One of last year’s more interesting revivals was the Suzuki Vitara. We took the stylish little SUV from Suzuki on a trip to Kangaroo Island and were impressed by its entertaining and accomplished chassis, all wrapped in a comfortable and relatively stylish package.
While its naturally aspirated 1.6-litre was smooth and loves a rev, its lack of grunt was a disappointment and disservice to the talented chassis.
Happily, Suzuki is well aware of this and upgraded the range-topping variant with a more powerful turbocharged engine from the brand’s ‘BoosterJet’ family (the old 1.6-litre unit lives on in the price-fighting entry-level RT-S).
Available in 2WD and all-wheel drive, our 2WD Vitara Turbo test car is priced from $28,990 plus on-road costs (or $29,990 drive-away), while the ALLGRIP AWD will set you back an extra $4,000.
Like Popeye after popping a can of spinach, the punchy 1.4-litre direct-injected turbocharged petrol engine transforms the way the Vitara drives.
Delivering 103kW at 5,500rpm and a healthy 220Nm between 1,500 and 4,000rpm (an increase of 17kW/64Nm over the base 1.6 aspirated engine), the Vitara leaps off the line energetically and hurries along eagerly, with hardly a hint of turbo lag.
With just 1,160kg to haul, it belts along like a Swift Sport on stilts and feels light on its feet. The engine’s chubby mid-range means there’s plenty of accessible torque for overtaking and load hauling duty.
More impressive is the way the engine sounds. Unlike most four-cylinder engines from its rivals which tend to sound a little tinny, Suzuki’s latest powerplant comes with a gratifyingly deep induction noise on open throttle; giving it a solid and sporty feel. It is suitably refined and muted at cruising speeds, too.
Couple with a sweet steering that provides decent feedback, the Vitara is one of the best handling small SUVs on the market today. However, while the car’s strong grip levels remain, some torque steer is evident in our front-wheel drive model, especially in the wet and on hard throttle.
We also find the Vitara S Turbo’s six-speed automatic a little lazy to kick down when pushed. Joyously, the standard fit paddle shifters work a treat, delivering crisp gear changes on demand.
Around town, the car is quiet and ride quality is generally good, although sharper road imperfections can make their presence felt in the cabin, due to the relatively firm suspension setup.
The Vitara’s fresh new design carries over to the S-Turbo, albeit with mild styling tweaks to set it apart from its lesser sibling. It gets a revised chrome grille, black 17-inch alloy wheels shod with expensive Continental tyres, matte chrome mirror caps and a splattering of over-sized ‘Turbo’ badges in and outside of the car.
Inside, the funky styling is carried over to the interior. The plastic trim running along the width of the dash and the rings around the air vents can be customised with a range of colour that matches the car’s exterior paint, including Turquoise, White, Black, Orange and Bright Red.
While we can’t fault the logically laid out dashboard design, most plastic surfaces are hard and the cabin doesn’t feel as premium as the Mazda CX-3 or Honda HR-V, although the S-Turbo’s suede inlays are a nice touch. We also question the lack of a front centre armrest but the rear seats are comfortable and offer enough space for two average-sized adults.
The entire range has also been upgraded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which would certainly appeal to younger buyers. And unlike some similar setups, the Vitara’s unit comes with built-in satellite navigation, meaning you are not relying on expensive mobile data to guide you to your next destination.
The Vitara’s user-friendly cabin remains, with plenty of storage cubicles thoughtfully scattered around the cabin. Its 375 litres of cargo space might appear meager (although it trumps the CX-3’s 264 litres) but does a wonderful job of swallowing a decent amount of luggage. It can be further expanded by flipping the 60:40 rear seats.
Interestingly, the BoosterJet engine returned a similar fuel consumption figure to the naturally aspirated unit we tested previously. Over approximately 400km of urban and freeway driving, the car’s trip computer reading stood at 7.2L/100km.
Design and Comfort: 8.0/10
Performance and Handling: 8.5/10
Equipment and Features: 8.5/10
The deliciously sweet turbocharged engine is a welcome upgrade to the Vitara. It improves on the already impressive package and brings newfound drivability and verve to the top of the line Vitara.
While the $5,000 premium may be hard to stomach for price-sensitive buyers, the S Turbo 2WD would be our pick if your budget stretches.
2016 Suzuki Vitara S Turbo pricing and specification:
|Price (Excl. on-road costs):||From $28,990|
Vitara S-Turbo 2WD Auto: $28,990
Vitara S-Turbo AWD Auto: $32,990
S Turbo Auto 2WD: $28,990
|Country of Origin:||Japan; manufactured in Hungary|
|Service Intervals:||6 months/10,000km|
|Engine:||1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged BoosterJet petrol:|
103kW @ 5,500rpm, 220Nm @ 1,500-4,000rpm
|Drivetrain:||Front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||2WD||AWD|
|RON Rating:||95 Unleaded|
|Fuel Capacity (L):||47|
|Body:||5-door SUV, 5 seats|
|Safety:||5-star ANCAP, 7 airbags, reverse camera, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, ABS, EBD, ESP, BA, TCS, Hill Holder, space saver spare|
|Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:||4,175/1,775/1,610/2,500|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1,160 – 1,235|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Braked: 1,200/Unbraked: 400|
|Entertainment:||7-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth with audio streaming, USB, 6-speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto|
Competitors: Ford EcoSport, Fiat 500X, Holden Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi ASX, Renault Captur, Subaru XV