If there’s one thing Suzuki knows how to do well, it’s making a car fun at an affordable price – from the Swift Sport hot hatch to the Jimny off-roader, its little cars may not be lavishly equipped or trimmed throughout with the most upscale materials, but they can very easily put a smile on your face.
But it’s not just niche products like these that the company knows how to nail that fun factor with as the Vitara Turbo you see here proves, because even with an on-trend small SUV like this, fun is still quite clearly a priority.
Priced from $30,490, the Turbo marks the mid-point in the Vitara Series II range that was most recently updated in 2019 – with it bookended by an unnamed base model below it and the Turbo AllGrip above it – and looks to be perhaps the best value option in the range.
Coming in at $4000 less than the Turbo AllGrip, albeit $5500 more than the base auto, the Turbo offers nearly all of the same kit as the range-topper – minus only a panoramic sunroof, hill descent control, and all-wheel drive – for a mere fraction of the price.
That means you still get suede upholstery on the seats and door cards, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, automatic wipers and LED headlights, a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with integrated satellite navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 4.2-inch colour screen in the gauge cluster featuring information like a G-meter and graphs of throttle and brake inputs, and keyless entry and push-button start.
It’s an interior that certainly looks and feels fun – from the geometric patterning on its seats to the colourful displays – and is nice and practical as well thanks to its clever boot situation with removable side compartments and a two-tiered floor, but it does admittedly show its age in some areas.
Having been on sale since 2016, you can forgive it somewhat for missing a few things, but omissions like a digital speedometer, dual-zone climate control, and digital radio are sore points today in 2020.
Similarly, while the majority of key contact points all feel fairly high quality – including even the inclusion of a soft-touch dashboard to appease motoring journalists – the plastic used on the door cards above and below the lovely suede feels incredibly harsh and scratchy, and while the seat upholstery may be nice, the front pews have a total lack of shoulder support for taller folks like myself. The rear door pockets are on the smaller side, too, although those in the front doors are nicely sized at least.
Importantly, it does offer an impressive set of standard safety tech though, with features such as AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and a reverse camera all standard.
But while it may have a fun-looking interior, if one lacking in some areas, along with what is a pretty fun-looking exterior thanks to the two-tone Galactic Grey and Cosmic Black paint and the red Turbo badging on my tester, it’s what’s under the bonnet that really makes the Vitara a thoroughly fun little thing.
While the base Vitara features a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the Turbo and Turbo AllGrip variants feature a smaller but more powerful 1.4-litre turbocharged unit paired exclusively with the automatic transmission.
Producing 103kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm from 1500-4000rpm, that power is channeled to the front wheels alone in the regular Turbo variant tested here, although as previously mentioned the AllGrip model adds all-wheel drive into the equation.
With this engine having been poached from the Vitara to power the Swift Sport since it lobbed in back in 2018, that’s a good indication of just how athletic this thing feels, as despite its low displacement it’s a strong little unit with a very healthy torque curve that really gets this thing moving.
The six-speed auto that backs it is a great unit, too – the gearing is very evenly spaced and progressive, it shifts smoothly and seamlessly when left to its own devices, and when using the flappy paddles on the steering wheel that feature illuminated plus and minus symbols the upshifts are nice and prompt. Admittedly, downshifts do require a bit of a throttle blip to speed them up, but otherwise it’s perfectly well-suited to this application.
Dynamically, it’s pretty impressive as well – the steering is super responsive and perfectly-weighted and it remains well composed through the bends with what minor body roll there is feeling well controlled.
However, it’s certainly not perfect, it must be said, as there are some minor gripes I have. For one, with the Turbo model being front-wheel drive, the fact it delivers its full blow of torque so low down in the rev range does mean that there is some noticeable wheelspin off the line and torque steer when you really start to hammer it. The all-wheel drive AllGrip may be more expensive then, but it certainly delivers a more polished drive in this regard.
There’s also the fact that the ride in it is quite firm, too. While it’s certainly not outright uncomfortable, the poor quality of the Adelaide Hills’ road network was something I was constantly reminded of by its bumpiness at times. The amount of road noise that comes through to the cabin is also a constant reminder of these poor, coarse-chip surfaces as well.
However, when you accept that this, like most Suzuki products, is really designed as a city-centric vehicle, issues like this are far less pertinent. More important is the fact its low-down punchiness and sharp steering helps with ducking and darting through traffic, while its smaller proportions and good visibility allows for easy-as-pie parallel parking.
As such, it makes the daily commute a genuine bit of fun when you realise the power you have at your disposal, and how engaging it can feel even at lower speeds. Given it’s not much larger than a hatchback but offers SUV ground clearance, it feels a bit more reassuring in modern traffic and when dealing with potholes and high kerbs as well.
Take it out of its element, and it’ll remind you that it’s built to a price where things like road noise and handling mid-corner bumps on tight and twisting Aussie backroads is less of a concern, but use it as intended and it’s a remarkably fun little thing.
It presents decent value for money, too, given the standard kit it features even with some omissions. A five-year unlimited kilometre warranty is standard for all Suzuki models including this as well, and it offers capped price servicing for the first five years or 100,000km, whichever is reached first, with an average cost of $295 for each of the first five visits, although you’ll have to visit the dealer once every 12 months/10,000km with a turbocharged model like this, versus every 15,000km for the naturally aspirated variants.
This Turbo model does use a fraction less fuel than the base auto, though, at a claimed 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle – I saw a return of 7.0L/100km over the 400km I spent behind the wheel which did involve a fair bit of hard driving – although it does require pricier 95RON at a minimum.
Overall, while there are some minor gripes the Vitara suffers from, the fun factor is big with this one. Sure, it feels a bit cheap and outdated in some areas, but for those looking for a city-friendly small SUV that offers a little extra in the way of performance where so many can feel uninspiring, the Vitara Turbo truly manages to put a smile on your face even on the way to the office.
2020 Suzuki Vitara Turbo List Price: $30,490 | As Tested: $31,785
- Performance - 8/108/10
- Ride & Handling - 7.5/107.5/10
- Tech & Features - 7.5/107.5/10
- Practicality - 8/108/10
- Value for Money - 8/108/10
Pros: Punchy and refined drivetrain, decent stack of standard safety kit, tactile switchgear and pleasant interior materials in places,
Cons: At-times terse ride and noisy cabin, Turbo FWD model suffers from some torque steer, lacking basics like a digital speedometer or rear centre armrest
In a nutshell: It may feel a bit cheap and outdated in some areas, but the Vitara Turbo delivers big when it comes to its fun factor.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Suzuki Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.