The Vitara nameplate has always been an important vehicle for Suzuki. For the time being, it’s their only large 4x4, and 4x2 SUV aside from their small, go anywhere SUV, the 3 door Jimny. The previous generation Vitara has been around from 2005 – 2015. The current generation Suzuki Vitara was introduced in the International market last 2015 as a 2016 model. The latest facelift was launched quietly in the Philippines in early October of 2019. It received simple yet substantial upgrades for the exterior and the interior for the 2019 model Vitara. While the units of the 2019 new Vitara facelift has already arrived in Cebu, Suzuki Auto Cebu who provided me with the test unit (pre-facelift model) said that there are no test units available for the new facelift model yet. I am only able to test and do a review on the 2018 pre—facelift Vitara. Full disclosure to my readers, while I will be focusing my review on the pre-facelift 2018 Vitara, I will also be highlighting what is new with the 2019 model Vitara as the pre-facelift will no longer be available as of this writing.
The design of the new Vitara is quite striking for a crossover, subcompact SUV. It takes cues from the previous model Suzuki Vitara with a clamshell hood. The new Vitara employs the same clam shell hood design, but with a little bit of flare. The overall design is very cohesive, sharp looking and modern. View it from a certain front angle, the design will remind you of a much more expensive small SUV from Range Rover, the Evoque. But while we admire its overall design and for being such a lovely small, crossover SUV, how does it really fair on the road? How is its performance and driving manners? Well, let’s find out in this full written review.
Ride and Handling
Vitara's suspension set up is clearly tuned towards being firm but never unsettling. It strikes a good balance of being able to iron out small bumps and ruts while being able to maintain body control in twisty roads. It's firm, yet still comfortable. You do get occasional body shudders every now and then if you do hit big potholes at high speed. But in this category, it does better than the competitions which are tuned more towards cushy, soft and floaty ride. I prefer the firm and controlled balance of the Suzuki Vitara. The best part about this set up is that if you do get the chance to take the Vitara out on long drives, on long and twisty roads, it will reward you with good road handling and body control, and steering input that is spot on, quite a fete in this category and price range. Uphill, the firm suspension setting gives the driver a reassuring and controlled handling. This is also true when going downhill at higher speeds; brake feel is good, it doesn't feel overly eager and neither is it hesitant to stop when needed, and brake feel doesn't feel spongy as well, all these while keeping body roll at a minimum.
Firstly, the Vitara's seats are covered in Suede and leather and are very supportive and comfortable. On the flip side, it doesn't come with any form of power adjustments, but the manual adjustments are as good anyway. It's quite easy to find a good driving position in the Vitara. Thanks in part to its adjustable tilt and telescopic steering wheel. Once inside and behind the steering wheel, you do notice that you sit somewhat high and upright in the Vitara. I like that I get the feeling that I am driving on it, rather than being in it. Some subcompact crossover SUV tend to let you drive lower inside the cabin, like driving a normal sedan. In the Vitara, you do get a feeling that you are driving an SUV, a smaller SUV, because of the high seating position. Similar comfort can be experienced in the front passenger area and in the rear seats. The front bucket seats offer great cushioning, back and lateral support are also very good. The rear bench seat too has good seat incline, and very good cushioning and lateral support. This is perfect for long drives and in lessening driving fatigue.
Driving the Vitara is made easy by 4 sensors all around the vehicle for ease of backing up and maneuver. It also let's you avoid getting hit by other vehicles on tight parking areas. If that's not enough, the Vitara is equipped with a back up camera that's fed into the 10" infotainment head unit. Backing up with the rear camera viewed on a large screen is a joy especially for new drivers. Other comfort feature that's worth mentioning is the addition of Auto headlights, and auto wipers. They automatically come into action as soon as their sensors sense that natural light is low and when there are water droplets on the windshield. While digital auto Aircon insures that cabin temperature is kept to a cool and comfortable level at any time of the day. The available panoramic sunroof however gives the Vitara's interior the extra feeling of space because it lets in natural light and it also gives you that added option of open top driving when weather condition permits.
From the get go, Vitara's 1.6li engine seems to be lacking in pull, but Suzuki's naturally aspirated engines have that natural characteristic. Like the K series of the Suzuki Swift, the M series engine of the Vitara loves to be revved higher to fully utilize its powerband . Some would say this is a bad thing as it affects fuel efficiency and increase noise and harshness from the engine. However, as you press on the Vitara at about 3,000 rpm, power band seems to stretch all the way up to the 5000 rpm with no sacrifice to fuel efficiency in my experience. Though engine tends to be louder at high revs, it's never bothersome inside the cabin. Driven it past 100 km/hr mark on the highway (traffic free on a Sunday), the engine seems to settle nicely on 6th gear and at 2,800 – 3,000 rpm. A word of advice though, since the engine doesn't really have mounds of torque at low rpm, you might want to down shift via paddle shifter to lower gears ahead of time and in anticipation if you want to over take slow moving vehicles. Using the paddle shifts, the engine seems to respond way better to shift inputs rather than leaving it at D (auto) when you are in a hurry. At just around 1,730 kgs in weight, the Vitara lighter than its rivals making the 1.6li engine more efficient as it doesn't have to pull a heavy piece of metal.
On flat roads and highways, the M series 1.6li VVT DOHC gas engine performs admirably well even in the higher rev band. As I have mentioned, the Vitara's engine loves to be pushed harder to get the best of the 1.6li displacement. However, on uphill drive, with more than 2 persons in the vehicle, the Vitara needs to down shift more often to 2nd gear to climb at a comfortable pace. It does make it the sound as if the engine is a bit strained, but the engine is more than capable to take you up to your needed destination.
I have very little to complain about with the new Vitara. Firstly, I wish the Vitara hand more power and torque, but for City driving, what the Vitara's engine offer is more than enough. Next would be the those hard plastics inside the cabin. This has been addressed in the latest 2019 facelift model. Another is the very thin layer of cloth that covers the panoramic sunroof. While this makes it easier for natural sunlight to enter the cabin for a more spacious looking cabin, this also makes heat enter the cabin easier on hot sunny days. The aircon system needs to work extra hard to cool down the cabin after being left stranded in an open parking spaces. I would suggest that owners should at least put a super dark tint on the Panoramic Sunroof to prevent heat from intruding the cabin. And lastly, when I need to use the paddle shift, the left headlight stalk constantly gets in the way of the paddle shift because it is too close to where the paddle shift is located and the size of the stalk is a bit long for normal operation. Otherwise, the Vitara is a joy to drive and rewards the driver with a good steering feedback, a sporty handling and an uncompromised comfortable ride while returning a very good fuel economy. While the Vitara returns a good fuel economy figures, the size of the gasoline tank (at just 47 liters) makes it self limiting for long drives. There will be more fuel stops for longer journeys should you want to take the Vitara out of town.
The Vitara for me is still the best value for money for small crossover, subcompact SUVs out there. Now, more than ever, the 2019 facelift with more added features with no price increase makes it even a better choice, granted you can live with the negatives that I just mentioned. Not to mention that the current model Vitara has achieved 5 star safety rating in Euro NCAP and is also the number one in sales in Europe and in Australia for its category. The 2019 Vitara sold in the Philippines and in Cebu are Euro speced because, you guessed it! It’s made in Europe, in Suzuki’s factory in Hungary.