People chuckled about 30 years ago when Suzuki, then the master of minicars, brought out its SJ and Jimny 4×4’s and set them up against much bigger and more powerful off-road wagons.
Snarky grins and pointed fingers, the latter often with a Texan or Marlboro’ clamped between them, soon faded and folded as the cars with their four-cylinder 1.3-litre engines zoomed the dunes and scorned the mud and generally went anywhere the khaki-crews could go.
Then, back in 1988, came the Vitara, bigger than the Jimny. Suzuki SA has just launched the fourth generation of the car that was launched in Europe earlier in 2015. Later came the Grand Vitara.
Flash back to the present… Suzuki says the latest Vitara has not only built on the spirit of the original but also “been totally re-imagined and is completely new from the ground up”.
“The new Vitara,” Suzuki adds, “combines a contemporary, streamlined shape with the raised stance of an authentic compact SUV but also offers a spacious, car-like interior with comprehensive appointments.”
There are five-models and three spec levels – GL, GL+ and GLX – each with either two- or all-wheel drive (the latter sending drive to the wheels with the best grip and including gradient-descent control) but the same 1.6-litre 86kW / 151Nm engine with either a manual or auto six-speed transmission.
All five models have anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, seven crash bags (the odd man out to cover the driver’s knees) and IsoFix child seat anchors. The Vitara, Suzuki told me, has a maximum five-star safety rating from EuroNCAP crash-tests.
Short cars are better than long cars on rough terrain: the Vitara is only 4.2m long but 1.8m wide and stands 1.6m tall with the wheels right out in the corners – exactly where they should be on a real 4×4.
Front and rear overhangs are also very short with approach and departure angles of 18.2 and 28.2 degrees respectively. The ramp breakover angle is 17.7 degrees and minimum ground clearance 18.5cm.
Roof luggage-rails and a monster tail door have obvious advantages. Extra-cost accessory packages can, variously, add chromed fog-light bezels, body side-mouldings and a roof spoiler and front and rear bash plates.
The ability to personalise the Vitara extends to the cabin. But it’s also a roomy, comfortable space with an extensive list of standard convenience and safety features across all five models.
The main instrument display has two analogue dials for speed and engine revs; an info screen lists trip data that includes instant and average fuel consumption and (handy in the Namib), operating range, average speed, outside temperature and a digital clock.
The MP3/WMA-compatible multi-speaker audio system includes a CD player and FM/AM tuner, USB port and Bluetooth. The tilt/reach-adjustable steering wheel bears audio and cruise control switches.
The front bucket seats are height adjustable for both driver and front passenger, while the rear bench seat is split 60/40 and can be folded flat partially or completely to provide a versatile mix of loading space and rear seating.
Off-roading requires luggage space so the Vitara’s rear seats can be 60/40 folded to increase the normal 375 litres of space to 710 litres.
THE MODEL RANGE
Vitara 1.6 GL – R239 900: Five-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive. The GL has 16” steel rims and 215/60 radial tyres. Power window and external mirrors, manual aircon and audio and Bluetooth standard, as are alarm/immobiliser is standard.
Vitara 1.6 GL+ R269 900/ R291 900: Two models adding AllGrip all-wheel drive, alloy rims, and body-colour grille, door releases and exterior mirrors. The car also has body-colour contrasts, front fog lights, tail and rear-door privacy glass, smarter upholstery, leather-wrapped steering-wheel, cruise control and auto aircon.
Vitara 1.6 GLX R299 900 / R319 900: The two “flagship” models get auto/flappy-paddle manual transmission in front or all-wheel drive. Exterior features include17” alloy rims with 215/55 tyres, and glass powered sunroof with a motorised blind…
Also unique are the silver roof rails, LED projector low-beam headlights, LED daytime running lights and a third turn indicator in the external – and foldable -mirrors.
The new Suzuki Vitara range is backed by a comprehensive three-year or 100 000km warranty, a four-year or 60 000km service plan and a three-year roadside assistance package.
Services intervals 15 000km.
For more on the 2015 Suzuki Vitara, full specifications and an image gallery go to the Suzuki South Africa website.