RATING: 8 / 10
By Mike Costello
- Peppy new 1.4 engine;
- Funky design stands out from the crowd;
- Nimble and fun to drive; and
- Long list of features including standard sat-nav and Apple CarPlay.
- Some cheap-feeling cabin plastics;
- Super-light doors feel a little tinny;
- Excess road noise; and
- The price jump to the 4WD is high.
The Suzuki Vitara nameplate has been a volume seller globally and never disappointed. The boxy little crossover is now the company’s second-biggest seller after the Swift.
The used car market has been flooded with Escudo imports from Japan (somewhat taking away from the Vitara’s sales), but we now have a welcome upgrade to the range-topping variant; a more powerful turbo-petrol engine from Suzuki’s new European-focused ‘BoosterJet’ family.
Can the 2016 Suzuki Vitara S Turbo help the brand draw more buyers away from the bigger-selling Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai and Mitsubishi ASX, and go ahead to improve on its current market share?
It should. For US $3500 over the base Vitara RT-S, you can get a significantly more powerful new powertrain, a funkier design with black accents, a handful of extra features such as leather/suede seats and more; which I’ll touch on later.
The new Suzuki Vitara S Turbo costs US $20,300 (plus on-road costs) in front-wheel drive guise, or US $23,300 (plus on-road costs) for the four-wheel drive version. It replaces the discontinued Vitara RT-X, available only with AWD for US $22,400.
For some context, the pricing puts the Vitara Turbo S about on a par with the mid-spec Mazda CX-3 S-Touring or Honda HR-V variants.
The Vitara S Turbo’s engine is a direct-injected 1.4-litre unit producing 103kW of power at 5500rpm and a strong 220Nm of torque between 1500 and 4000rpm — increases of 17kW/64Nm over the base 1.6 normally aspirated engine. The Vitara Turbo S also offers 28Nm more torque than the Mazda CX-3, and at 1160kg as tested, the car is also moderately lighter.
Pleasingly, the engine is largely free of lag at low engine speeds and stronger in the mid-range, meaning the greater torque output is also more accessible. Overtaking, sneaking into gaps, and ferrying heavy car-loads is much easier than before. You can also expect greater refinement, on account of the engine’s comparatively effortless delivery.
It is also marginally better on fuel than the slower Vitara 1.6 because it is more relaxed (Suzuki claims 5.9 litres per 100km, we got mid 6s). Those numbers are still super-efficient — a traditional Suzuki trademark.
Matched to the Vitara S Turbo’s engine, is a standard six-speed automatic transmission with a torque converter and steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. Our test car was the base front-wheel-drive model, but the 4WD version gets Suzuki’s AllGrip on-demand system with four off-road modes that adjust the parameters of the throttle calibration and torque delivery.
Small Suzuki SUVs have historically been good off-road, though in the modern market, most buyers never leave the asphalt. The Vitara isn’t an old-school off-roader like the Jimny, but the company claims it’s well-suited to mild-moderate off-road conditions. The question remains of whether you would really pay the extra cash?
Befitting the Vitara’s low weight, which is a mere 30kg heavier than the Honda Jazz, the car also handles really well, with eager turn-in, good handling with little body roll, and light but direct steering. The compact dimensions — it’s 100mm shorter than the CX-3, which is itself small for the class — mean it’s also a doddle to park and shuffle about in the city.
The ride quality is generally fine, though sharper road imperfections are felt inside the cabin on account of the firm suspension tune and the relatively low-profile 17-inch (black-painted) alloys wrapped in good quality tyres. There’s also some tyre roar and wind noise in the cabin at highway speeds, but around town it’s less obvious.
Remaining a Vitara strong suit is the chunky design that makes the car appear bigger, tougher and more upmarket than it is. A range of cool bright colours and the optional two-tone black roof (an extra US $650) add some character. The Turbo S gets unique features such as a revised chrome grille, the black alloy wheels and LED headlights/daytime running lights.
The edgy design carries over to the cabin. The plastic bits running along the instrument panel and the louvre rings around the air vent can be swapped out for different colours (Black, Turquiose, White, Orange, Ivory, Bright Red), depending on your mood.
Both the RT-S and the S-Turbo get a touchscreen with reverse-view camera and integrated sat-nav, as well as Apple CarPlay connectivity (but not Android Auto). This plus climate control, Bluetooth/USB, cruise control with speed limiter and electric-folding door mirrors. You also get seven airbags and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Over and above the RT-S, the Turbo S gets features such as leather/suede seats, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, and auto on/off LED headlights.
The proposition, then, is simple. For an extra US $3500, you get the Vitara Turbo S over the RT-S with this list of extras, plus the black rather than silver alloy wheels and the stronger turbo engine. If you want AWD, you have no option but to buy the Turbo S. Is it worth the extra? To me, yes, but in such a price-sensitive segment, the RT-S will be sufficient for many.
In typical Suzuki style, the layout is ergonomic, there are multiple little storage cubbies, and the build quality is second-to-none. However, the plastics are hard to the touch (though the S Turbo’s suede inlays within are a nice touch).
It looks like a million bucks and offers all the features, but doesn’t feel as upmarket or premium as the CX-3 or HR-V. Still, that elevated driving position, the changeable coloured plastic bits and the Apple CarPlay system will be enough to woo many, and understandably so.
The rear seats offer ample room for two medium-sized adults or three kids, though the rear seats are non-adjustable. You get three adjustable headrests and two outboard Isofix anchors for child seats. The rear windows don’t go all the way down, though they’re large enough to give good outward visibility. Storage comprises a single map pocket and bottle holders in the doors.
With the rear seats in use you get 375 litres of cargo space, enough space for a few suitcases. This is about mid-way between the space offered by the smaller Mazda CX-3 and the cavernous Honda HR-V. The rear seats flip forward 60:40. Under the floor is a space-saving spare wheel.
We walked away highly impressed by the Suzuki Vitara S Turbo. The new 1.4 turbo engine is precisely what the car needed to more than match most rivals. While price-sensitive buyers will opt for the RT-S, the S Turbo adds some class to the range. Is it worth the premium? Well, more so than the old RT-X was. It’s a fun and definitely unique in its own right.
- CMC Motors is the official and sole distributor of all new Suzuki vehicles in Kenya. They are located along Lusaka Road, next to Shell Petrol Station in Industrial Area.
- The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles. Check out their official website or visit their showroom for more information.