stuff mean? Fun. I had huge amounts of fun in this small SUV, which is a phrase I didn’t think I’d find myself typing. 

My Sunday was a lot of driving around Sydney’s northern beaches, the big open roads and hills had me frequently surprised with just how much fight this engine had in it. Even up hills the torque converter lets you sit in the engine’s sweet-spot, and an excited hum from under the bonnet indicates a great little surge of acceleration.

You’ll hardly be winning any races, but the drive experience is a cut above the segment. It’s all helped by the Vitara being comprised almost entirely of aluminium, weighing in at just 1160kg, and having stiff MacPherson-strut front suspension which keeps the car incredibly planted through corners.

There are some downsides to this, though. While the light weight and suspension increased the fun-factor on nicely sealed roads, on pretty much any rough stuff it gets extremely busy, and the entire car starts to get bouncy and uncomfortable. High-riding Vitaras of days past, this is not.

Also impressive was the lack of road noise and the engine noise is mostly reduced to a dull whirr. This is probably thanks to the double-sealed doors, which are, unfortunately, annoyingly hard to close. You literally have to slam every door to shut it, including the boot.

The seals on the doors make the Vitara quiet, but they are annoyingly hard to close. (image credit: Tom White) The seals on the doors make the Vitara quiet, but they are annoyingly hard to close. (image credit: Tom White)

Suzuki claims you’ll be using 5.3 litres per 100km in the 2WD S Turbo, but if you have as much fun with that little engine as I did, expect more like 8.0L/100km. It also requires (at least) 95 octane petrol.

Safety is one of the biggest concerns for the Vitara, and an area in which it can’t hide its slightly aged technology. 

It has five-star ANCAP safety, as of late 2015 assessment, but since then cars have been expected to ship with up-to-date stuff like 'Auto Emergency Braking' (AEB), 'Blind Spot Monitoring' (BSM) and 'Lane Departure Warning' (LDW).

The Vitara has none of these, even as options. That really is a tall order in a tough segment where every little bit counts. The HR-V VTi-S scores Honda’s version of AEB as standard, you can add AEB and BSM to the Kona Active for just $1500, and, at this price, the ASX LS has the ADAS pack which includes AEB and LDW.

Sad news comes in the warranty department, too, where Suzuki are only offering a three-year/100,000km warranty. This is well below average considering the Kona, HR-V and ASX all have five-year/unlimited km cover. Suzuki products don’t exactly have a reputation for developing major problems, however.

Verdict

Suzuki likes to say the Vitara is the city SUV re-invented, but what that really means is the Vitara badge has been tamed and domesticated to the suburban and city life. 

It manages to inject a bunch of that boxy Suzuki DNA into a trendy-looking package that doesn’t compromise on practicality and is a lot of fun behind the wheel. It’s too bad about the dated interior and missing safety features that keep it away from the forefront of the segment. 

Would the Vitara be your city SUV of choice? Let us know why or why not in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$25,984
Based on 281 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$18,500
Highest Price
$32,240

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $21,788 – 25,240 2018 SUZUKI VITARA 2018 (base) Pricing and Specs
GL (2WD) (QLD) 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $16,720 – 21,450 2018 SUZUKI VITARA 2018 GL (2WD) (QLD) Pricing and Specs
GL+ 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $22,988 – 23,990 2018 SUZUKI VITARA 2018 GL+ Pricing and Specs
GLX (4x4) 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $25,410 – 31,350 2018 SUZUKI VITARA 2018 GLX (4x4) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Tom White
Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$22,342

Lowest price, based on 90 car listings in the last 6 months

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