Sometimes the only way forward is to go backward. No, this is not some kind of crazy philosophy lesson, but it is what Suzuki did when they built this all-new, fourth generation Vitara.
Why all the buzz surrounding the Vitara's 'return'? Technically speaking, it has always been around since its introduction in 1989. But for the longest time, the second- and third-generation models were called the 'Grand Vitara' as it competed in the bigger C-segment crossover / SUV categories. While both the second- and third-gen models were formidable, the two did not truly met the success and cult status of the first-generation model which is known for its ruggedness and everyday usability as a family car and off-roader.
Like a boxer dropping a weight class to compete, the Vitara drops the 'Grand' and a few millimeters all around to compete in a smaller crossover segment. Yes, Suzuki decided it was time to shake things up in the B-segment crossover scene with the all-new Vitara. Sleeker, slightly smaller and choc-full of features, Suzuki is taking the fight against the likes of the Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Hyundai Kona, Kia Stonic, Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke.
To get a closer look at (and feel for) the 2018 Vitara inside and out, Suzuki recently invited us on a two day ride-and-drive to San Fernando, La Union. With more than 250 km of road ahead of us, we had plenty of time to get familiar with the top-spec GLX Vitara that Suzuki provided us.
More often than not, most crossovers today feature sharp angles, intricately-designed crevices and polarizing fascias. Suzuki, however, took a different approach when it came to styling the 2018 Vitara. They decided to play it safe in designing the crossover by blending both edgy and rounded shapes.
The Vitara's exterior is clever and fresh. The sweeping headlights, distinct front bumper and two-bar grill give the Vitara a serious and youthful demeanor. The side appears simple but one will immediately notice the eye-catching rear quarter wheel arches and 17-inch alloy wheels (lower variants come with 16-inch wheels).
Completing it all are the hexagon-shaped taillights and new tailgate; now without a tailgate-mounted spare tire like Vitaras of old. While some may lament the loss of the classic SUV-style spare tire carrier, the more flush-looking tailgate meant it had a more cohesive design.
Overall it's not the most daring of designs, and that's not a bad thing. To make it stand out more, the GLX can be had in a two-tone finish. Both the Atlantis Turquoise Pearl and Bright Red 5 Metallic come with a black-painted roof while the Horizon Orange Metallic gets a white-painted roof. GL and GL+ variants will only come in one color scheme.
Step inside the Vitara and it greets you with an ergonomic and contemporary cabin. While not exactly groundbreaking, the dashboard and layout of controls are easy to get familiar with. The familiar steering wheel retains its three-spoke design but is marginally smaller in diameter. The rim, however, is now thicker than the previous one for better grip and better feel. Aside from having multimedia controls, the wheel now also comes with cruise control which is available across the range. Moreover, it can be adjusted for reach to help drivers get into the right position.
Both front seats are comfortable and offer good lateral support. In addition, the driver's seat is height adjustable which is always a in my opinion. Certain touch-points of the car like the power window switches, door handles, climate control dials and dashboard buttons also have a quality feel to them. The interior door panels, on the other hand, could do with better fit and finish as they felt flimsy and may get damaged easily over time given their rather plasticky nature.
Space at the back is generous as there is plenty of leg room as well as elbow room for all three passengers. While the panoramic sunroof is a nice addition, the mechanism does consume some headroom which can be annoying for some. GL and GL+ variants do not come with the panoramic sunroof however. Luggage space is also very good as it can easily fit four bags with just enough space to maybe fit a cooler or large suitcase. Lastly, all of the doors come with bottle holders which are capable of holding up to 1.25-liter bottles.
Occupying the center dash is a 10-inch Android-based touchscreen infotainment system; it's probably the biggest in the segment or even the market as a whole. It supports a myriad of multimedia functions like AM/FM radio, USB, Aux, CD and SD. It also comes with smartphone mirror-link, Wi-Fi hotspot function and preloaded-apps like Waze, Facebook, Google Maps and Spotify as such.
It's not all perfume and roses however as I do have some gripes with the Vitara's cabin. Better attention to Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) deadening could be made for the 2018 Vitara. For starters, there is some noticeable wind noise that can be heard on the side mirrors and A-pillars when traveling at significant speeds. Also, the engine tends to be noisy upon initial acceleration whether under heavy or light loads. Lastly, the quality of hard plastic used could have been better.
