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Suzuki Vitara 2021 review

Far from a another beige SUV, the current Suzuki Vitara's design has stood the test of time well.

Daily driver score

3.3/5

Urban score

3.3/5

Suzuki invented the modern compact SUV. It’s funny how quickly people forget.

Yes, the pioneering Vitara of 1988 rode on a ladder-frame chassis so was not car based, but it was successful enough to show the way for others to follow. Chiefly, Toyota, with the seminal Corolla-derived first-gen RAV4 of 1994.

Fun fact: this earliest Vitara was also known as the Suzuki Escudo (Japan) and Sidekick (North America), as well as the GMC/Geo/Chevrolet Tracker and Pontiac Sunrunner (USA), Asüna Sunrunner (Canada), and perhaps most evocatively, Wanli WLZ5020XLD and Guangtong GTQ5020XLZ (China).

So, respect to the Vitara, especially since it has evolved over four redesigns, eight different badges and 33 years, from fashionable 4x4 leisure machine to 4x4 off-roader (1998 FT and 2005 JT Grand Vitara) to 2015’s monocoque-bodied JY-series small SUV.

How does the 2021 JY Series II Vitara 1.6 auto stand up? Keep on reading.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Call it a Covid tax, but the price of the base auto Vitara has jumped $2000 this year, to $26,990 before on-road costs. Top tip: you can save yourself $2000 if you elect to drive the sweeter manual version instead.

Either way, however, this is a problem for buyers, because it puts the ageing small SUV right up against newer competitors with substantially more driver-assist safety features, namely autonomous emergency braking (AEB)… that just aren’t available in the non-turbo Vitara. You'll need to spend well over $30K for the Turbo grades.

Most opponents have these and more, as standard or optional, like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assistance and adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights. For some people, the missing safety kit is the deal breaker in the Suzuki. In its defence, an all-new model is coming and this is probably the final full year of the LY series.

The price of the base auto Vitara has jumped $2000 this year, to $26,990 before on-road costs. The price of the base auto Vitara has jumped $2000 this year, to $26,990 before on-road costs.

If you can't wait and are prepared to see past the lack of AEB, what does the Hungarian-built base Vitara score? Seven airbags (including a driver’s knee item), stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist and traction control. Nothing revolutionary here. Pretty much like everything else has had these as standard over the past decade.

However, the ever-wily Suzuki does make up for the lack of driver-assist safety with items usually found on mid-grade versions of rival SUVs, like imbedded satellite navigation (as part of a colourful multimedia touchscreen system that also houses a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity), voice control, paddle shifters, keyless entry/start, climate control air-con with pollen filter, front fog lights, roof rails and 17-inch alloy wheels (shod with quality Continental tyres too, no less). Plus, there are even a pair of engine-output gauges showing maximum power and torque use – just like in a Rolls-Royce. Fancy/useless gimmickry.

The colourful multimedia touchscreen system houses a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Bluetooth. The colourful multimedia touchscreen system houses a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Bluetooth.

If you’re blissfully unaware of the safety spec shortages or just don’t care, such little luxury extras speak volumes on a glitzy showroom floor.

But then you might clock the lack of digital speedometer and digital radio as reminders that this Vitara is from an earlier era.

Adding premium paint costs $500 while two-tone paint costs $450 more.

The value advantage the Vitara has enjoyed until this year has worn perilously thin.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Remember that first Vitara of 1988? The chief designer of today’s LY series, Takehito Arai, told us back in 2015 that its squareness and smaller size were inspirational in shaping the current model.

To that end, he went for a muscular look, with off-roader detailing like the five-slot grille, strong shoulder line, clamshell bonnet, blistered rear mudguards and higher-than-class-average ground clearance (of 185mm), evoking other Suzuki 4x4s like the Jimny and Sierra.

Suzuki went for a muscular look, with off-roader detailing like the five-slot grille. Suzuki went for a muscular look, with off-roader detailing like the five-slot grille.

Nearly six years on, the design has stood the test of time surprisingly well, with the Suzuki still looking handsome and contemporary – no doubt helped out by the big standard wheels that fill in those arches nicely, along with the vibrant colour options (like our rich beige test example) and two-tone paint application.

The 2019 facelift, by the way, ushered in changes to the toothy grille, bumper, tail-lights lenses (now LEDs), alloy wheels, interior trim and instrumentation (which went more colourful), along with higher-quality-feel interior trim and materials.

