UK Drive: Hybrid power adds a performance and efficiency boost to the Suzuki Vitara

As part of a rollout of mild-hybrid technology across Suzuki’s range, the Vitara is next in line. Ted Welford gets behind the wheel.

Suzuki Vitara
Suzuki Vitara

What is it?

Suzuki Vitara
The Vitara is available in either two- or four-wheel-drive

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The Vitara has been a popular and well-loved addition to Suzuki’s range for many years. And, while never quite commanding the same cult status as the Jimny, it’s certainly found its feet with buyers.

Like most cars of this type, it’s had to evolve as time has passed – meaning softer styling and a nicer cabin than its rugged-looking predecessors, though four-wheel-drive continues to be offered, as it does across the Suzuki range. And as part of Suzuki’s pledge to meet tight emissions regulations, all its cars are now being electrified  – and the Vitara is next on the hit list.

What’s new?

Suzuki Vitara
Suzuki’s All Grip all-wheel-drive system is included

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So it’s the Vitara’s mild-hybrid system that’s the highlight here. Thanks to the tech, Suzuki claims it’s now 15 per cent better on fuel than before, while CO2 emissions have been cut by as much as 20 per cent. It’s also now the only powertrain on offer.

Given Suzuki only facelifted the Vitara less than two years ago, changes elsewhere are minimal, though there’s been a welcome improvement in safety kit. All versions now come with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring to name just a few features.

What’s under the bonnet?

Suzuki Vitara
The petrol engine is boosted thanks to a 48-volt mild-hybrid system

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Rather start from scratch with a new electrified engine, Suzuki’s used its existing turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and added a 48-volt hybrid system to predominantly improve efficiency, but also add a bit of extra boost thanks to extra torque supplied above 2,000rpm.

It’s effective as even though the Vitara’s power has reduced from 138bhp to 127bhp on this update, the 0-60mph figure of 10 seconds is unchanged. It offers a surprising amount of poke that makes it easier to get up to speed than you might expect. A six-speed manual is the only gearbox offered, though you can choose the Vitara with either two- or four-wheel-drive – our car using the latter.

The claims of efficiency are also noticeable – we averaged a respectable 46mpg on a mix of driving, and fuel savings would soon stack up compared to its thirstier predecessor. CO2 emissions have also significantly reduced from 169g/km to 140g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

Suzuki Vitara
The Vitara has proved hugely successful for Suzuki

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The new mild-hybrid system has without a doubt improved the way the Vitara feels behind the wheel. That extra torque is certainly noticeable at higher revs, and the only ‘hybrid’ feel to it is that when you take your foot off the accelerator, you can feel the regenerative braking kicking into life to charge the battery.

Elsewhere the Vitara is very pleasant to drive, having a comfortable ride even on our test car’s larger alloy wheels, while its other asset is its impressive off-roading ability on ‘AllGrip’ models. While not Jimny levels of capable, it certainly won’t struggle down rutted and muddy tracks, unlike many of its rivals.

How does it look?

Suzuki Vitara
Just a single powertrain is now available with the Vitara

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The Vitara ticks lots of boxes for crossover buyers in terms of looks – it’s got a high ride height, all the plastic cladding and tough-looking bumpers.

But to our eyes at least, it’s not the most stylish of choices in this class, though the 2019 facelift helped to bring a bolder look to it, including a larger grille and revised bumpers. There’s also a very vibrant selection of colours available, such as Solar Yellow, Ice Greyish (yes, that’s really what Suzuki calls it) and Atlantis Turquoise. All but the base spec Vitaras also come with a two-tone look thanks to a black roof as well.

What’s it like inside?

Suzuki Vitara
The cabin is let down by a few low-rent plastics

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It’s quite a mixed bag when it comes to the Vitara’s interior. Look at its leather and suede seats and full-length sunroof and it certainly feels quite upmarket. Trouble is, these luxuries are surrounded by some rather low-rent plastics, which offer the cheap and scratchy feel acceptable on a low-price city car but not so much on a £25,000 crossover. The touchscreen, while coming with satellite navigation and smartphone mirroring, also lacks the crisp feel expected of modern media systems.

And if you value rear space, it could be worth avoiding the top-spec SZ5 model, which comes with that panoramic sunroof. While looking the part, it severely digs into headroom to the point where taller adults will have to bend their neck. Not ideal, and a shame given the cabin would otherwise be quite roomy.

What’s the spec like?

Suzuki Vitara
Folding the rear seats down increases the boot space considerably

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This 2020 update has added quite a lot to the price of the Vitara, with the range starting from around £21,999 – that’s almost £2,000 more than before, and means the Vitara loses its affordable status.

You do get a generous amount of standard kit on the SZ4 model, though, including LED headlights, a host of driver assistance tech and 16-inch alloy wheels. It’s a shame it misses out on a touchscreen, though, and if you want one of those, you’ll have to make the jump to the £22,999 SZ-T, which also adds larger 17-inch alloys and a reversing camera.

At the top of the range is the SZ5, which increases the price to £24,999, though gets luxuries like keyless entry and start and the panoramic roof. It’s also worth considering if you really need that AllGrip four-wheel-drive system as, while effective, it adds £1,800 to the price.

Verdict

Just like on every other Suzuki to date, the addition of this new mild-hybrid system has certainly improved the overall package. It’s noticeably more efficient and responsive than its predecessors, while the significant amount of extra standard kit added as part of this update is welcome.

It’s just a shame both have added quite a significant chunk to the Vitara’s price, which its low-quality interior struggles to justify. That said, pick the right grade and choose this Suzuki in a cool colour and this is a funky and well-rounded alternative to the likes of the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.

  • Model as tested: Suzuki Vitara 1.4 Boosterjet Hybrid SZ5 AllGrip
  • Price: £26,549 (£27,349 as tested)
  • Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol
  • Power: 127bhp
  • Torque: 235Nm
  • Max speed: 118mph
  • 0-60mph: 10 seconds
  • MPG: 45.3mpg
  • Emissions: 140g/km
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