The new Suzuki Vitara is now available in front-drive form. Should you bother?
SINGAPORE — Some things are only genuinely useful in highly specific situations, like a jar of onion jam at the Fart Olympics. All-wheel drive is one of those things.
Sure, if wading through an ocean of mud is something you think of as fun, you’ll need a good 4×4 system (along with mud tyres, taller suspension, and maybe a more powerful engine than the Vitara’s 1.6-litre).
Or maybe you live somewhere with a skiing season (lucky you), but even then, this study shows that using the right kind of tyres is far more valuable than having all-wheel drive.
So by and large, you need four-wheel drive like you need seven nipples. (Oh wait, one more scenario: if your car has more than, say, 250 horsepower, it’s a good idea to opt for a quattro system, not because it’s inherently superior, but because front-wheel drive is useless in that case.)
Why all this talk about 4WD? Because the Suzuki Vitara is now available here with only front-wheel drive. It was launched here with a 4×4 drivetrain only, but you can now save yourself $6,000 if you opt for the 2WD model you see here.
You’ll also give up a panoramic glass roof, as well as hill descent control (a system that lets you crawl down steep slopes without using the brake pedal), and maybe a teeny bit of traction in the wet.
But there are also gains to be had.
For one, the Vitara 2WD is noticeably more sprightly than its 4wd sibling. It’s just that bit more eager to hike its skirt up and gallop away from the traffic lights.
The stopwatch confirms the feeling, too. The Suzuki trots to 100km/h in 12 seconds — not that fast, but a whole second faster than the 4wd version can do it. It’s slightly more frugal too, with a claimed consumption average of 5.5L/100km, against the 4wd’s 5.7L/100km.
Makes sense to us. The added weight and friction of an all-wheel drive system can impact performance, and the Vitara provides a good example of that in action.
Mind you, the Suzuki’s ability to scamper through bends isn’t affected by going from 4WD to 2WD. It’s still a frisky handler that can muster surprisingly high levels of grip around corners, and in spite of its tall suspension it never feels sloppy when you twirl the steering with gusto.
All-wheel drive doesn’t help you enter a corner faster, anyway, so there’s no reason to hanker for the 4WD model even if you reckon you’re a driving enthusiast.
The price for the perky handling, though, is a firm suspension set-up. The Vitara feels stiffly sprung, especially in the rear, and if you’re on a poorly surfaced road you’ll feel every bit of imperfection in the tarmac. The jiggly ride is accompanied by what seems like a noisy engine, but is probably actually a lack of sound insulation.
The loud, bumpy time you’ll have in a Vitara should make you reconsider it if you do long-distance drives often, because it’s liable to be a tiring experience in those conditions.
Otherwise, there’s much to like about the car. The dashboard is super straightforward, with clear instruments and a button layout that is as simple as it’s possible to be. It’s made of plastic that feels cheap, but at least it’s all screwed together quite robustly, without the creaks and loose build you often find in, say, French cars.
The upholstery is a nice mix of suede and leather, too, and the car’s boxy shape provides plenty of rear headroom. With 375 litres of capacity, the boot isn’t huge, but folding the rear seats to expand it is a simple affair.
Also worthy of praise is the fact that it has seven airbags, which is rare at this price level, and worthwhile at any level.
Other nice features include automatic wipers and headlights, steering wheel audio controls and Bluetooth phone pairing.
Powered front seats would have made it feel more executive, but really, the main thing keeping the Vitara from feeling more expensive than it is is the fact that it’s a noisy car. That’s only useful if you’re a self-conscious finalist at the Fart Olympics.
Suzuki Vitara 2WD Plus
Engine 1,586cc, 16V, inline 4
Power 118hp at 6000rpm
Torque 156Nm at 4400rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 180km/h
0-100km/h 12.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.5L/100km
Price $105,900 with COE
Don’t want a crossover? There’s always Suzuki’s Ciaz RS