Nearly six years on, the design has stood the test of time surprisingly well. Nearly six years on, the design has stood the test of time surprisingly well.

How practical is the space inside?

There's still plenty to appreciate the instant you slide yourself on to those lofty cushions.

The Vitara is packaged to transport a smaller family (and include much of their clobber) with ease, from the moment the big doors open. An excellent driving position that inspires confidence, heaps of storage in the doors and centre console, good vision and a light and airy ambience are further drawcards.

And while the seats may seem a bit wide and flat to begin with, they're amply supportive over an extended time in them, with a softness to their shape and texture that makes them quite cosy. No lumbar support for the driver is disappointing, though.

There's plenty to appreciate the instant you slide yourself on to those lofty cushions. There's plenty to appreciate the instant you slide yourself on to those lofty cushions.

Still, it’s easy to see why the Suzuki remains such a consistent seller after all these years without change.

In 2021, the dash has held up pretty well, mainly due to clear instrument dials and Suzuki’s ever-present 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system that is ridiculously easy to operate. Never mind the hard and cheap-looking lower-lying plastics, the cabin is beautifully screwed together as well. And it's likely to stay that way for a very long time.

But there are annoyances, beginning with the lack of digital speedometer, especially now that the cheapest Vitara is a near-$30K proposition; for the same reason we’d have hoped for a DAB+ digital radio, auto lights on, rear-seat cupholders and more than just one USB port (located under the climate control system).

The raised rear cushion promotes a natural posture which is good for longer journeys. The raised rear cushion promotes a natural posture which is good for longer journeys.

Getting in and out of the rear seat is simple, aided by wide doors and lofty seating, again on flat but ultimately comfortable cushions and backrest, though they neither slide or recline as with some other small SUVs. There's heaps of headroom; the raised rear cushion promotes a natural posture which is good for longer journeys, and enough room for three smaller adults to squeeze in. Larger feet can be tucked underneath the front seats too.

However, besides there being no device-charging facilities, you’ll also notice the lack of reading lights, rear air vents (though the front outlets' outputs do reach back OK) and beverage storage. At least the doors have space for a one-litre bottle and the overhead grab handles include coat hooks. And, like the front, it's all light and airy, with good sight lines for bored back-seat riders to stare out from.

Beyond that, the boot is fairly big and square, with a bi-level floor that’s good for hiding smaller items, while there are hooks, a light and 120V outlet for rear-seat occupants to snake some hapless charger cord to.

  • The boot is fairly big and square, with a bi-level floor that’s good for hiding smaller items. The boot is fairly big and square, with a bi-level floor that’s good for hiding smaller items.
  • Cargo capacity is rated at 375 litres – raising to 710L with the 60/40 rear backrests lowered. Cargo capacity is rated at 375 litres – raising to 710L with the 60/40 rear backrests lowered.

Cargo capacity is rated at 375 litres – raising to 710L with the 60/40 rear backrests lowered. It’s nice to see a good old-fashioned luggage board instead of the flimsy mesh items some rivals foist upon us nowadays.

All in all, a big, spacious and inviting interior that’s big on practicality and ease, but also showing its age in a few places.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

In some markets, the Vitara is offered with Suzuki’s punchy little 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, as well as the Turbo’s 1.4-litre four-pot turbo option as seen here, but the bulk of Australian sales are powered by a 1586cc 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine, known as the M16A.

The bulk of Australian sales are powered by a 1586cc 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine. The bulk of Australian sales are powered by a 1586cc 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine.

A peaky unit, it produces maximum power of 86kW at 6000rpm and 156Nm of torque at 4400rpm. Despite modest outputs, a pleasingly low kerb weight of just 1120kg ensures that the Vitara has a favourable power-to-weight ratio, of 76.8kW/tonne.

Drive is transmitted to the front wheels via a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission, complete with a big pair of paddle shifters for some manual manipulation. Or you can just buy the superior six-speed manual and enjoy a substantially more involving drive.

How much fuel does it consume?

That flyweight mass also pays dividends with fuel economy.

Tuned to run on either 91 RON standard unleaded petrol or a 94 RON E10 ethanol-petrol combo, the Vitara returned an efficient 7.6 litres per 100km over our 521km drive in both inner-city traffic and on a highway jaunt.

While that’s still some way off the official combined average of 6.2L/100km (urban: 7.9 and extra urban: 5.2), it still shows Suzuki’s expertise at such economy engines. We regularly visited the Vitara tachometer’s red line – it’s in the nature of this engine to be revved hard and fast – and never really attempted any economy driving out of it.

