We rate both petrol engines. The 1.6-litre unit is responsive if you keep the revs up, although it is weaker than turbocharged rivals, such as the Seat Arona 1.0 TSI, at low revs. Meanwhile, the turbocharged 1.4-litre engine is quicker and stronger; it's perfect if you regularly venture onto the motorway, but it's rather pricey.
Opting for the automatic gearbox option instead of the standard manual blunts the performance. The same is true of the optional four-wheel drive system that's available on the 1.6. Four-wheel drive is standard on the 1.4 but, because of the extra power, it’s still quick enough.
There used to be a diesel engine, but Suzuki dropped this in the summer of 2018 due to poor sales.
The Vitara has firm but well-damped suspension. Big bumps or potholes will send a dull thud through to the interior, but the ride rarely gets unsettled and never becomes jarring.
You can drive the car for hours on motorways, or across country on rougher roads, and it doesn’t get tiring or uncomfortable. This is still the case even on the slightly stiffer-sprung S model.
SZ-T, SZ5 and S models get 17in alloy wheels, instead of the standard 16in rims, but they don’t compromise the Vitara’s ride quality. All things considered, the Vitara is one of the more comfortable small SUVs, although the Volkswagen T-Roc and certain versions of the Arona are even more so.
The Vitara has a precise and grippy front end but is let down by its steering. It’s very light around the straight-ahead position and there’s little sense of connection to the front wheels. Little additional weight builds in faster corners – something that can be disconcerting at first. Around town, though, it’s absolutely fine.
Despite the steering issues, there's still some fun to be had hustling the Vitara down a twisty B-road, thanks to its excellent body control; this is more akin to a good family hatchback than a wallowy off-roader. Go for the sportier and stiffer-sprung S model and things get even better.
The best-handling small SUVs include the Arona and T-Roc. Or, if you've got even more money to spend, the Audi Q2.
The Vitara’s engines are smooth, even when worked hard. They don't make an unpleasant noise when revved, although are ultimately noisier than the engines in rivals, such as the Arona.
All models suffer from intrusive wind and road noise, however, making the Vitara a noisier motorway car than some of its rivals.
If you go for the 1.6 engine, you get a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 1.4 unit gets a six-speeder. Both are slick and precise and, combined with their well-weighted clutch pedal, allow you to change gear quickly and easily and make it simply to pull away smoothly.
It’s easy to get comfortable in the Vitara. The driver’s seat adjusts for height and the steering wheel for both height and reach. This, in conjunction with a supportive and comfortable seat, makes it easy to find a decent driving position. A little more side bolstering wouldn’t go amiss to grip you tighter through corners, though, and there's no adjustable lumbar support.
All of the controls are intelligently laid out and the heater controls are conventional dials and switches. Sadly, that’s not true of some of the stereo buttons – something we will discuss in the infotainment section.
It’s easy to see out of the Vitara, thanks to its box-like body and large glass areas. As with any SUV, the relatively lofty seating position helps, too; if you’re coming from a conventional hatchback, you’ll certainly find it easier to spot what’s going on around you.
A rear parking camera is standard on all but the entry-level SZ4 model. If you want front and rear parking sensors, you’ll have to plump for the pricier SZ5 or S trim; you can’t even add them as options on SZ4 and SZ-T models.
Go for entry-level SZ4 trim and you’ll get a DAB radio, a USB socket and Bluetooth. The system is very basic but at least it isn’t difficult to use and this is the only trim in the range that comes with a CD player.
Mid-spec SZ-T models and above, however, get a more sophisticated system with integrated sat-nav and a touchscreen display. You also get Smartphone Link, meaning you can mimic your phone’s screen on the car’s media system. This isn't as good as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, however.
On the whole, the upgraded infotainment system is easy enough to use. However, it can be a little slow to respond, while the functions controlled by the touch-sensitive pads next to the screen – including the volume – would be less fiddly to use if they were physical buttons. All things considered, the systems in the rival Seat Arona and Kia Stonic are considerably better.
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are standard on every Vitara, meaning you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel too often.
Quality is not a Vitara strength. The doors and bootlid feel quite light and tinny when you close them, while many of the interior plastics, including those on top of the dashboard and lower down, feel cheap to the touch. The Arona and Citroën C3 Aircross have altogether more modern-looking and modern-feeling interiors.
But while the Vitara isn't exactly plush inside, its interior does at least feel durable and well-assembled. And given the Vitara’s low price, the somewhat low-rent interior isn't unlikely to trouble many buyers.
There’s enough room in the front of the Vitara, even for taller drivers. That said, if you’re very lanky, check that the head room-robbing panoramic glass roof fitted to top-spec SZ5 models doesn’t cause your bonce to brush the rooflining. Meanwhile, deep footwells help create plenty of leg room.
