Suzuki was well ahead of the pack when it launched the original Vitara in 1988, being one of the first offerings in the compact-SUV segment.
Fast-forward to 2015, and the nameplate was revived after the Grand Vitara replaced the non-Grand model in 1998, eschewing the off-road focus of its forebears for a more urban-centric approach.
The current-generation model was again one of the first models to compete in the now burgeoning segment, though it quickly gained a host of rivals as the market moved towards the high-riding hatchbacks.
As more and more manufacturers jumped on the small-SUV bandwagon, however, the little Suzuki started to get lost in a sea of ever-improving competitors, namely in the areas of interior ambience and driver-assistance technology.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the Japanese brand has given its top-selling crossover a mid-life refresh, complete with design changes and an array of active safety tech that previously wasn't available in Australia, to keep it competitive in the strongly contested segment.
Here on test we have the flagship Vitara Turbo AllGrip, which is listed at $33,990 before on-road costs.
Being at the upper end of the class in terms of price, you'd expect a comprehensive equipment list – and the Vitara delivers.
Unique to the AllGrip is all-wheel drive, hill-descent control, a panoramic sunroof, and a sunglasses holder mounted in the ceiling up front. That's on top of features included on the front-wheel-drive Turbo, which includes leather/suede seats with tyre-tread-like inserts, front and rear parking sensors, heated exterior mirrors, automatic LED headlights with blue lenses and high-beam assist, 17-inch alloy wheels with polished finish, rain-sensing wipers, and electric-folding side mirrors.
Rounding out the highlights are a 7.0-inch touchscreen with native satellite navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear-view camera, climate-control air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, and LED daytime-running lights.
The Turbo models also gain autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control as part of the 2019 upgrade, which previously weren't available at all.
Rounding out the safety suite are seven airbags (including driver's knee), two ISOFIX child seat mounts on the outboard rear seats, and three top tether points.
The Vitara wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating with a 2015 date stamp based on local testing of the pre-facelift model. It's worth noting the 2015 regime didn't require active safety systems for a five-star rating.
Our tester's Cool White pearl exterior paint is the only standard finish, with single-colour metallic finishes asking for another $500, while two-tone options (colour plus black roof) command $1250 extra.
In terms of the design, the Hungarian-sourced Vitara hasn't changed drastically from the pre-update model, with the main changes being revised bumpers front and rear, along with new LED tail-lights and new alloy wheels.
The boxy design and bold styling elements like the horizontal slatted grille give the Vitara a tough aesthetic, and is certainly more conventional than numerous rivals like, say, the Hyundai Kona.
While it doesn't make you say 'wow', the Vitara's looks will inspire few but also offend less, giving it a more broad appeal.
Inside it's more of the same, with the familiar dashboard layout featuring a 7.0-inch central touchscreen positioned above the LCD climate-control display. The biggest difference you'll notice is the soft-touch dash top, and the new leather/suede trim that features tyre-tread-like elements stitched into the seat inserts – it's pretty funky.
The infotainment interface is fairly simple to navigate, with clear menus and a quadrant-style main menu that makes accessing basic functions rather simple, but as we've complained previously about the Suzuki unit, it can be a little buggy. On several occasions, Apple CarPlay just wouldn't start, even after unplugging and plugging my iPhone back in, and response times to touch inputs can vary.
Cabin ambience isn't the Suzuki's strong point, either. Despite the addition of the soft dash element, there's an abundance of hard, scratchy, and in some cases flimsy, plastics. It's a stark contrast to the likes of the Toyota C-HR and Subaru XV, though some may like the utilitarian approach. Most of the main touchpoints are trimmed in fabric or leatherette, though, meaning there are soft places to rest your elbows.
The leather steering wheel feels good in the hand, and the analogue dials are nice and clear. However, there's still no digital speedometer readout despite the colour TFT driver's display. At least it displays the cruise-control speed, though.
It doesn't get much better in the rear either. While legroom is decent, headroom for taller passengers is really compromised, especially with the AllGrip's panoramic glass sunroof. Anyone over 6ft tall will find the second row a little hard on the neck.
On the topic of the sunroof, the flimsy shade does little to protect the cabin from Australia's hot summer. The Vitara can get very hot if left out in the sun for extended periods, and can take a while to cool down even with the air-con on full blast. There are also no rear air vents and there's no fold-down centre armrest, either.
Behind the second row is a 375L luggage area that expands to 1120L with the rear seats folded. It's no standout in the booty arena, but it's par for the class. A space-saver spare wheel lives under the boot floor.
Power in the Vitara Turbo models comes from a carryover 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 103kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm between 1500 and 4000rpm. In the case of our tester, it's sent to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system with switchable modes through a six-speed torque converter automatic.
Being one of the growing number of turbocharged offerings in the class, the Vitara Turbo feels pretty punchy. Its outputs look fairly meek on paper, though acceleration off the line is quite enthusiastic – it also helps that the Suzuki weighs just 1235kg.
The responsive engine is coupled to a relatively smart transmission that shifts quickly and intuitively, and is also snappy to kick down when you need to make a quick dash. In saying that, sometimes it can send the revs past 3000 or 4000rpm when you give the throttle a prod to get up a hill, which isn't super refined.
Speaking of refinement, the Vitara doesn't have the best insulation from road noise, especially over rougher surfaces. Perceived tyre roar was fairly noticeable at most speeds, though wind noise was kept to a relative minimum.
The 'Boosterjet' petrol engine can also get a little noisy under load, which again detracts from the refinement aspect of the drive experience.
Where the Vitara does claw back a bit is in the handling department. Thanks to its light weight and direct steering, the Suzuki feels more like a big hatchback in the bends than a high-riding crossover. You can't defy physics, though, as there is a bit of body roll, but it never feels top-heavy or wallowy like you might find in some competing vehicles.
There's also plenty of grip bolstered by the surety of all-wheel drive, and colleague Mike Costello noted great traction and stability over loose surfaces during an extended stint on unsealed roads.
It rides pretty well, too. Despite being tuned a little on the firmer side, the Vitara does a good job absorbing most road imperfections, with only the harshest of bumps upsetting it.
As for fuel consumption, we returned an indicated 7.5L/100km over 277km of mixed driving. Officially, Suzuki claims 6.2L/100km on the combined cycle. Using our trip computer reading as a guide, you can achieve a theoretical range of over 600km per fill of its 47L tank.
From an ownership perspective, the Vitara range is covered by a five-year, 140,000km factory warranty, provided the vehicle is serviced every six months/10,000km through the company's five-year capped-price servicing program.
Scheduled maintenance is required every six months or 10,000km as mentioned above, which is quite a bit shorter than most other brands these days. The first five visits will set you back $175, $175, $175, $359 and $175 respectively, though that only covers you for 30 months or 50,000km.
For the life of the five-year program, the Suzuki will cost $2362 in servicing, averaging out at $472 per annum over that period. That's a little on the higher side for the class, and the added inconvenience of having to go to the dealer every six months should be taken into consideration.
In such a hotly contested segment, the Vitara Turbo AllGrip doesn't really stand out as a leader in any aspect. On face value it's a rather good offering – it drives well, has plenty of features, and there's good space for kids and luggage in the back.
However, the compromised accommodation for larger rear passengers and cheap-feeling interior count against it, and it's quite expensive in Turbo AllGrip guise, too.
We'd suggest the front-wheel-drive Turbo, which also deselects the panoramic roof, reducing the price by a handy $4000 while also improving rear-seat headroom. In this specification, the Vitara is far better value and its shortcomings are less of a sore point given the cheaper pricing.