The published average figure, by the way, translates to a carbon-dioxide emissions rating of 142 grams per kilometre.

Fitted with a 47-litre tank, nearly 760km between refills is possible.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Sadly, an insufficient amount.

Carried out in 2015, the Vitara scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating. That wouldn’t be the case today if the base grade was tested underneath 2021’s more stringent regime.

As lamented earlier, the base Vitara has no AEB. For that, along with lane departure warning, ‘Weave Control’ lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, auto high beam and adaptive cruise control, you’ll need to step up to the $32,490 Turbo or its AWD alternative for another $4K. Parking sensors also aren't fitted.

Carried out in 2015, the Vitara scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating. Carried out in 2015, the Vitara scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.

Safety features that are included are seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and a driver’s knee item), stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, a hill holder and reverse camera.

Two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps are included for younger passengers.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Suzuki has switched to an industry-average five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assistance.

Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, while published basic capped-price servicing is available. Prices start at $239 (years one and five) and reach as high as $429 (year three). Total cost is $1565, averaging out to $313 annually at the time of publishing.

Vehicles under five-years old but with higher mileages up to 90,000km can expect to be charged up to $559, according to Suzuki’s website.

What's it like to drive around town?

For its role shifting a small and light SUV around town, the 86kW/156Nm 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine provides sufficient if unexciting performance, and a big part of that is the fast-acting and responsive six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox.

While the Vitara will never be victorious in the traffic lights grand prix, there’s a substantial amount of flexibility within the engine’s rev range, with maximum power coming in at just 200rpm shy of the 6200rpm red line. So, you need to really prod that pedal down if extra muscle is required, and with that there’s quite a lot of mechanical noise coming through, but it isn’t coarse.

The Vitara's fast and eager steering provides quick and crisp handling out on the open road as well. The Vitara's fast and eager steering provides quick and crisp handling out on the open road as well.

Using the big and well-placed paddle shifters helps to draw out a few extra morsels of oomph, but the fact is, compared to the CX-3’s 2.0-litre or HR-V’s 1.8-litre engines, the Suzuki’s has to work hard – and for longer – to cover the same ground at anywhere near approaching the same time. The aforementioned rivals' effortless, torquey response just isn't available to be enjoyed. For that, you'll need the terrifically muscular Turbo.

That’s a pity really, because the Vitara’s chassis is one of the more involving and fun ones in the small SUV class.

Thanks to a light helm, tight turning circle, rear camera, large exterior mirrors and an appreciable amount of all-round vision afforded by the large glass areas, nipping in and out of small traffic gaps or slotting into tight parking spots just isn't an issue in the Suzuki. It feels bred for the urban jungle.

The ride is a little firm in some places, there’s far too much road and tyre noise intrusion. The ride is a little firm in some places, there’s far too much road and tyre noise intrusion.

Equally, the Vitara's fast and eager steering provides quick and crisp handling out on the open road as well, with the front end feeling light and agile yet nicely balanced as well. Even through ragged turns, the Suzuki remains on track. Over gravel surfaces it can be driven with reassurance that the traction and stability controls are always there to reel any slides in. It’s very easy and rewarding to punt the Vitara along at speed and with lots of confidence.

But the ride is a little firm in some places, there’s far too much road and tyre noise intrusion and – after a while – the engine’s constant revvy nature becomes a little tiresome.

Note that the fact that Suzuki did not bother engineering this powertrain to take AEB is reason to believe that there probably isn’t much life left for the M16A engine beyond this generation of Vitara.

The Vitara still looks great, offers impressive real-world fuel economy, possesses a sporty chassis bringing sharp steering and involving handling and roadholding characteristics, and is expertly packaged. No wonder it has remained a consistently strong seller for Suzuki.

But its lack of driver-assist safety equipment, lethargic low-rev performance and stiff, loud ride speak of a small SUV of another era. In too many key areas, it’s rapidly dating and falling behind most rivals nowadays, and can no longer rely on low pricing anymore now that the cheapest base auto is $27K plus ORC.

Still, if you don’t care about the lack of AEB… or a digital speedo, digital radio, rear cupholders or highway quietness, then there’s still a fair bit of fight left in the plucky little Vitara.

Suzuki’s been building them for over 33 years now and such experience shows.

$24,490

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.3/5

Urban score

3.3/5
Price Guide

$24,490

Based on new car retail price

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.