SWEEPING rugged landscapes punctuated by towering mountainous ranges. The people are hardened, and there is good reason resilient brahmans are the cattle of choice.
Far North Queensland is no place for the faint-hearted.
Yet a trio of “softies” survived without missing a beat. Modern soft-roaders are commonplace nowadays, possessing the looks of a four-wheel drive but it’s more show than go.
With an aim to honour brand heritage and its ability, we challenged Suzuki’s new compact SUV to some real tough stuff.
The Suzuki Vitara range is now complete following the arrival of a Fiat-sourced turbo diesel engine, sitting alongside a 1.4-litre turbo and 1.6 naturally aspirated petrol powerplants.
With the trio of all-wheel drives we headed north, galloping across the bitumen to Cooktown before trekking through the Bloomfield Track and back into Cairns.
Surely these little high-riding wagons couldn’t get the job done? Yep, they did, and with ease.
Personalisation is a key feature of the Vitara, and the ability to choose between colours for the dash, steering wheel and centre trim adds some internal excitement.
Black hard plastic finishes are used across the door tops and dash, yet all the key touch points have up-market materials.
Particularly good is the combination of leather and suede trim on the seats in the turbo and GLX variants.
The 17.7cm colour touch-screen offers straight-forward connectivity with no need for instructions between the main display and the digital offering found in the driver’s binnacle.
With 185mm of ground clearance it makes things easy for entry and exit, and four adults will have no issues with the cabin space.
On and off road
For those who like some firepower under their right foot, then the two turbo models are the pick.
The base 1.6-litre petrol needs some urging, and we had to flatten our foot on a few occasions during overtaking manoeuvres.
Offering some extra urgency is the turbo petrol offering, which is much more responsive under acceleration.
But the star of the show is this new diesel. It’s an impressively punchy unit and has been used in commercial applications worldwide.
With hefty torque at low rpm, the throttle needs little encouragement to get things motivated.
All partner well with the six-speed automatic, and while the steering can be a little lifeless on occasions, we doubt that any buyer would ever notice given the Vitara’s intentions and market.
Easily accomplishing the highway kilometres, things got interesting on the Bloomfield Track north of Cape Tribulation.
The Vitara proved drum-tight, soaking up some nasty corrugations and wading through the creeks was done with ease.
Being the dry season the track was fairly benign, but the passing traffic of Cruisers, Patrols and other four-wheel drives proved it was no place for pretenders.
AllGrip offers four drive modes – Automatic where it runs mostly in two-wheel drive, Sport for improved acceleration and torque characteristics, Snow to optimise traction and Lock for when the going gets tough.
What do you get
The base GL+ does get some good kit like the 17.7cm colour touch-screen, sat nav, darkened privacy glass, reversing camera, 17-inch alloys, cruise control, Apple CarPlay, seven airbags along with the full safety kit which helps earn a five-star safety rating.
For your extra outlay on the GLX and turbo models there’s a large double sliding panoramic sunroof, leather and suede seats (turbos get red stitching), keyless entry and start, polished wheels, automatic wipers and headlights and parking sensors at both ends of the car.
Suzuki has capped-price servicing, which is required every six months or 10,000km. Prices are at the lower end of the scale, and the marque has an outstanding reputation for quality and reliability.
Fuel efficiency is good, and the diesel was particularly impressive on test by achieving its official figure of 4.9 litres/100km even with some spirited hilly terrain. Both the petrols were close too, achieving about six litres/100km.
There is a dual-stage style boot with 375 litres of space, which isn’t a class leader, but more superior than a Jeep Renegade or Mazda CX-3.
A shelf can be removed to fit larger suitcases and bulkier items.
Fold the seats 60-40 via a button on the seat tops and you get 1120 litres of space. You can also fold the rear seats upright. That will easily swallow a couple of bikes with the wheel removed, flat-pack furniture and surfboards.
You get two cup holders in the centre console, easy access to the USB ports in front of a shifter (a couple of good nooks for mobiles are nearby) and bottle holders in the doors.
Back seats also have two Isofix points and three top tethers for kids’ seats.
Customisation is an ace up the Vitara sleeve. The two-tone body colours with contrasting roof offer something different at this end of the market, and will appeal to the chic urbanites.
Looking particularly good is the turquoise, but Suzuki Queensland has a special white with black roof and black wheels which looks good and even Ranger Rover Evoque-like but without the price tag.
Given the groovy looks and modern styling, you’d be forgiven for putting the Vitara in the Clayton’s pile of off-roaders.
And while ride height restricts it from really tough stuff, the Vitara is certainly capable.
The pick would be either turbo models, diesel or petrol. Possessing a solid features list, they each have some nice punch under the right foot and manage to get the job done without paying a penalty at the bowser.
Model: Suzuki Vitara.
Details: Five-seat two-wheel and all-wheel drive compact sports utility vehicle.
Engines: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 86kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 156Nm @ 4400rpm; 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol 103kW @ 5500rpm and 220Nm @ 1500rpm; 1.6-litre turbo diesel 88kW @ 3750rpm and 320Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 1.6 petrol – 5.8 litres/100km (combined average); 1.4 petrol – 5.9L/100km; 1.6 diesel – 4.9L/100km.
Bottom line plus on-roads: GL+ 2WD (m) $22,490; GL+ 2WD (a) $24,990; GLX Turbo 2WD (a) $28,990; GLX Turbo 4WD (a) $32,990; GLX diesel $35,990.
What matters most
What we liked: Impressively strong diesel engine, true ability off road, ability to customise.
What we’d like to see: Dual zone air-con, centre console, Android Auto.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year 100,000km warranty. Capped price servicing available, which extends the warranty to five years and 140,000km. Service intervals are six months or 10,000km. Prices from about $250.
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