I’ve long had a soft spot for the current-generation Suzuki Vitara. When it was launched some years ago, I spent some time hooning it up and down a twisty gravel road, channelling my inner rally driver and achieving faintly absurd point-to-point speeds in spite of its modest performance.
Mistake, the Vitara has always been a sporty drive, it just needed the right engine to liberate those built-in (but hitherto hidden) driving thrills.
Adding some Sport into "Sport Utility Vehicle"
When I reviewed a Vitara 1.6 GLX in 2019, almost everything was to my liking in the context of a compact SUV-crossover, with the main exception being the rather frenetic combination of a high-revving naturally-aspirated engine and a rather hyper-active gearbox. The somewhat raucous engine combined with the 6-speed automatic to deliver adequate performance and good fuel efficiency, but the combined driving experience was more like decaf latte than double espresso. This was quite frustrating, because I knew just how good the Vitara’s underpinnings were, and how much fun it could be to drive...
Enter mid-2019, and the arrival of the latest Swift Sport – this time, with a new, downsized turbo-petrol engine instead of a non-turbo, 7000 r/min screamer. And, while the new engine might lack the old Sport’s exuberant character, it certainly added a whole lot of refinement and extra oomph to the package. At the same time, Suzuki also released the Swift Sport’s new BoosterJet engine for the Vitara. Only available in top-level GLX trim, the new engine can, as in the Swift, be mated to a choice of 6-speed gearboxes in either manual- or torque converter automatic flavours.
So, it was with great anticipation that I awaited the arrival of a Vitara 1.4T GLX, for closer evaluation over a whole month. And, I’m pleased to announce, the treat that was delivered to my driveway was certainly worth the wait: this is just about peak Vitara, and it was a joy to spend an extended period with the red-and black firecracker.
Visually, there’s absolutely nothing to set a Vitara 1.4T apart from a normal 1.6-litre GLX variant – not even a badge on the tailgate. Keen-eyed observers will notice the lack of the 1.6 GLX’s panoramic sunroof (not available with the turbo engine), but apart from that, the only way to tell them apart would be by looking under the bonnet.
Fortunately, those understated looks don’t reflect in the Vitara Turbo’s driving experience. Subjectively, it feels like the suspension is a little bit more controlled, with less body roll than in lesser-powered variants and a greater resistance to understeer. Or maybe the new engine’s vigour just manages to bring as-yet undiscovered Vitara handling traits to the fore. Either way, the Vitara 1.4T is a lot more exciting to drive than it is to look at.
This test car was equipped with a slick-shifting manual gearbox, although the automatic transmission would probably have better suited the 1.4T’s more-civilised power delivery characteristics and the Vitara’s generally grown-up demeanour. Nonetheless, the suspension tuning is well-matched to the questions asked from its more-potent engine, and manages to remain comfortable over poor road surfaces without sacrificing handling prowess on the altar of comfort.
This is a critical part of the Vitara 1.4T’s reason for existence, and I’m pleased to report that this aspect has been resolved in a most satisfactory manner. To be honest, 103 kW and 220 Nm in a car with a kerb weight of 1140 kg won’t ever make for a scorching all-out performer, but that solid slug of low- and mid-range torque (65 Nm more than the peakier 1.6-litre) makes for effortless acceleration and stress-free overtaking.
Suzuki claims a top speed of a round 200 km/h, and a 0 – 100 km/h sprint in 9.5 seconds for both the manual- and automatic Vitara 1.4Ts, but subjective impressions on the road suggest that these figures might be a bit on the conservative side. The only downside is a set of surprisingly closely-stacked gear ratios, which are slightly at odds with the engine’s wide torque spread (that 220 Nm is available all the way from 1 500 – 4 000 r/min), and results in more-frequent gear changes in enthusiastic driving than might be otherwise expected.
Space and Comfort
Space and practicality has always been a Vitara strong suit, with plenty of room in the cabin for 4 large adults (or 5 average-sized ones) and a 375-litre luggage compartment. The boot space can be further expanded by lifting out the false floor, the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 ratio, and there are useful dividers in the boot, behind the rear wheels, to store small objects which might otherwise roll around in the back.
Standard safety features are well-sorted to give the Vitara some very solid safety credentials. The usual electronic safeguards are all present, with ABS and traction- and stability control included, along with ISOFIX child seat anchors on the outer rear seats, 7 airbags, and a 5-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
This is traditionally a Suzuki strong suit, so it comes as no surprise that the Vitara 1.4T also has very frugal drinking habits. Open-road cruising sees consumption drop below the 6.0 ℓ/100 km mark, with mixed-cycle driving (including frequent servings of delicious turbo torque) still returning a highly commendable 6.8 ℓ/100 km.
While this number is quite a way off from Suzuki’s claimed average figure of 5.8 ℓ/100 km, it must be borne in mind that a lot of the review period’s driving entailed heavy traffic, the air-con going full-blast, and a driver who didn’t even try to save fuel. Not bad at all, considering the performance on offer and the prevailing driving conditions. Conservative drivers will definitely see (at worst) low-6 ℓ/100 km figures in normal use.