With its new turbo engine the Vitara has some appealing get-up-and-go. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
With its new turbo engine the Vitara has some appealing get-up-and-go. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Suzuki’s Vitara trundled along with 1.6l normally aspirated power since its 2015 launch, giving it perfunctory pace but nothing to get excited about.

That changed late last year when a more powerful 1.4l turbo was added to the line-up. It has perked up the compact SUV’s performance.

It’s the same little force-fed Boosterjet engine that powers the Suzuki Swift Sport, and its 103kW and 220Nm put some fire into the Vitara’s belly. It’s a big performance boost over the 1.6 engine’s 86kW and 156Nm, especially at high altitude where turbo engines really come into their own.

The 1.6l Vitara versions remain as more affordable alternative models in the line-up. The new 1.4 Turbo is available as a six-speed manual priced at R386,900 (the version on test here) and a six-speed automatic for R405,900.

I was surprised by how punchy the vehicle felt. Whether nipping through suburbia or stretching its legs on the open road, the Vitara Turbo always had plenty to give. It’s an easily accessible performance with eager midrange torque that doesn’t require frantic gear shifting to expose its sportier side, though the six-speed manual shifts smoothly and isn’t a chore to operate.

The Vitara has one of the roomiest boots in the compact SUV segment. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The Vitara has one of the roomiest boots in the compact SUV segment. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Boosterjet engine is soft spoken, and the Vitara is a pleasantly refined car all round, with no droning or other unpleasant acoustics to spoil long-distance road trips.

With front-wheel drive the Vitara has no off-roading ambitions but its raised, 185mm ground clearance provides the elevated driving position so craved by SUV buyers. It’s high enough to keep its undersides from getting scraped on rough gravel roads, but not so high that it becomes a clumsy, top-heavy barge; the handling is clean and predictable and the suspension comfortably deals with bumpy roads.

It feels like a structurally solid car too, with no body jitters or interior rattles.

The Vitara Turbo is only available in the high-specification GLX trim, which flaunts external plumage such as 17-inch alloy wheels and a choice of five solid colours and seven dual-tone combinations, with a choice of a black or white roof. LED daytime running lights are part of the package too, with LED headlights and brake lights, a set of silver roof rails and chrome detailing in the toothy grille.

The GLX badge ensures a well-stocked amenities list, including a touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone connectivity and integrated reversing camera.

The infotainment system is fairly intuitive to use without creating much driver distraction, and Suzuki has resisted the temptation to bundle everything into a complicated digital menu. There are still physical buttons for controlling some of the main features, including the ventilation system, which is an automatic climate control rather than just regular aircon.

The Vitara has all the modern amenities and attractive suede-and-leather seats. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The Vitara has all the modern amenities and attractive suede-and-leather seats. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The cabin décor is modern and neat, and the suede-and-leather seats provide a shot of styling flair. There’s a decent amount of cabin room for the car’s fairly modest 4,175mm length, and full-sized adult passengers can sit in the back without requiring yoga skills.

The 375l boot is one of the biggest in the compact SUV segment and the rear seats flip down to provide a gaping 1,120l of retail therapy.

The windscreen wipers and headlamps automatically switch on when needed, as part of a generous suite of safety features that include seven airbags, ABS brakes and stability control. The Vitara’s impressive five-star EuroNCAP crash rating is a major drawcard to those seeking  peace of mind.

Overall, the Vitara Turbo is a winning combination of perkiness, practical space, smart design and great safety in a hotly contested compact SUV market segment. The turbo engine has given some vooma to what was a pleasant but prosaically performing car.


Suzuki Vitara 1.4 Turbo GLX

WE LIKE: Power, fuel consumption, fun-to-drive nature

WE DISLIKE: Not much

VERDICT: Perky-powered crossover

Motor News star rating

Design * * * *

Performance * * * *

Economy * * * *

Safety * * * * *

Value For Money * * * *

Overall * * * *

Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 1.4l

Power: 103kW

Torque: 220Nm

Transmission

Type: Six-speed manual

Drivetrain

Type: Front-wheel drive

Performance (claimed)

Top speed: 200km/h

0-100km/h: 9.5 seconds

Fuel consumption: 5.8l/100km (claimed); 6.9l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 136g/km

Standard features

ABS brakes, seven airbags, stability control, electric windows, multi-information colour display, climate control, cruise control, keyless entry with push-button start, LED daytime running lights, automatic LED headlamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, park distance control with reversing camera, suede upholstery with leather inserts, 215/55 R17 tyres

Ownership

Warranty: Five years/200,000km

Service plan: Four years/60,000km

Price: R386,900

Lease*: R8,315 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Competition

Haval H2 1.5 T Luxury, 105kW/202Nm — R294,900

Hyundai Kona 2.0 Executive, 110kW/180Nm — R409,900

Mazda CX-3 2.0 Dynamic, 115kW/206Nm — R343,800

Mitsubishi ASX 2.0, 110kW/197Nm — R379,995

Opel Mokka X 1.4 Turbo Enjoy auto, 103kW/200Nm — R389,000