The little engine that could
Under the hood, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor makes its home in the engine bay. On paper, it puts out a respectable 115 PS at 6000 rpm and 156 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm. Power is then routed through a six-speed automatic transmission that comes with paddle shifters. Sure its output figures may look average, but it's how the powertrain delivered its pep that surprised us.
What the engine lacked in sheer grunt, it made up for with a particularly smart and responsive automatic gearbox. Unlike most self-shifting transmissions where you need to mash the accelerator pedal to initiate 'kickdown', the Vitara's six-speed only needs a relatively light tap for it to go down a gear for quicker overtaking. The engine, on the other hand, is quite revvy and is not afraid to make use of all available rpms.
Throw the transmission to manual mode and it holds the gears for longer while also allowing the driver to use the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. I would have liked the paddles more if they were finished in metal, but the plastic used is of fine quality and felt tactile to the touch.
Drive it sedately in the city or along the highway and the powertrain remains relaxed and also kept the revs low. In fact, it was capable of averaging of upwards of 16.0 or 17.0 km/l at highway speeds. Meanwhile, light city driving will net you an average fuel consumption of about 9.0 – 10.0 km/l. Drive the Vitara with an even lighter foot and it's possible to reach fuel economy figures in the near 19.0 km/l and 12.0 km/l respectively. That was surprising given that max torque is reached at 4400 rpm, but something about how the tires felt would shed some light on the fuel economy.
Sure the gasoline-powered M16A performed adequately and did not disappoint, but I wished that the turbo-diesel D16A was also made available here. However, according to Mr. Kennedy Adia, Suzuki's Senior Product Supervisor for Automobiles, the diesel engine is only compatible with Euro6 fuel while we're still at Euro4. Here's to hoping that the quality of our fuel will improve in the near future.
Also, there will be no manual versions available. Adia cited that since most crossover buyers nowadays stick to an automatic or CVT, there is no need to bring a manual version of the Vitara.
Unlike the previous Grand Vitara which was a semi-crossover (the ladder frame built into the unibody), this Vitara is a full crossover with a unibody derived from the sporty SX4 S-Cross. And unlike previous Vitaras and Grand Vitaras with longitudinally-mounted engines for rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, the new one's motor is mounted in a transverse manner; yes, it's a front wheel drive. Internationally, there's a four-wheel drive version, but we won't be getting it in our market.
Given the more car-like orientation, the Vitara handled the corners and tight bends with ease. As the Vitara has a relatively low ground clearance at 185mm, the lower center of gravity prevents wallowing and helps minimize body roll. The electronic-power assisted steering is finely-weighted in both highway and city driving. A bit more road feel, however, could do wonders to make the Vitara a bit more engaging to drive as the feel through the steering wheel could be better.
The brakes are nice; the lighter body and the more modern braking system gives a more confident feel when braking. The accelerator pedal, on the other hand, felt progressive to use and was easy to modulate power delivery. I just wished Suzuki opted for a slightly wider accelerator pedal for people with, uh, larger feet.
The Vitara absorbed road bumps, rutted streets and potholes well; the unibody and dampers were nicely tuned to smooth out most of the rough stuff that roads have to offer. There is, however, a hint of firmness coming from the tires which made the ride a bit bumpy at times. We suspect that it's a result of either the lower profile 55-series tires or perhaps air pressure that's higher than recommended. Perhaps that's also why the fuel economy was so good; that's something we can fully test later on.
So it has the makings of a decent B-segment crossover but comes with a plethora of features that are normally found on bigger, more expensive cars. Its exterior design is modern but safe, and I reckon it will age well over the next few years. The interior was put together well for the most part and generates plenty of space. The powertrain performed well and returned reasonable fuel consumption figures too; though we can put a pin in that given our hunch that the tires may be over inflated a bit.
Available in either top-spec GLX (Php 1,048,000) or in mid-grade GL+ (Php 938,000), the 2018 Vitara is priced competitively in its segment and has a lot going for it (the base model GL will arrive at a later date). In the very lucrative B-segment crossover, the all-new Vitara cuts right into action by presenting itself as a youthful, high-riding, feature-packed and dependable five-seater for the new age.
Some might say that Suzuki arrived late in the game, but for Shuzo Hoshikura, Suzuki Philippines General Manager for Automobiles, it came at just the right time. With most of the competition not yet introducing any updates on their models, Suzuki jumped on the chance to introduce their own comeback kid.
Still, I'll miss the off-road charm of the older Grand Vitara. And the Jimny's.