Final Position: 7th
5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Value; cabin features; smooth ride
No AEB; lacks refinement
The Vitara nameplate goes back to 1988 when Suzuki introduced a more road-friendly, coil-sprung alternative to its popular SJ40 Jimny, known in Australia then as the Sierra or Holden-badged Drover. It was handy off-road, but proved popular with young urban drivers who liked its high-riding style and ability to provide the odd weekend adventure.
Fast-forward 30 years, and the new Jimny is almost identical in terms of its size, off-road capability and rudimentary on-road dynamics. The Vitara – now in its fourth generation and a small monocoque – has embraced its polished, city-slicker lifestyle but, as our test showed, it’s not averse to leaving bitumen either.
With the six-speed automatic gearbox, the front-drive base-spec Vitara 1.6 sells for $24,490, making it the cheapest of our contenders. But it punches above its weight due to its ability to handle gravel and potholes with a smooth, almost soft ride.
Despite a smaller footprint than most of its rivals, it feels secure on gravel, and its 185mm ride height means you don’t end up with most of the road surface in your wheel arches. A downside is the light steering, which has a nice fluid feel on bitumen but doesn't communicate too much from the front contact patches when negotiating pebbly bends.
On deteriorating bitumen at 100km/h, the suspension (strut front, torsion beam rear) tackles road imperfections well, with little compromise to handling and lateral toss. With just the driver on board there’s some floaty secondary bounce, less so with passengers in the back. Better still, even this entry-level model handles the gravel with aplomb. The chassis is composed at speed on loose surfaces, and if you're a keen driver you'll also appreciate the playful ESC tune.
The Vitara’s 1.6-litre engine is a hard worker, and is paired with the same six-speed torque-converter automatic found in the upper-spec S-Turbo variants. It’s tuned for economy over performance, though each is aided by its 1180kg kerb weight that’s just 15kg more than the pint-sized Hyundai Venue. It’s an interesting comparison, because both are about neck-to-neck from 0-100km. The Venue’s additional 4kW give it a slight edge in the sprint but the Vitara is less raucous at higher revs.
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The cabin is deceptively roomy, despite the Vitara’s 2500mm wheelbase being 70mm shorter than that of the diminutive Mazda CX-3. The front seats are basic but comfortable and the rear pew fits two adults adequately, with ample legroom, headroom and shoulder space, as well as fine all-round vision. The 60:40 split seat backs fold down to extend the 375-litre boot space (which is about average for a small SUV) to 710 litres.
And there’s quite a bit of kit for a sub-$25K SUV, including Suzuki’s generous multimedia system with satellite navigation and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, leather-trimmed steering wheel, climate control air-conditioning, push-button start, paddleshifters and stitched seat trim.
There are compromises however, including hard plastic door trims and insufficient active safety tech – namely the lack of AEB, even as an option, which is a glaring oversight given the Vitara Turbo versions get it. Rear passengers miss also out on basic amenities like a centre armrest and seat pockets.
The Suzuki Vitara is a good, honest SUV that majors on practicality and comfort without falling into the trap of trying to be sporty. But while it's roomy and well equipped, it does feel built to a price and the absence of advanced driver assistance technology is an archaism in this 2020 model year.
Suzuki Vitara specs
Engine: 1586cc 4cyl, sohc, 16v
Power: 86kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 156Nm @ 4400rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Dimensions [L/W/H/WB]: 4175/1775/1610/2500mm
Cargo capacity: 375L
Tyres: Continental ContiEcoContact 215/55R17
Economy: 9.1L/100km (tested)
0-100km/h: 10.5sec (tested)
80-120km/h: 8.2sec (tested)
100-0km/h: 37.9m (tested)
ANCAP rating: 5 stars