Iain Curry and Jules Lucht with 2019 Suzuki Vitara
Iain Curry and Jules Lucht with 2019 Suzuki Vitara

Vitara, the cheap and cheerful SUV

Suzuki's Vitara has just been given a minor nose job and equipment tweaks, boosting its credentials as one of the best-value small SUVs on sale.

Vitara Series II may not have the retro cool or off-road talents of its new little brother, the Jimny, but priced from just $23,990 drive away, it's a more sensible and practical choice for bitumen-bound buyers. Our family of four tests the base version.


JULES: What's this cutie?

IAIN: The updated Suzuki Vitara, perfectly packaged for the small SUV fan.

JULES: It's attractive, not too big or small and quite chunky. Will it go off-road?

IAIN: You can get an AllGrip all-wheel drive version but ours is the dirt-cheap 2WD, with manual gearbox and basic engine.

Iain: “Minimal safety kit and weedy engine.” Jules: “It’s hardly a sports car.”
Iain: “Minimal safety kit and weedy engine.” Jules: “It’s hardly a sports car.”

JULES: How dirt-cheap?

IAIN: $23,990 drive away, or $1000 more if you're in Queensland where Suzuki has a different distributor.

JULES: So an alternative to a family hatchback then?

IAIN: Yep. For Toyota Corolla or VW Golf money you can live out your SUV desires. Expect similar space to a small hatchback but fewer interior niceties and kit.

JULES: Yes but these are easier to get into, you ride higher and the world and his wife want SUV styling these days.

IAIN: True. Our entry-level Vitara gets attractive grey 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and smart keyless entry but there's minimal modern safety kit and its petrol engine has a weedy 86kW.

JULES: Performance doesn't matter. It's hardly a sports car.

IAIN: Turbo Vitaras are available with more guts and decent safety kit, but you're looking at $29,990 drive-away at least.


JULES: It's no frills inside, isn't it?

IAIN: I wouldn't say no frills. Few frills. If that's a thing. The seven-inch touchscreen runs Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satnav and rear camera - add push button start and climate control and it isn't bad at this price.

JULES: Yes, but the cloth seats feel very basic and upright and there's an awful lot of hard plastic around.

No frills: Utilitarian cockpit’s touchscreen has smartphone mirroring, satnav and rear camera
No frills: Utilitarian cockpit’s touchscreen has smartphone mirroring, satnav and rear camera

IAIN: I'm with you on the hard plastic; Suzuki doesn't mind plastering the stuff everywhere in its cars. The dash top is soft to the touch but the centre console and doors - which you touch the most - are solid slabs of hardness. There's not even a surround for the door handles.

JULES: I like the old-school clock in the dash. Phone connectivity is great and so are steering wheel controls. What's with the digital screen in the instrument cluster?

IAIN: That's your multi-information colour LCD display. Shows stuff like instantaneous fuel economy and power and torque telemetry.

JULES: Wow, vital stuff on a small SUV. Anything useful like a digital speedo?

IAIN: Er, no.


JULES: Is it just me or are manual SUVs as rare as rocking horse poo?

IAIN: There are a few examples out there but barely anyone buys them. This one has just five forward gears - these days the norm is six.

JULES: If your commute doesn't involve traffic, it's all good. I like the Vitara's easy shifting manual and it cruises comfortably at 110km/h - a sixth ratio to drop revs on the freeway would be handy.

IAIN: The 1.6-litre engine takes some convincing to get up to speed but it sips such a small amount of fuel
I can see the benefit. We averaged 5.9L/100km. Excellent for a non-turbo petrol SUV, helped by it weighing just 1135kg - a mighty 200kg less than the segment-leading Mitsubishi ASX.


JULES: The boot's a good height for loading in the shopping but it's not that big.

IAIN: At 375L, it's less than a small hatchback such as a VW Golf or Hyundai i30, a bit less than small SUV rivals, the ASX and Toyota CH-R, but loads more than the Mazda CX-3's shoebox boot.

JULES: The rear camera's good for parking but sensors would be good too.


IAIN: Suzuki makes excellent, small off-roaders and, even though this is just 2WD, I'm happy slinging it along unsealed roads. Its 185mm ground clearance makes it less soft-roader than most of the genre.

Not-so-soft-roader: Vitara handles and steers well and has decent ground clearance
Not-so-soft-roader: Vitara handles and steers well and has decent ground clearance

JULES: I reckon it's at its best as a city or town car; it's easy to manoeuvre and I wouldn't hunt out fun roads due to the engine's lack of power.

IAIN: It suffers from being non-turbo. You really have to hold revs with the manual gears to get some oomph, and it sure laboured up a hill with the whole family on board. It handles and steers really well for an SUV, even when pushed hard in the turns.


JULES: Plenty of rear space for the two kids in car seats. Two adults do well on headroom but legroom is a bit tight.

IAIN: Lack of rear air vents for the kids isn't great and modern active safety kit is lacking. Higher-grade Vitaras get autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. This should be a $1500-or-so cost option on our entry grade but it's not available.

JULES: These features are standard on a lot of cheaper cars. As a safety-conscious mum, I'd prefer my car to have them.

IAIN: Fuel economy helps the family budget but Vitaras need servicing every six months, ending up being quite costly and inconvenient. Five-year warranty and three-year roadside assist are wins though.


No title, From: Supplied
No title, From: Supplied

JULES: The safety kit may be lacking but, if you didn't want a family hatchback, the Vitara's a cheap and cheerful way into SUV ownership for similar money. It looks funky too.

IAIN: As long as you don't get rental car white like ours. Spend $1250 (or haggle with the dealer) on yellow, red or turquoise with black roof and it's a jazzy number. The Vitara's a solid, value choice for the unpretentious SUV shopper.


PRICE $23,990 ($24,990 Qld) drive-away

WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/140,000km, $1540 for 3 years/60,000km

SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, reversing camera, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, brake assist, speed limiter

ENGINE 1.6-litre 4-cyl, 86kW/156Nm

THIRST 5.8L/100km

SPARE Space-saver


UPDATE: 16-year-old one of five charged during drug raids

Premium Content UPDATE: 16-year-old one of five charged during drug raids

RAIDS uncovered meth and cannabis, however officers also seized potent drugs rarely...

Make your vote count this election

Premium Content Make your vote count this election

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Here’s how you can cast your vote this election. FULL...

Chinchilla trio smashed Squash State Championships

Premium Content Chinchilla trio smashed Squash State Championships

THREE Chinchilla boys are now proud silver medallists after competing in the finals...