Suzuki Vitara SUV review
“The Suzuki Vitara is a class stalwart and the latest version is affordable to buy and run, as well as being fun to drive”
- Lots of equipment
- Sporty engines
- Sharp design
- Not the most economical
- Brittle interior plastics
- Artificial-feeling steering
The Suzuki Vitara is one of the original small SUVs and has a good reputation for reliable, rugged motoring. Suzuki has taken the latest Vitara down the crossover route and while on-road driving has improved, some of its off-road abilities have diminished slightly. It isn’t designed to tackle rough terrain in the same fashion as the Suzuki Jimny but it can still be specified with four-wheel drive.
The Vitara still suits those who are regularly faced by rough roads and adverse weather conditions. It's also priced to offer good value compared to the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur and Toyota C-HR, although the Citroen C3 Aircross, SEAT Arona and Hyundai Kona put up a strong challenge in terms of metal for your money. The Dacia Duster, meanwhile, comfortably undercuts all of the above, even in range-topping trim with four-wheel drive.
A 2018 facelift retained the familiar boxy shape but Suzuki made small changes to the Vitara's exterior to make it look more modern. These included a redesigned front bumper and vertically-slatted front grille, as well as LED rear lights, different alloy wheels and a revised menu of paint colours. There are plenty of straight lines and flat surfaces and it looks rather more traditional than some rivals. A further update in 2020 added LED headlights and 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical assistance.
These simple lines also mean interior space isn’t compromised by swoops and curves, so there’s plenty of room. The Suzuki feels tough, too, with just some cheap-looking plastics inside showing up its competitive pricing. And there’s clearly substance beneath what you can see, with Euro NCAP awarding the Vitara the full five stars for crash safety.
During its life, the Vitara has been offered with several petrol and diesel engines but the 2020 update sees every model come with a 1.4-litre ‘BoosterJet’ petrol. It’s shared with the Suzuki Swift Sport, and now features mild-hybrid technology to boost performance and economy. ALLGRIP four-wheel drive can be chosen but only in conjunction with the plusher SZ-T and SZ5 trim levels.
All cars now get a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, which should be better at cruising than the old five-speed. There’s no automatic version offered at the moment, so if you need one you’ll have to look at a different car.
Unfortunately, the switch to a mild-hybrid powertrain has made the Vitara more expensive, dragging the price up to more than some of its rivals. While some may feel its increased power and economy is worth the extra outlay, a high price tag definitely changes the Vitara for the worse when you consider it as an overall package. With a tall roofline, the Vitara leans a little more in corners than a hatchback or saloon, but grips keenly and can even be fun to drive. Suzuki has even included a ‘Sport’ button, which adds some resistance to the steering and sharpens the throttle response.
No model is light on equipment, either – even the entry-level SZ4 trim comes with alloy wheels, DAB radio, air-conditioning, adaptive cruise control and Bluetooth to connect your smartphone. Stepping up to SZ-T trim adds sat nav, a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear privacy glass, and special 17-inch alloy wheels, while SZ5 brings parking sensors, keyless entry and start and a panoramic sunroof.
Safety is of course top priority for most families and the Vitara has a five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP, thanks to its roster of airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning. Meanwhile, the Suzuki finished 54th out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK.
While this Vitara might not be as revolutionary as the original, it does most things very well, and should prove very dependable. If you can live without four-wheel drive, we reckon the mid-range SZ-T is the best value; it’s very well equipped - getting features such as sat nav, a rear parking camera, smartphone connectivity and larger alloy wheels - but only costs around £1,000 more to buy than the entry-level model.