Suzuki’s comeback kid
When it comes to automobiles, Suzuki is known for producing affordable small cars with a sporty attitude.
Small but formidable, or something to that effect, has always been the mantra of Suzuki Motor Corporation’s automobile department.
So it wasn’t surprising when, for the 2018 model year, Suzuki shrunk the Grand Vitara, dropped the “Grand” from the nameplate and re-entered it in the B segment where it was introduced in 1988 with resounding success.
The first generation Vitara was built on a robust ladder frame chassis and its off-road capability was enhanced in 1994 with the installation of a 4×4 transfer case that allowed the driver to shift from 2WD to 4WD on the fly.
But the fourth generation Vitara is more of a front wheel drive, unibody on-roader rather than a ladder frame-based 4×4 off-roader.
The ruggedness of the first Vitara has been refined. Now, instead of a ladder frame chassis, it shares the same platform as the SX-4 S-Cross.
The good news for consumers shopping for a subcompact crossover is that Suzuki Philippines, Inc. hasn’t changed the retail price of the 2018 Vitara despite the higher excise taxes on new motor vehicles imposed by the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.
The Vitara GLX still retails at P1,048,000 while the GL+ is sold for P938,000, both equipped with a new 6-speed automatic transmission.
Suzuki Philippines is pitting the fourth generation Vitara against the similarly priced Ford EcoSport and Nissan Juke in the hot-selling five-seater, front wheel drive subcompact crossover market, in the process pre-empting the much anticipated Hyundai Creta and Toyota CH-R.
The Vitara’s exterior design is not as stylish as the Mazda CX-3’s or as funky as the Nissan Juke’s, but it does look solid and stable from all angles with its 17-inch alloy wheels.
The chromed front grille, clamshell hood, trapezoidal lines and character crease accentuating the flared rear wheel fender comprise a look that will still be acceptable for years to come.
What makes the Vitara stand out among subcompact crossovers is its color palette. This, more than the conservative exterior, is what could attract millennials, the target market of Suzuki.
Offered in GLX or GL trim, the Vitara is available in either two-tone or one-tone colors. You can choose from three eye-catching color combinations for the GLX variant: bright red 5 metallic, horizon orange metallic, or Atlantis turquoise pearl, all topped by a black roof.
The GL variant comes in one-tone colors: Atlantis turquoise pearl metallic, cosmic black pearl metallic, galactic gray metallic, silky silver metallic 2, or cool white pearl.
Being larger and wider than its competitors, the Vitara provides generous leg and knee room front and rear.
The front seats are supportive and comfy and height-adjustable. In the top-end GLX, the seat upholstery material is a combination of suede and leather.
The GLX variant has a panoramic sunroof which, together with the large glass area and boxy shape of the Vitara, adds to the sense of good visibility all around.
On the other hand, the panoramic sunroof limits headroom. Taller occupants may find their heads brushing the roof lining.
The rear seat splits and folds 60/40 to increase luggage space from 375 to an almost-flat 710 liters, one of the biggest in this segment.
Three adults can be seated at the rear, but rather tightly because of the tunnel at the center of the floor.
Bottleholders and door bins on all the doors, outer armrests on the rear doors, a storage tray between the front seats, two cupholders in front, and a spacious glovebox make the Vitara practical for long drives.
However, cheap, hard plastic on the dash and door panels detract from the neat ergonomics.
The 2018 Vitara’s performance level won’t delight car enthusiasts, but it was not designed to in the first place. Still, its performance is pleasing enough.
Propelled by Suzuki’s M16A 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder, 16-valve VVT petrol engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Vitara behaves with the same easy-going civility as a hatchback.
The engine delivers its max output of 115 bhp beyond 6,000 rpm. Peak torque is quoted at 156 Nm at 4,400 rpm. The responsive powertrain accelerates smoothly to 140 kph on the expressway.
Road and wind noise, however, are not well contained.
Surprisingly enough, despite its upright, somewhat squarish architecture, the Vitara exhibits excellent body control on twisting roads and sharp corners.
Its low curb weight and newly developed 6-speed A/T enable frisky progress, fuel economy and competent dynamics.
Aside from a roomier cabin and bigger cargo area, the Vitara is better equipped than the competition in terms of infotainment and safety features.
The 10-inch Android infotainment touchscreen is fitted with GPS navi system and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and USB connectivity plus mirror link function in the GLX.
Many of the Vitara’s safety features are usually found only in higher-priced vehicles.
Aside from the usual ABS with EBD and reverse parking camera, the Vitara has six airbags, an electronic stability program, hill hold control, electronic parking sensors front and rear, a brake pedal release system in case of frontal impact, and pedestrian protection impact-absorbing hood, bumpers and other body parts in case the car comes in contact with a pedestrian.
Moreover, the Vitara has LED headlamps, LED DRLs (daytime running lights), front fog lamps, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, automatic air conditioner, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, proximity keyless entry system with engine-start button.
The 2018 Vitara may not be the fastest or best-looking subcompact crossover in the market, and its cabin may abound in hard plastic materials, but these shortcomings are adequately counterbalanced by its affordable price, class-leading roominess, and array of advanced infotainment and safety features.
In short, the Vitara offers more value for money than its current competitors—with emphasis on the word “current.”