Suzuki really changed up the Vitara recipe when it returned as a new model in 2016. Gone was stuff like off-road ability, three-door layouts and soft-top convertibles. The Vitara is now firmly a road-going small SUV, with a splash of Suzuki pizzazz thrown in for good measure.
The 2020 Suzuki Vitara has been facelifted, with some tweaks inside and out to keep it fresh and competitive against a segment of new and improved offerings. But is it enough? We've got the base-specification Vitara here to find out.
The range starts at $22,990 with a five-speed manual gearbox, while our tester has the six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. Dropping the pedal count to two takes the starting price up to $24,990.
We have a Savannah Ivory number here offset by the contrasting Cosmic Black roof. The two-tone treatment costs $1250 and is available in four other colours. You can also choose single hues, like metallic silver or black for $500, or save your pennies with a base white paint job.
That brings the total asking price up to $26,240 for the base step in a range that climbs to $30,490 for the next step up Vitara Turbo or $34,490 for the 1.4-litre Vitara Turbo AllGrip with all-wheel drive.
Competition is stiff for the Vitara, whose one-time unique off-road ability is now a distant memory. Toyota’s C-HR, Kia’s Seltos, Hyundai’s Venue and Volkswagen T-Cross are all fighting for sales at the moment. And although they can’t all match the low-price proposition of this base-spec Vitara, they still need to get crossed off the buyer’s list.
Don’t forget the longer-serving competition, as well: Subaru XV, Mitsubishi ASX and Eclipse Cross, Hyundai Kona and Nissan Juke, just to name a few. Let’s see if this Vitara stacks up as a viable choice.
Changes to the 2020 Vitara include a sliding function to the centre console armrest, soft-touch materials on the dashboard, and a new 4.2-inch colour LCD in the instrument binnacle. The exterior has also been slightly facelifted.
Otherwise, there is some generosity in the standard specification: 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry with push-button start, single-zone climate control, and a few exterior chrome garnishes.
There are no advanced safety aids on this specification of Vitara. For such things, you need to step up to the Turbo spec. It’s a big jump in price, too: $5500 separates the Turbo and non-Turbo variants.
No turbo means this spec misses out on the more powerful ‘BoosterJet’ 1.4-litre lump, instead using a mostly mediocre, naturally aspirated 1.6-litre engine instead. It makes 86kW at 6000rpm and 156Nm at 4400rpm. That’s not a lot of torque, even for the 1120kg kerb weight. Peak power and torque are both only available high up in the rev range, leaving it feeling less than gutsy, but adequate around town. It is happy to rev up towards redline, however, when you need maximum go forward.
Running through a six-speed torque converter gearbox, there’s adequate performance up to around 50 or 60km/h. So around town, it’s enough. Up to 80km/h, it’s barely enough, and I’d rate it firmly underdone at highway speeds. Acceleration around triple digits is slow, and the gearbox feels unsettled as it tends to hunt around for torque.
Throw in a decent hum of road noise, and the Vitara doesn't feel completely at home on the highway.
On the plus side, the Vitara is efficient. We saw as low as 6.1 litres per 100km with some longer highway runs in our commute, but heavier town driving saw that number creep up to 6.6L/100km – about as close as you're ever likely to get to the factory claim of 6.2L/100km.
The Vitara’s suspension tune feels sporty and playful, without falling into the trap of firm discomfort over rough surfaces and bumps. Joined by zippy-feeling steering, the Vitara is fun to throw through corners without any hint of understeer – the rear end is really willing to follow suit and rotate the car through corners. It’s just a shame the engine runs out of puff so quickly.
The Vitara's 10.4m turning circle is decent, and along with good visibility from the boxy shape, helps its credentials as an around-town SUV.
The infotainment unit is good, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. It’s easy to use, but the volume control can be a little bit fiddly and frustrating. Something of a rarity these days is the analogue clock, which slots in between the air-conditioning vents above the infotainment display.
Plug your phone in via the single USB point up front, or use the single 12V plug for power. Storage is well sorted, with two cupholders and a few handy spots for your daily bits and bobs. The dashboard is soft, and the steering wheel feels nice in the hands. However, there are still a handful of less impressive hard plastics to account for. But don’t forget, this is a base-specification model with a relatively sharp price.
The new multifunction display has lots of information for the driver to cycle through, but most of it is gimmicky stuff. I would prefer a digital speedometer, which it’s unfortunately missing.
The second row of the Vitara is reasonably sized for the segment, with enough space for average adults to be comfortable. Bigger adults front and rear could struggle, however, and there are no air vents or power outlets for second-row occupants.
The boot, which offers 375L of space, has three levels. There's a space-saver (plus some extra room) down the bottom, with some handy segmented storage under the false floor. That floor can be held open with a smartly designed frame bracket, giving you good access. Drop the second row and you've got a handy 1120L at your disposal.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km for the 1.6-litre Vitara, and comes under Suzuki’s five-year capped-price servicing program. Each visit is set at $239, $329, $429, $329 and $239, which takes you to either five years or 75,000km. If you run to 90,000km before the five-year mark, the next service is listed at $559.
The 2020 Suzuki Vitara nails two important elements for this segment. Number one is it's good value for money, and number two is that it's more interesting than a cookie-cutter town car. It's fun to drive as well, with a nice balance of comfort and dynamic response.
However, despite being fuel-efficient, the 1.6-litre engine has shortcomings and needs plenty of throttle to get moving. Also, the lack of autonomous emergency braking in this specification is a bit of a shame.