The Suzuki Vitara 1.6 DDiS ALLGRIP is the most economical conventionally-engined 4×4 that you can buy, and it’s also practical and affordable.
Seemingly everyone wants a compact SUV and there’s an increasingly huge variety to choose from. Suzuki offers one of the more affordable options in the form of the new Vitara, and it also happens to be one of the most economical. But what’s it like to live with?
This Suzuki Vitara has a 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine with a six-speed manual gearbox, and although the Vitara is available with front-wheel drive, in the case of our test car we have Suzuki’s ALLGRIP 4-wheel drive system – which means the car is front-wheel drive most of the time, but with the ability send power to the rear wheels when needed. The system comes with four transmission settings: Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock.
The Vitara’s new body shape is as practical as ever, and the styling seemed to attract positive attention overall, with one taxi driver, newly arrived in the UK from India, getting out of his cab to inspect the car and proclaiming it to be one of the best-looking cars he had seen, thinking it was a new compact version of the Range Rover Evoque. This supports the belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
The ‘Atlantis Turquoise Pearl Metallic’ paint certainly stands out, and this colour also featured in the interior of our test car.
The Vitara is based on the platform of the Suzuki S-Cross SUV, and although the Vitara is boxy compared to the more car-like S-Cross, overall they’re both very close to each other in concept, and both offer a reasonably spacious interior for this class of car.
This diesel engine has 320 Nm of torque, which is around twice that of the petrol engine, so it has decent pulling power, although you have to wait to 1,750rpm to get the maximum torque; the engine can be a bit flat at lower revs before the turbo spools up. Thanks to the four-wheel drive system, you get lots of grip, with torque steer not being an issue.
With a 1295kg kerb weight, the Vitara is also reasonably light (especially for an SUV), resulting in agile handling, so the overall good news is that the Vitara has the potential for a torquey, agile, grippy and economical driving experience.
The main area for improvement is with powertrain refinement. At 70mph on the motorway life is perfectly fine, however at lower speed, under acceleration and at higher revs the diesel engine becomes harsh and vocal. The six-speed manual gearbox also isn’t the most slick-shifting of units.
The subject of ride quality in compact SUVs is interesting. With raised suspension and tall bodies, to reduce roll when cornering, manufacturers tend to end up with such cars having a firmer than average ride. If the engineers go the opposite way, then you end up with something that is softer than the car it’s based on, such as the Renault Captur compared to the Clio.
We thought that Mazda has got the balance about right with the CX-3, and the Vitara is generally acceptable during most driving, however the suspension is slightly on the firm side, and this shows itself most when on poor surfaces or when negotiating speed bumps.
The steering is also on the light side, but for the target market for this car, that is understandable.
You can disengage the traction control system, but if you do, you invite the wrath from lots of flashing lights and beeps.
The Vitara aims to be more of a 4×4 utility tool than the more car-like S-Cross, but our test car wasn’t fitted with tyres that could have taken it far off-road, so disappointingly we didn’t venture off the tarmac.
Many car buyers place great importance on the quality of car interiors, and if so, they might have a few comments about the Vitara. We place more importance on how a car drives, its efficiency, and its practicality. We would say the Vitara’s interior is fit for purpose and appropriate for a car at this price in this segment.
Our test car had a satnav, but it had a screen that was very wide yet with hardly any depth – almost letterbox-like proportions.
Slightly annoyingly, the infotainment system seemed to always reset to a default when the car was restarted, rather than keeping it in the same setting as it was when the car was switched off.
The Vitara certainly has impressive official economy and emissions figures. Our four-wheel drive diesel test car had an official economy figure of 67.2mpg and emissions of 111g/km CO2. The two-wheel drive diesel model has a slightly better combined economy figure of 70.6mpg and emissions of 106g/km.
The fact that real-life economy falls well short of official economy is well-documented, but what isn’t as well documented is our theory that the more aerodynamic a car is, the better it will perform in real-life economy. This theory continues to stand up well when applied to the somewhat boxy Vitara. It was certainly economical, especially for a 4×4, but it averaged 52.0mpg over a week of mixed driving – so well down on the official 67.2mpg figure.
The Vitara is available with 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel engines, both with 120PS. Both engines are offered with the option of four-wheel drive. The petrol engine is available with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.
In terms of trim levels, the options are SZ4, SZ-T and SZ5 grades. The starting price for the Vitara is £13,999. Our test car cost £21,299, but it had the option of metallic paint (£800), taking the cost to £22,099.
The Vitara has the potential to offer a torquey, agile, grippy and economical driving experience. Of course it’s also a practical shape, and affordable, so there’s much in its favour.
The laws of accounting and profitability mean that any car that is in the more affordable end of the market has to have a few areas where it hasn’t enjoyed as much investment as rivals, and with the Vitara this is in the area of powertrain refinement.
However the main selling point of this car is that it is the most economical conventionally-engined 4×4 that you can buy. In relation to its price, the overall package is fit for purpose. If you want an economical, compact 4×4 then all you’ll need to do is buy a Vitara and fit decent tyres that will transfer the promise of 4×4 to the road all year round.
The Suzuki Vitara is awarded a Green-Car-Guide rating of 7 out of 10.