Suzuki Vitara goes sporty

At the end of last year we focussed on the return of a style icon from the late 1980s and 90s – the Suzuki Vitara. Now, just three months later, we have in our hands the keys for the new Suzuki Vitara S.

As the ’S’ tag suggest this is a more sporty version of the Vitara. The Vitara S is recognised by a different front grille, rear upper spoiler, silver door mirrors and red stitching in the interior. The bright red, stand-out paint on the test car was complemented by slightly-menacing all-black alloy wheels.

Suzuki Vitara S

So much for the appearance, but it is in the drivetrain that the biggest changes have been made to upgrade the car to the sporting flagship of the Vitara range.

This is the first application of what Suzuki is calling their Boosterjet engine technology. The new 1.4-litre turbocharged engine in the Vitara S produces 41% more torque that the larger 1.6-litre petrol engine. Power is up by 32 bhp to 140 bhp, while the 0-62 mph acceleration is cut by 1.2 seconds to 10.2 seconds.

Significantly the new Boosterjet engine is mated to a six-speed gearbox, where the 1.6-litre petrol-engined Vitaras have to do with a five-speed box.

You might expect the performance boost to be at the expense of the economy that impressed me in the test of the Suzuki SZ5. But, a combined fuel consumption of 52.3 mpg, is even better than the SZ5 Allgrip and notably good for a four-wheel-drive. Despite driving it quite hard – mostly in ‘Sport’ mode – my overall economy was still a quite creditable 31 mpg for a mix of town and country driving.

Yes, while you can buy a two-wheel-drive Vitara further down the range (Suzuki would be mad to ignore the market for people who like the off-road style, but don’t need go-anywhere ability), the Vitara S is only available (at least for the moment) in full four-wheel-drive form.

I add the word “full” deliberately. Where many of today’s small SUVs have limited off-road ability, the Suzuki Vitara S (like the SZ5 Allgrip I tested previously) comes complete with a differential lock, for more serious mud-plugging, and hill-descent control. So, it has the credentials to tackle worse conditions than most small 4x4s.

As with the Vitara SZ5 tested earlier, the driver can select drive modes. ‘Auto’ prioritises fuel economy and defaults to front wheel drive, but with four-wheel-drive immediately selected if the car detects any slippage.

‘Sport’ mainly uses four-wheel-drive and, at low to mid-range engine speeds, alters the engine management to be more responsive. ‘Snow’ mode selects four-wheel-drive and optimises the accelerator responses and torque for slippery surfaces.

‘Lock’ is the mode that many of the Suzuki’s competitors don’t offer. A limited slip differential limits wheelspin and keeps the other wheels turning to help extricate the car from snow, mud or sand. ‘4WD Control’ senses the road surface, throttle opening and steering angle to try to avoid loss of grip.

The Suzuki Vitara S does feel decidedly more sporty in character than the Suzuki SZ5 Allgrip. It’s responses are more eager. On twisty B-roads, it corners remarkably flat and grips well. The steering is a bit lighter than I would expect in a car with sporting intentions, but once used to this lightness it does actually deliver reasonable feedback and is commendably precise. You can point the car at the apex with confidence.

Suzuki Vitara S interior

While the suspension is tighter, you don’t need to fear the ride quality which is supple enough to still feel quite refined. Indeed, the Vitara S generally feels more refined than the SZ5 Allgrip.

As with the SZ5, the equipment levels are generous. A full complement of seven airbags, including a driver’s knee bag helped it attain a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. Bluetooth and DAB radio are standard, as is sat-nav.

Most welcome is the adaptive cruise control and radar brake support. As with the SZ5 I tested, this makes motorway and dual-carriageway driving much more relaxing as the car automatically adjusts its speed to maintain a gap from the car in front. If the worst should happen, the radar brake support should apply the brakes if the driver does not react to an obstacle in the car’s path. This is a proven safety benefit, increasing the braking effort – or even braking automatically – if the car senses an imminent collision.

Although I cannot see any substantial difference between the interior of the Vitara S and the SZ5, other than red highlights and the artificial suede upholstery, it seems a more appealing place to be.

The bottom line, for me, is that the Vitara S makes an even more convincing case for itself than the SZ5 Allgrip. I enjoyed the more sporting style and its more lively performance and handling. I also felt much happier with a six-speed gearbox, which we now expect as the norm. Add to that the fact that the fuel economy is even better than the 1.6 petrol engined version and, for me, the extra £600 over the SZ5 Allgrip is well worth spending.

The Suzuki Vitara S is an appealing package and an enjoyable drive, with the versatility and reassurance that it will keep going in almost any conditions.

Suzuki Vitara S

While many manufacturers now only offer diesel versions of their SUVs, the Vitara S actually boosts the petrol-engined offerings for this model. With more people realising that diesel is only justified for high-mileage motoring and that reduced CO2 emissions have to be balanced against higher levels of other emissions, the swing away from diesel is an emerging trend.

Suzuki could be ahead of the game.

Suzuki Vitara S Boosterjet
Price £20,899
Carbon dioxide emissions: 127 g/km
Combined fuel economy 52.3 mpg
Top speed: 124 mph
0-62: 10.2 secs
Power 140 PS
Engine size 1373cc petrol
Boot capacity 375/710 (back seats up/folded)
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