The Suzuki Vitara nameplate returned to Australian shores from hiatus about six months ago. The boxy little crossover is now the company’s second-biggest seller after the Swift.
But while the reborn Suzuki Vitara hasn’t been here long, a welcome upgrade to the range-topping variant has arrived: a more powerful turbo-petrol engine from Suzuki’s new European-focused ‘BoosterJet’ family.
Can the 2016 Suzuki Vitara S Turbo help the brand draw more buyers away from the bigger-selling Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX and Holden Trax, and improve on its current market share of 4.3 per cent?
It should. For $5000 over the base Vitara RT-S, you can get a funkier design with black allows, a handful of extra features such as leather/suede seats (and more, which we touch on later), and the significantly more powerful new powertrain.
The new Suzuki Vitara S Turbo costs $28,990 plus on-road costs in front-wheel drive guise (or $29,990 drive-away), or $32,990 plus on-road costs for the four-wheel drive version. It replaces the discontinued Vitara RT-X, available only with AWD for $31,990.
Read our detailed 2016 Suzuki Vitara pricing and specifications story here.
For some context, the pricing puts the Vitara Turbo S about on a par with the mid-spec Mazda CX-3 sTouring or Honda HR-V variants, or the flagship 1.4 turbo Holden Trax LTZ. The front-drive Turbo S is also $5000 more expensive than the less well-equipped Vitara RT-S, which is still powered by the old non-turbo engine.
The Vitara S Turbo’s engine is a direct-injected 1.4-litre unit producing 103kW at 5500rpm and a strong 220Nm between 1500 and 4000rpm — increases of 17kW/64Nm over the base 1.6 normally aspirated engine. The Vitara Turbo S also offers 28Nm more torque than the Mazda CX-3, and at 1160kg as tested, the car is also moderately lighter.
Pleasingly, the engine is largely free of lag at low engine speeds and stronger in the mid-range, meaning the greater torque output is also more accessible. Overtaking, sneaking into gaps, and ferrying heavy car-loads is now much easier than before. You can also expect greater refinement, on account of the engine’s comparatively effortless delivery.
It is also marginally better on fuel than the slower Vitara 1.6 because it is more relaxed (Suzuki claims 5.9 litres per 100km, we got mid 6s), though it prefers pricer 95 RON fuel. Those numbers are still super efficient — a traditional Suzuki trademark.
Matched as standard to the Vitara S Turbo’s engine is a six-speed automatic transmission with torque converter and steering wheel-mounted paddles. Our test car was the base front-drive model, but the 4WD version gets Suzuki’s AllGrip on-demand system with four off-road modes that adjust the parameters of the throttle calibration and torque delivery.
Small Suzuki SUVs have historically been good off-road, though in the modern market, most buyers never leave the asphalt. The Vitara isn’t an old-school off-roader like the Jimny, but the company claims it’s well-suited to mild-moderate off-road conditions. Would you really pay the extra $4000, though?
Befitting the Vitara’s low weight, which is a mere 30kg heavier than the Honda Jazz, the car also handles really well, with eager turn-in, good handling with little body roll, and light but direct steering. The compact dimensions — it’s 100mm shorter than the CX-3, which is itself small for the class — mean it’s also a doddle to park and shuffle about in the city.
The ride quality is generally fine, though sharper road imperfections are felt inside the cabin on account of the firm-ish suspension tune and the relatively low-profile 17-inch (black-painted) alloys wrapped in good quality Continental tyres. There’s also some tyre roar and wind noise in the cabin at highway speeds, but around town it’s less obvious.
Remaining a Vitara strong suit is the chunky design that makes the car appear bigger, tougher and more upmarket than it is. A range of cool bright colours and the optional two-tone black roof (an extra $995) add some character. The Turbo S gets unique features such as a revised chrome grille, the black alloy wheels and LED headlights/daytime running lights.
The edgy design carries over to the cabin. The plastic bits running along the instrument panel and the louvre rings around the air vent can be swapped out for different colours (Black, Turquiose, White, Orange, Ivory, Bright Red) when the mood takes you for $265 a set plus fitment costs at your dealer.
The standard equipment list on all Vitara variants is excellent for the money.
Both the RT-S and the S-Turbo get a touchscreen with reverse-view camera and integrated sat-nav, as well as Apple CarPlay connectivity (but not Android Auto). This plus climate control, Bluetooth/USB, cruise control with speed limiter and electric-folding door mirrors. You also get seven airbags and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Over and above the RT-S, the Turbo S gets features such as leather/suede seats, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, and auto on/off LED headlights.
The proposition, then, is simple. For an extra $5000, you get the Vitara Turbo S over the RT-S with this list of extras, plus the black rather than silver alloy wheels and the stronger turbo engine. If you want AWD, you have no option but to buy the Turbo S. Is it worth the extra? To us, yes, but in such a price-sensitive segment, the RT-S will be sufficient for many.
In typical Suzuki style, the layout is ergonomic, there are multiple little storage cubbies, and the build quality is second-to-none. However, the plastics are hard to the touch (though the S Turbo's suede inlays within are a nice touch), and the doors feel a little tinny when you close them. Explains that low weight.
It looks a million bucks and offers all the features, but doesn’t feel as upmarket or premium as the CX-3 or HR-V. Still, that elevated driving position, the changeable coloured plastic bits and the Apple CarPlay system will be enough to woo many, and understandably so.
The rear seats offer ample room for two medium-sized adults or three kids, though the rear seats are non-adjustable. You get three adjustable headrests and two outboard Isofix anchors for child seats. The rear windows don’t go all the way down, though they’re large enough to give good outward visibility. Storage comprises a single map pocket and bottle holders in the doors.
With the rear seats in use you get 375 litres of cargo space, enough space (as you can see in the pictures) for a few suitcases. This is about mid-way between the space offered by the pokey Mazda CX-3 and the cavernous Honda HR-V. The rear seats flip forward 60:40. Under the floor is a space-saving spare wheel.
All Suzuki Australia models get a three-year/100,000km warranty and capped-price servicing on six-monthly intervals priced between $249 and $295 a pop.
We walked away highly impressed by the Suzuki Vitara S Turbo. The new 1.4 turbo engine is precisely what the car needed to more than match most rivals. While price-sensitive buyers will opt for the RT-S, the S Turbo adds some class to the range. Is it worth the premium? Well, more so than the old RT-X was. It's a fun, left-of-centre small SUV option.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.
Videography by Igor Solomon.
MORE: Suzuki Vitara Reviews