Suzuki Vitara gets a chic, urbane update

The new Suzuki Vitara is more compact than older models and looks chic and urbane.
The new Suzuki Vitara is more compact than older models and looks chic and urbane. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
The new Suzuki Vitara is more compact than older models and looks chic and urbane.
The new Suzuki Vitara is more compact than older models and looks chic and urbane. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG

Suzuki's latest SUV adopts a softer stance to remain relevant

Looking at the new chic and urbane Suzuki Vitara, you cannot help but hanker a little for the days when SUVs were unfashionably angular, ruthlessly rugged and thoroughly uncar-like.

The latest Vitara follows the route of modern crossovers and comes across looking like an oversized hatchback rather than something you could conquer sand, mud and rut with.

Its two-tone paintwork follows that of the trendsetting Range Rover Evoque.

The latest Vitara is also surprisingly compact, losing millimetres to an already smallish Suzuki S-Cross in length and width. Its wheelbase is also shorter than the S-Cross'.

The only advantage it has is height.

And like the S-Cross, the Vitara now hails from Hungary.



    Price: From $109,900 with COE

    Engine: 1,586cc 16-valve inline-4

    Transmission: Six-speed automatic with paddle shift

    Power: 118bhp at 6,000rpm

    Torque: 156Nm at 4,400rpm

    0-100kmh: 13 seconds

    Top speed: 180kmh

    Fuel consumption: 5.7 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Champion Motors

By now, you would have sensed that I am not particularly enamoured of this new-age SUV. I suppose it has largely to do with a historical bias.

You see, I have always liked the Vitara in all its previous incarnations - for the very reasons cited in the first paragraph and more.

But if you have never known any Vitara before, the new car could please you. If nothing else, it conforms to the i-generation's idea of an SUV - smart, organic, environmentally gentler (it comes with stop-start system) and probably remembers your birthday.

The new car has plenty of toys. They include a six-speed gearbox with paddle shifters and all-wheel-drive. The latter is paired with automatic hill descent and a rotary control with four pre- selected terrain modes: Sport, Snow, Automatic and Lock.

This is a departure from the manually operated transfer case found in the old Vitara. It is a lot more convenient, but you lose some maschismo and sense of ruggedness.

Then again, even Land Rover has adopted this easy operation.

Owners are likely to leave the selector in Auto mode, though. Driven this way, the Vitara's 1.6-litre engine powers the front wheels to maximise efficiency and redistributes power to the rear only when necessary.

On the road, the Vitara is rather undramatic for an SUV. Its slightly elevated ride height and somewhat springy suspension aside, it drives like a car. After 10 minutes behind the wheel, you forget that you are in a Vitara.

On the flipside, it hugs the tarmac almost as intimately as a hatch and goes around bends without leaning too much. That means it will serve 99.9 per cent of people well 99.9 per cent of the time.

There is, however, no sense of occasion that you get from knowing the car you are driving is capable of tackling unpaved surfaces. Heck, you do not even have the urge to climb a kerb or park on a verge.

But that suits most people just fine. They buy an SUV not because they want to go off the beaten track, but because an SUV is hip.

If that is the case, they would be better off in a Nissan Qashqai 1.2, which is bigger, arguably prettier and lighter on the wallet in terms of acquisition and running cost. It does not have the hardware to get you to the jungle trails of Rompin and back, but does that matter?

Still, the Vitara nameplate is a strong one. And there will be folks who still want an SUV with some 4x4 capability. They will get that in the new Suzuki, plus a healthy helping of on-road competence.

For others, that the Vitara has shed its Neanderthal garb for a pinstripe suit is not altogether a bad thing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Viva Vitara'. Print Edition | Subscribe