A minor facelift and new 1.4-litre turbo engine injects a touch of excitement into Suzuki’s small SUV offering
The small SUV segment in Singapore has heated up somewhat in recent months. The ubiquitous Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR have been joined in the market by some rather intriguing competition this year, in the form of Nissan’s uniquely electric-powered Kicks, Kia’s stylish and spacious Seltos, and even a contender from China, the surprisingly excellent MG HS.
One brand which has flown under the radar a bit is Suzuki. While most of the brand’s attention has been focused on the funky Jimny of late, its more mainstream SUV in the lineup, the Vitara, continues to plug away, and has recently received an update to keep it competitive amidst the presence of new rivals.
The changes are not exactly major, at least cosmetically. There’s a new grille design, with vertical chrome slats instead of the horizontal ones previously, and…that’s about it. Apparently the bumper and lights have been slightly retouched too, but you’ll be hard-pressed to tell without placing it side by side with the previous version.
The interior too also gets some minor updates, with the instrument panel now looking somewhat modernised with its digital information display. But otherwise there’s also nothing much that’s new here, with the cabin feeling rather chunky and dated with its simplistic layout and hard-wearing plastics. It’s probably not going to impress anyone who’s sat in any of the Vitara’s newer rivals, but you get the feeling that the materials will probably last for quite a long time.
Where the Vitara receives its biggest change though is under the bonnet. The previous 1.6-litre 118hp naturally-aspirated engine has now been ditched for a new 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol with 138hp, a unit taken from the latest version of the Suzuki Swift Sport (which unfortunately is not available here through official channels).
The difference in performance is stark, pretty much from the moment you set off. The previous engine felt a tad languid and uninspiring, but adding a turbocharger and 20 extra horses suddenly gives the Vitara a dramatically different character. The performance is responsive and eager, with a sense of urgency that you could even describe as a little bit sporty.
The turbo engine’s 220Nm of torque is readily available very low down the rev range, which contributes to the briskness of the car’s acceleration prowess. 0-100km/h comes up in 9.5 seconds, a marked improvement from the glacial 13.0 seconds previously, and power delivery is relatively smooth and effective, assisted by the 6-speed automatic gearbox that hardly misses a beat.
The rest of the car’s driving abilities is more ordinary though. The Vitara is now front-drive only for Singapore, like many of its rivals, but it doesn’t feel quite as well sorted as the competition. It’s not particularly grippy, and the tyres do tend to squeal a little when cornering hard, with understeer evident, but it generally fares alright when driven normally. Just a shame that the overall handling setup doesn’t quite match the engine’s peppy performance, but as a family SUV you can’t really complain too much.
At the very least, you’ll be assured of a reasonably safe ride, given that the Vitara is relatively well-stocked with seven airbags and ESP as standard. While it’s not quite as lavishly equipped as some of its segment rivals, you still get features such as keyless entry, LED headlamps and a panoramic sunroof here.
The Vitara’s closest like-for-like rival has got to be the Kia Seltos, which also has a 1.4-litre turbo with similar performance, and, in base EX trim at least, similar levels of equipment at around the same price. The Kia does boast more modern styling inside and out, but if you can live without the frills, the Vitara offers simple, fuss-free SUV motoring, plus a little dose of fun through its entertaining powerplant. At its S$103,900 (including COE) price point though, there’s no shortage of variety around, so do shop wisely.
Suzuki Vitara 1.4 Standard
|Engine||1,373cc, inline four, turbocharged|
|Power||138hp at 5500rpm|
|Torque||220Nm at 1500-4000rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||B / 133g/km|
|Price||S$103,900 with COE|
|Verdict:||Turbocharged engine offers a dose of driving enjoyment, but the Vitara still has some catching up to do against newer rivals|