Suzuki's popular Vitara hit the streets back in 1988 and has became a cult classic of sorts. The compact SUV had a wide range of appeal; people from all walks of life bought the small 4x4 - from beach bums to young professionals with an adventurous streak. It was the bigger brother to the SJ of the time and also the later the Jimny range, but it was a little more suited to city driving than they the others thanks to the bigger motors and streetcar-esque interior. Not quite a softroader but not quite a thoroughbred overlander either. The production run on the first Vitara lasted just on ten years and it was made up of the smaller 3-door version with hard and soft (3/4) tops as well as a longer 4-door version. There were another two models after that, but they weren't technically the same kind of Vitara - these were bigger with bigger engines and were known instead as Grand Vitara - which makes this 2016 Vitara a 2nd generation model.
This new incarnation enters the popular compact SUV market and with Suzuki’s long history of making great vehicles in this class before this class was even a class (that makes perfect sense in my head, ok!) I expected to see a good car at the launch in George. I had to wait a bit of course because just after we reached the base venue we guzzled down some coffee and a few snacks before sitting down to a briefing. First off Suzuki’s Sato San let us in on how Suzuki is doing in it’s various markets followed by plans for the Vitara range. Of course there was also a little dig at SA’s defeat at Japan’s hands in the recent Rugby World Cup. Interestingly, Sato San was involved with the Vitara launch in the 80s, so he’s seen the model’s complete history. This was followed by a Q&A-style presentation headed up by Suzuki’s Brendan Carpenter, which covered all the bases relating to the new model. I know this because when the presentation was over and it was time for the journos to ask their questions, it was much quieter than usual. It’s a great way to do a briefing though.
Just after that a few screaming teens painted orange and blue ran in waving Suzuki flags and with some music and a glitter bomb, the cover was taken off the car parked in front of us to reveal a new, blue Vitara. It’s a good-looking B-segment SUV that on first sight reminds one of a popular British SUV, but during the briefing we were shown how the design cues have actually been taken from the 1988 model. From there we headed outside to drive the cars - the whole point of us being there. The route that was set out for us would take us up and down Montague pass where the different spec models would be put through their paces just enough so that we could adequately feel how they do what they’ve been built to do.
My first drive was in the range-topping 1.6 GLX AllGrip, powered by Suzuki’s M16A 4-potter that makes 86kW and 151Nm, which is found in every spec level of this new Vitara range. This model had the 5-speed manual ‘box but there is a 6-speed auto version available that I didn’t get to sample. It drives just like most of the Suzuki range, smooth and easy. The latest-generation AllGrip 4-wheel drive system uses a feedback function to allocate torque to the rear wheels as soon as the front wheels start to lose traction and on some super slippery sand and small rocks the system showed its worth. There are four modes in the AllGrip system, Auto being the default which is for better fuel consumption and drive to the front wheels, but as soon as any traction is lost, power is routed to all four wheels. Sport Mode gives a better throttle response in the midrange and lends to a better handling feel on the bends – again, this works as intended as I found during testing on some great mountain roads. When the final mode is selected Snow/Mud flashes on the speedometer to let you know you’re ready for business. The most slippery sections of road become an easy task, and if things still don’t cooperate then a Lock mode is available that engages a limited slip diff to brake the spinning wheel so that the available torque can be transferred to the other wheels so that traction can be regained. AllGrip also has Hill Descent Control to make sure you don’t soil the seats on serious down hill section – I know this works because I gave the car back with clean seats.
From the daddy Vitara I swapped over to the baby one, the entry-level 1.6GL. Here we find the same engine and 5-speed manual gearbox but only the front wheels get drive. You’d think this would make a huge difference but it really didn’t. Well of course the AllGrip version is much better, but the GL managed to handle the slippery sand and rocks just as well. I found that by keeping the revs at 2 grand the GL just soldiered on and went where I pointed the steering wheel, which is a good thing because that’s the point of the steering wheel. On the drive it pointed us to many cool places; De Vlugt Tea Garden for some refreshments and super fresh milk tart; Spitzkop view point (Knysna’s highest point found along the picturesque Prince Alfred Pass) and Knysna’s East Head Café for lunch overlooking the ocean . After that we had to head back to the bustling metropolis of George to catch a flight back home. It was a great round trip with awesome roads, awesome views and some great photo opportunities.
The drive in the new Suzuki Vitara is good, both on and off road, and I overheard many other journos commenting with the same thoughts. So that’s a great start for the resurrected Vitara name badge. It does help that the SUV looks good too, inside and out. There is a host of options available that should pretty much ensure that no two on the roads will be identical, but I guess that’s all up to the creativity of the prospective buyers. Besides smaller wheels for the lower spec models, interior trim is where the models differ the most, but they do all share a basic range of safety features as you’d expect – in fact the new Vitara is the first SUV to get a full 5-star NCAP rating in 2015. I’ll of course fill you in on the differences in the five spec levels when it’s time for an in-depth review. Over the different terrain and with three souls aboard, both Vitaras driven returned 7.1litres/100km – frugal as you’d expect from a Suzuki. The Vitara range has all the mod-cons you need, the only thing I wanted to see that's missing from the higher spec model is a touch screen of sorts heading up the infotainment system as seen in some of the market competitors.
The pricing for the new Suzuki Vitara is on point; the base GL model starts off at R239 900 and the big boss GLX AllGrip comes in at R319 900. The Suzuki Vitara range is backed by a comprehensive 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 4-year/60 000km service plan with a 3-year roadside assistance package.
It was another great launch from the Suzuki SA team – a huge thanks once again goes to Megan, Kyleigh, Brendan and the rest of the team for having me there, always appreciated!