I don’t think I have ever witnessed a brand that speaks to its customers in clearer language than Suzuki. It’s an ‘honest brand’ that delivers without fuss. They’re often good value too, as you get a highly comprehensive package of extras for relatively ‘ordinary money’. Look carefully when you are shopping for your next new car and you will find, unlike Suzukis’, the standard price is often devoid of some pretty costly extras from competitor brands.
The Vitara has always been a popular seller; mainly because of its ‘Winner takes all’ package – its stylish, practical, sporty, user friendly, economical and yes…. reliable. To the average eye it hasn’t changed much certainly in terms of looks over the years, but in fact it has; substantially so; we’ve seen various styling and safety upgrades in early 2019, and 2020 saw the spec increased significantly, along with 48V hybrid technology fitted as standard across the model range. Now Suzuki are responding full on to the environmental challenge all manufacturers face by offering the new Vitara with full hybrid technology.
You could argue that they are relatively late to the calling, and surely, we should be looking to a Suzuki EV by now?? – but on that I am not sure I agree; Suzuki’s whole product range (which is what counts the most) is largely ‘economical and environmentally friendly’, and its customers tend to be generally by nature conscious of such issues. The facts are, however, that despite financial incentives and central government directives, we are not all rushing out and buying electric cars until range and charging issues can match them; only 12% of all manufacturer sales in this segment are full electric. The realistic order of the day (for now) for the popular buyer, is hybrid.
That makes the Suzuki full hybrid Vitara a timely introduction. In addition to value and proven credibility it offers lower emissions and better fuel economy, yet costs not a penny more. The technical wizardry of it may not interest you, but it will to know that the new hybrid system has two switchable modes- Eco and Standard – operated via one single switch. In ‘Standard’, especially with Sport engaged on the Auto Gear Shift transmission (we’ll discuss the gearbox later) you can push on at a decent pace with a smile knowing that Eco will take care of less spirited driving and afford you travel via electricity only in slower, built up, and by default ‘smoggier’ areas, where I guess it counts for the most.
This latest Vitara is powered by a normally aspirated 1.5 litre engine, assisted by a 24-kw electric motor, specially engineered by Suzuki for full hybrid application, and is fitted to the two model grades this car is available in; namely the entry level SZ-T, and the all singing and dancing SZ5 driven here with the optional four-wheel drive. (Allgrip) The SZ – T comes with a comprehensive list of standard equipment, including rear parking camera, LED headlights, lane departure warning and prevention, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitor adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and satellite navigation.
The SZ5 adds 17” polished wheels, panoramic sunroof, suede seat fabric, front and rear parking sensors, and electric folding door mirrors with built in indicator to the equation, plus optional four-wheel drive. Prices range from £23,749- £30,134 for the dual-tone SZ5 Allgrip. 70/80% are likely to purchase on PCP which works out an average £279.0 per month.
In and Out
Inside the car there are no surprises. Entry and exit are easy all round as the car sits high, and a 6-footer is fine upfront with adequate headroom. At the back it’s touch and go comfort-wise if the same 6-footer sits behind someone of similar height, with the rear having just about enough headroom. All round vision from the driver’s side is good too.
The Vitara has been criticised by some for poor quality interior finish, but that has to be your personal call. It’s fair to say that some competitors in the segment offer plusher interiors. The switchgear and dials are clear and easy to operate; with a centrally mounted screen for Sat Nav, ICE, and Apple Car Play. Boot space to my mind is quite adequate, and it helps to have straight easy access of accessible height for luggage with the tail lifted, and the bonus of a removable floor pan for extra depth and /or oddments.
On the outside its familiar Vitara, its designers keen to retain whist update the original lines of the first generation Vitara of 1988. Aerodynamically we have a subtle combination of smooth surfaces, evolved with subtlety into contemporary aerodynamic design.
On the road
The Vitara is instantly ‘driver friendly’ once behind the wheel. This is particularly important for a car in this segment, often driven by multiple members of the family. Ride quality is good and grip levels are high but most importantly, ‘safe’. Yes, there’s traction control of course, but the car’s natural grip levels are high and reassuring. Cabin noise is ‘there’ but not overly intrusive, and steering feel is largely as you get with electronic steering i.e., a little vague, but is low geared enough to be comfortable to most.
The car is fitted with an automated manual gearshift; this has the advantage of being able to be driven like a manual car, but with no manually applied clutch. (known as AutoGear Shift) Suzuki chose this option for its improved CO2 performance (132g/km) and running cost savings, working out on average £10 per month saving for an average 10,000 miles per year.
Personally, I much prefer this transmission arrangement over a standard automatic, but it’s important to know how to drive it to derive the benefit. If you just stamp on the throttle as you would an ordinary automatic you will find it noisy at high revs in lower gears, and less eager to change up. That’s not the way; regulate the throttle application as if you were working up to a clutch change and you will find natural harmony with the transmission. What I enjoyed most about it was a much more decisive relationship with the throttle (more direct gear control), working a treat when you opt to change manually via the paddle shift. Approach driving the car without understanding how this transmission is best driven and you will not gain the benefit. A heads up to Suzuki sales staff; ‘please explain to customers how this car should be driven, and if necessary ‘demonstrate’. It’s easy when you’re told how, but if you don’t’ know you can’t be blamed.
Think about the Vitara as a highly credible small family SUV, tremendously well equipped for standard money, and on maybe its final internal combustion path to completeness.
The full hybrid benefits are obvious, and I recommend you to enjoy the unconventional transmission. Competitors might feel slightly higher quality on the inside, but you need to look at the whole equation. As I say, Suzukis tend to be rather honest cars in that the delivery tends to match the hype.