ON THE ROAD
A cheesy greeting card once said that the key to a happy life is working out what’s important to you. It just so happens that approach will help you decide whether you like the Suzuki Vitara.
The sub-compact crossover SUV has endeared itself more and more to South Africans in recent years. A few snips here, a couple of tweaks there and it has solidified itself as a practical, economical option for anyone in the market for a family car. Now, with the introduction of a new 1.4 Turbo a few months ago, it has a far loftier ambition: ensuring your driving pleasure.
Hence, the Vitara Turbo’s tagline “Drive the Fun”. But as corny as that sounds, the surprise comes when you realise that it’s not wrong at all (except grammatically, of course).
This is simply a fun car to drive. From the first pull-off it glides towards your desired cruising speed with little effort; the exceptionally smooth six-speed manual gearbox plays its part perfectly.
It’s not explosive but that’s not something we ever needed here. Rather, it offers steady, quick acceleration off the line and in lane changes.
It handles remarkably well, too. Cornering is responsive and at times the nimble Vitara feels far smaller than it actually is.
There’s something raw about the experience, offering a drive that feels uninhibited by any well-meaning but obtrusive technology. All the while the Suzuki holds close to the very good fuel economy of 5.8 litres per 100km.
Admittedly, we did have the benefit of open lockdown roads to test it on. Should the Vitara be constrained to day-to-day Jo’burg traffic the drive may likely feel a little less thrilling if you’re not on the highway.
This new engine does come at a cost. A literal one. The 1.4 Turbo GLX 6MT comes in at R396 900 — almost R100 000 more than the cheapest Vitara model. It also pushes it above the baser options of many of its competitors, including the Opel Crossland X and Volkswagen T-Cross.
And it certainly doesn’t have the finishings of those Germans. The cabin is packed with cheap plastic that is not pretty to look at. The styling is awkward and uninspired while the centre of the dashboard has an odd Maybachesque clock that you will probably never use.
Fortunately for the Vitara, it’s full value lies everywhere else. The infotainment setup, for instance, is robust and intuitive for this price range and comes with all the necessary Apple AirPlay/Android Auto capabilities you would hope for. More importantly, it fulfills its primary purpose for existence: being a family car. The boot is wide and will be able to fit a pram or anything else you may need to ferry on a daily basis, while space in the back seats is slightly above average for this segment.
Picking up the 1.4 Turbo will additionally provide just about all notable features as standard. These include keyless entry with push start, automatic LED headlamps and windscreen wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, park distance sensors, cruise control and suede upholstery. On all models in the range you also get a four-year 60 000km service plan on top of a five-year 200 000km warranty.
Is that value for money? Again, that all depends on your priorities. If you’re the type hoping to impress the lads at the country clubhouse with interior luxury then you should probably look elsewhere. For those for whom practicality and driving experience are king, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Price: R396 900