Auto Review: Vitara delivers where it matters
For a vehicle that started production in 1988, it has surely made its mark on the Jamaican roads. I remember seeing the boxy two-door models in the ‘90s and thinking how cool they looked, especially the ones with the soft tops. As the years went by, the second- and third-generation models were known as the Grand Vitara and became popular when the concept of the full-size SUV found favour with buyers.
Since 2015, the brand has been pushing the smaller-sized version, simply calling it ‘Vitara’, which boasts affordability and fuel efficiency in the compact SUV category.
At first, it was a little awkward for me to get accustomed to this version from a visual standpoint. However, with aesthetic tweaks here and there, plus bigger 17” tyres, it looks fine. Suzuki has ditched the curvy exterior of the second-generation Vitara to go for a more angular one.
This is most evident with the bonnet, which is outlined with sharp edges at the sides and a nose that runs down to the front fascia. The grille has vertical chrome lines and is bordered by the bumper, which has vents below it to partially reveal the radiator. To the sides are the vertical daytime run lights with the fog lights beside them.While driving at night, I used both lights to help me spot potholes along the Junction Road.
Unlike some of the vehicles in its class, it doesn’t look like a heightened station wagon. Instead, it fits the description of a lowered SUV.
A surprising drive
Several years ago, I drove the previously designed model, which was fuel-efficient but felt too light for my preference. To its credit, Suzuki has been constantly dabbling with various materials, such as high-tensile steel, to find the right balance of weight and strength. This translated in a ride that felt a bit disengaging.
However, for this year’s model, the steering had a great feel that helped me to go around the corners of St Mary with confidence. There are also paddle shifters affixed to the steering to ensure that there is easy engagement. This is a welcomed addition as I had to engage them to best manipulate the 1.6-litre engine.
So, when I wanted to overtake or I was going down a steep hill, I quickly geared down. Keep in mind, an engine this size is built for fuel efficiency as its main priority. Therefore, travelling from Kingston to Portland barely moved the gas needle.
Once I reached Port Antonio, I headed to Mills Bank, which is a small district that can only be accessed by an old parochial road. This is where the Vitara really impressed me. Typically, roads like these require a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and unfortunately for me, the Vitara is a two-wheel drive.
The first plus for the vehicle is that it has a high ground clearance of about seven inches, which was ideal when I drove over several rocks. The next thing was how great the suspension felt as I drove over long stretches of uneven surfaces with confidence. The axle articulation was great, and whenever I went into a deep ditch, the dampers cushioned the impact.
Now this is an extreme scenario for a vehicle like this, so I was really impressed with its performance.
Designing an interior to match with the times
The interior is a mixture of soft plastic, gunmetal and silver accents, and a piano-black finish that gives it an up-to-date appearance. Suzuki also added an extra touch by putting an analogue clock at the centre of the dashboard. Additionally, what looks great is the backlight, which outlines the circular shape of the clock at night.
Below this is a 8” touchscreen, which has a touch-sensitive volume controller on the left-hand side. This is a big leap for the company as our market usually gets the version with analogue dials. Nonetheless, it works smoothly with four tiles that give easy access to call, phone, media, and selected media.
It’s designed to be intuitive and simple as it also works with the designated buttons on the steering. One that interested me was the option to mute and pause what was playing. This proved very useful as I was able to quickly mute the song I was playing whenever I stopped and wanted directions.
If you know what you want when shopping for a vehicle like this, you will never be disappointed. It’s light on gas, has a lot of space for a family of four, and is versatile enough to drive in and out of town.
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Price of tested model: 2020 2WD Vitara GLX 1.6l, $5 million
Price range/options: 2020 4WD Vitara GLX, 1.6l, $5.2 million; 2020 Vitara GL+, $4.4 million
Transmission: FWD, six-speed automatic
Competition: Mazda CX 30, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai, Kia Seltos
CD/ MP3 player
Door bin easily stored my one-litre bottle
Tilt and telescopic steering
Available at Stewart’s Auto Sales Ltd, 49-53 South Camp Road. Tel (876) 968-0930,
(876) 968-0931, www.suzukijamaica.com