Suzuki Grand Vitara

Suzuki Vitara

There was a rumour a while back that when Mazda was designing the MX3, they recorded the noise made by a Triumph TR5 gearbox when changing cogs, and then engineered theirs to sound the same. Not to mention the fact that the entire concept was loosely based on a 1960’s Lotus Elan.

Their efforts were aimed towards taking elements from various well loved British sports cars and combining them in a package everyone would love. Now you might look down your nose at such behaviour, but I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing.

You see competitive behaviour in all spheres of life is what leads to improvement – the world is advanced through improving on other people’s ideas. And this goes back to the beginning of time when a caveman first stabbed an animal with a sharp rock.

I’ve recently spent a week with Suzuki’s new compact 4×4, the Vitara. I took one look at this vehicle and couldn’t help but think of the Toyota Rav 4, which would be considered the beginning of the compact-SUV. The Toyota, in my opinion, was a horrible little motorcar for a multitude of reasons – none of which I wish to distract myself with at this point.

But the RAV 4 sold like hot cakes. When this happens in the motor industry, the other manufacturers prick their ears and look for a way into the market. Now everyone has jumped on the bandwagon, from Honda with their CRV, VW’s Tiguan, Subaru’s Forester and Suzuki, with the Vitara.

Unfortunately I haven’t driven any of the Vitara’s direct competition so comparison is difficult. I can tell you though that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute with the range topping V6 model. This is by no stretch of the imagination a great car, but its plucky attitude and all round competence inspired a sense of enjoyment while behind the wheel.

The 3.2 litre V6 gives a bit of a roar when you prod the accelerator, which entertains more than giving the speedo a kick up the backside, while the six speed auto ‘box is competent in managing both town and highway driving, just. This emphasises the fact that the Vitara requires a driver with a moderate on-road temperament. It is however the most powerful of all its competition, bar the Subaru, which only offers a handful more horses.

The little Suzuki is more than competent if you’re in the mood for an off-road adventure. Its miniature size and relatively short wheelbase provide great manoeuvrability for a mixture of tight gaps and boulder hopping. The four-wheel drive system needs special mention as it is regarded as one of, if not the best system in the segment. The Vitara felt sturdy around my makeshift 4×4 playground and accomplished all tasks without breaking a sweat. Hill decent control was, for example, a special surprise on a vehicle in this market.

Another surprise came in the Vitara’s ability on road. Often vehicles that are competent off-road tend to wallow about because of their soft suspension and vague steering. The Suzuki has a wide stance and offers independent front and rear suspension. This gives a more saloon car feeling in the bends, as oppose to Jeep Wrangler style body roll and hit-or-miss turn in.

When it comes to looks, the Suzuki struggles to create its own identity. As a relative late comer on the scene, Suzuki has been afforded the opportunity to use elements from a number of successful designs already on the market. However as I said at the beginning of my review, this isn’t a bad thing at all. The design is simple yet handsome, capped by flared wheel arches which are a neat little character addition. Personally I think the Vitara blend will appeal to a greater portion of the segment’s target market.

On the inside Suzuki has stuck with simplicity. The equipment level does just enough to match what the competition has on offer, which should be a bonus considering the price tag. However this is one area I believe they should have pushed the envelope. There’s nothing better than giving your customer a pleasant surprise every time they hop in the car for a bread-and-milk run, something the Vitara doesn’t manage.

The Suzuki hits the market where it really matters though; it’s price tag. At R387,900 it’s some R37,000 cheaper than the range topping Toyota RAV4. It beats the rest of them too; nearly R50,000 less than the VW, R40,000 below the Honda and R64,000 cheaper than the Subaru. With such a substantial price difference one has to consider whether there are any additional benefits to owning the more established models and if they’re worth the dent to your bank balance.

Overall I believe the Vitara offers straight-forward value for money in an entry level segment where price is of utmost importance. The neutral aesthetics and satisfactory interior provide a necessary back stop for those discerning customers who will be deterred by a vehicle of significantly worse quality. Suzuki has successfully used existing aspects from the market to cover all their bases with this one. 

Price: R 387,900
Engine: 3195cc QuadCam V6
Power: 165 kW
Torque: 284 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 9.3
Top speed (km/h): 200
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 10.5 (claimed) 

Miles Downard
Photo Credit: Motorpics

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