Backing up the Vitara’s practical nature are a variety of storage spaces in the front, including decent-sized doorbins, two cupholders and a roomy glovebox.
There’s even overhead storage for your sunglasses and a coin drawer to the right of the steering wheel. The USB and 12V sockets located handily by a tray just in front of the gearlever make it easy to store and charge your mobile phone.
Even with taller people in the front, there’s plenty of leg room and a decent amount of head room in the two outer rear seats – as long as you avoid the space-zapping panoramic glass roof that's standard on SZ5. An adult will fit in the middle rear seat but will find shoulder room tight. And because the seat is slightly raised, the centre occupant might find their head brushing the rooflining.
Those in the back of the Vitara have the benefit of outer armrests on the doors and three adjustable head restraints. There are also bottle holders in the doors and pockets on the backs of the front seats.
It you want maximum rear space from your budget small SUV, try the Kia Soul. Or if you've considerably more cash the splash, the Mini Countryman is better for families.
It’s pretty standard fare here, with rear seats that split and fold 60/40, granting you much more luggage space when you need it.
Simply pulling the levers mounted on top of the rear seats is all that’s required to lower the backrests, and you don’t need to faff about removing the rear headrests beforehand, as you do in some cars. Because the backrests aren’t awkward to move or heavy, it’s no chore getting them back up again.
However, the rear seats don't slide or recline like they do in some rivals, such as the Citroën C3 Aircross or, indeed, Suzuki's own Ignis.
The Vitara has a decently sized boot by the standards of small SUVs. And it’s thoughtfully designed, too; there’s no load lip down to the boot floor, while the floor itself isn’t too high off the ground, making lifting heavier items into the boot that bit easier.
There's a useful underfloor storage area that is also ideal for stowing valuables or loose items, plus two storage pockets (one on each side). Drop the rear seats and space increases further; the seats don’t fold completely flat, but at least there’s no awkward step in the extended boot floor to make life difficult when loading in long, bulky items, as there is in some of the Vitara’s rivals.
If you need more boot space, try the C3 Aircross or, for those with a higher budget, the Volkswagen T-Roc.
The Vitara is an inexpensive car to run, because its engines are economical, its insurance groups are reasonable and servicing costs are sensible. In our real-world True MPG tests, the 1.6 petrol version averaged an impressive 47.7mpg, compared with a claimed 53.3mpg. The four-wheel-drive versions are slightly less efficient, but not to a notable extent.
The Vitara doesn’t hold onto its value as well as rivals such as the Seat Arona, offsetting some of the savings you might make elsewhere. On the plus side, it makes up for this by offering much more equipment than its similarly priced rivals – something we'll explain in more detail in the next section.
Even entry-level SZ4 trim is well equipped and features climate control, cruise control and electric windows. We’d recommend upgrading to SZ-T, though, because of the extra infotainment equipment this brings (see infotainment section).
SZ5 models get lots of upmarket upgrades, including adaptive cruise control and suede trim, while the sporty S version adds sports suspension, a rear spoiler, gloss black alloy wheels and LED headlights. Tempting as these trims might be, we’d suggest plumping for SZ-T – it has all the kit you really need.
Suzuki also offers a Rugged Pack and an Urban Pack for the Vitara. The Rugged Pack adds some black trim and skid plates, while the Urban Pack features a rear spoiler and some chrome trim.
You won’t have to wade through a long list of options on any of the trims. Most upgrades are classed as accessories, such as a dog guard or chromed door handles. That makes for simple ordering, but it is annoying that you can’t have factory-fit parking sensors on the cheaper trims.
Suzuki ranked top (out of 31) manufacturers in our latest reliability survey, while the Vitara itself was the third most reliable small SUV, behind only the SX4 S-Cross (another Suzuki model) and the Peugeot 2008.
This won’t come as a surprise to existing owners; the brand has an excellent reputation for reliability and several of its cars have performed well in previous reliability and satisfaction surveys.
As with many of its rivals, a three-year/60,000-mile warranty is standard, while a 12-year anti-perforation warranty should quell any concerns about rust.
The Vitara was awarded five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test, scoring well for adult and child occupant protection. However, it's worth bearing in mind that the test was carried out back in 2015, and the Vitara wouldn't score so highly if tested under modern standards. Rivals such as the Arona and Volkswagen T-Roc are safer options.
That's chiefly because only the range-topping SZ5 and S models get automatic emergency braking; this vital safety aid isn't even available on the cheaper trims. Lane-keeping assistance and blindspot monitoring aren't available on any trim.
Security experts Thatcham Research awarded the Vitara four stars out of five for its resistance to theft, but only two stars for its resistance to being broken into. These are below-par scores for the small SUV class.
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