"If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
Really, why change a winning formula, right? If you do, you're bound to upset some people. It's the same case with some cars. For every minor or major model change, automakers have to strike a balance between pleasing their most loyal customers by not rocking the boat too much, but at the same time, innovate so as to not fall behind and be able to lure in new buyers.
One of the vehicles that has that exact conundrum is the Suzuki Vitara. When the fourth-generation model was revealed to the Philippine market back in late 2017, it went from a rough and tumble off-roader, to what essentially is a hatchback on tall tires. It no longer had four-wheel drive and it shed its truckish roots altogether.
It was a big gamble, but it clearly worked in Suzuki's favor. The more car-like and civilized feel made it an even better daily proposition, but the classic Vitara essentials were still there. It's compact but not cramped, and loaded but not expensive. It may no longer be an option for weekend off-roaders, but boy did it open up a whole new market for them.
After more than two years in the market, as well as garnering an 11% share of Suzuki's total sales in 2019, it has received its first-ever refresh just before 2019 ended. The thing is, did the Vitara really needed an update? Expectations are high given how good the pre-facelift model was when we first tested it.
Let’s start by looking at its face which received a nip and tuck. Gone is the two-bar horizontal-style grill as it has been replaced by a six-slat front grill which I really like. Then there’s the more chiseled front bumper that features new foglight bezels, and slightly reshaped LED daytime running lights.
All remains the same at the rear of the 2020 Vitara, well almost. There is now a new set of tail lights which, to me, look way better than the pre-facelift's version. Meanwhile, the reverse light has been moved to the rear bumper, which quite frankly was a bit odd. But given that the taillights now don a pre-dominantly red finish, it looks like they really didn't have anywhere else to put it.
I was never a fan of the two-tone orange/white finish on the previous model. They've gotten rid of that option and replaced it with a flashier shade of orange and paired it with a black roof. When I first saw photos of this particular combination, I wasn’t too keen with the look. It was only when I got to see the Vitara in the metal did my opinion change.
Combined with the neat touches of chrome on the front fascia, the red taillights, and the huge 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels, the Vitara is indeed a winner in the looks the department. Some might say Suzuki could have done something more substantial for the exterior redesign. But as they say, why fix it if it wasn't broken in the first place?
If the exterior saw noticeable changes, the interior of the Vitara is more restrained. When I first got inside the 2020 Vitara, I thought I was looking at the same exact vehicle that was launched in late 2017. But that’s not entirely a bad thing as I find the Vitara’s cabin ergonomic and well thought-out. Everything is where you expect them to be; from the climate control dials, touchscreen media display, the ports for the USB / Aux, the 12V power socket, and the buttons for the foglights and front/rear parking sensors.
Since this is the GLX, all of the seats are upholstered in leather mixed with suede inserts. While I would've preferred full leather upholstery, the added suede does make for a more sophisticated look for the Vitara. It can even be found on the door panels which serve as a nice contrast against the black and faux aluminum trims. Both the driver's seat and front seat are comfortable, with the former also benefitting from height adjustability.
Standing front and center inside the Vitara is a huge 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system. While already a standard feature on the previous GLX, the refreshed version now comes with a Linux-based system instead of Android (the Swift, Ertiga, Jimny, and even the Dzire also use the new Linux system). Thankfully, the new touchscreen is more intuitive to use and now comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for better phone connectivity. It also has a leather-wrapped steering wheel complete with cruise control and media-related functions.
Legroom and elbowroom at the back is adequate despite its subcompact dimensions. However, this range-topping GLX has a sunroof as standard, and taller passengers might hit the top of their heads on the Vitara’s ceiling. The GL+ variant, however, comes with no sunroof which does free up some headroom. No manual air-conditioning here as the GLX comes with an automatic climate control system. Unlike other systems where it makes use of a touch panel, the Vitara sticks to the good ol’ dials and buttons. This makes adjusting the temperature and the fan speed easier without having to take your eyes off the road.
Under the hood remains the familiar 1.6-liter, naturally-aspirated M16A four-cylinder engine. It still produces 115 PS at 6000 rpm along with 156 Nm of torque. Power is then sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Now while it may not be the most powerful in its class, it does deliver modest performance.
With a push of a button, the 1.6-liter engine comes to life and lets out a noticeable rumble from the exhaust. Once on the road, I noticed that the refreshed version seemed to have a more eager accelerator. Even with light pressure on the pedal, the engine revs shoot up to 2,500 rpm and beyond in first gear. I actually had to adjust my right foot so it doesn't go too far beyond 2,000 rpm before it switches to the second gear.
That aside, the Vitara is a smooth operator in and out of town. The automatic transmission seamlessly shifts between cogs and the engine remains relatively hush in operation. Should you want to shift gears by yourself, the GLX comes with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It can be operated while the transmission is in ‘D’ although it works best when you set it in manual (‘M’) mode which makes the revs sharper and linger more within the powerband.
Thanks to a more sharpened response and a cooperative transmission, overtaking other vehicles on the highway can be done easily with just a light tap of the gas. This is great when you’re driving spiritedly along a mountain pass, or a windy road. However, do note that the local-spec Vitara isn't turbocharged, so some careful timing is still needed when overtaking big rigs. Hopefully the turbocharged ‘Boosterjet’ engine will be available as an option for the Vitara in the future. I'm not saying it's underpowered, but having boost would be nicer.
Another noteworthy trait of the Vitara is its agility and ride quality. With its relatively light weight and has compact dimensions, the Vitara is actually fun to take corners with. It’s not exactly a high-performance crossover, but it can handle itself well in the twisties. The electronic-power steering is finely-weighted (although more feedback would have been better), while its low-slung body meant that it stays rather planted even on the back roads.
As far as ride comfort is concerned, the Vitara was able to absorb road bumps, rutted streets, and rough concrete roads well. There is a hint of firmness, yes, but nothing too jarring that it will hurt your back or make you bounce around while inside the crossover.
While we're on the subject of comfort, better Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) deadening could have been done as well. Tire and road noise intrude into the cabin easily which means you might have to shout at times while conversing with others. Another thing that Suzuki could have improved is the sunroof cover. The Vitara (still) uses an almost see-through fabric which doesn’t block out the sun’s rays entirely on a hot day. Hopefully Suzuki rectifies this in another update, or for the next-gen model.
Fuel economy for the Vitara is impressive as ever. It can easily average 10.0 - 11.0 km/L in light city driving with just me on the driver’s seat. If you have extra passengers along for the ride, expect the Vitara to have an average fuel consumption of 8.0 - 8.5 km/L in light traffic. Out on the highway however, the Vitara can sip fuel at an efficient 16.0 - 17.0 km/L. Despite peak torque being available at over 4000 rpm, the six-speed auto kept the revs low in normal driving conditions.
So the 2020 Vitara in top-of-the-line GLX trim has everything that you need in a small yet practical crossover. It’s packed with loads of standard features and amenities that will keep you safe and entertained, and it has a cooler-looking exterior which keeps it fresh and modern. However, the GLX (as well as the GL+) might not be in the Philippine market for too long.
Why? Supposedly, a memo has been circulating online informing dealers that importation of both the GLX and GL+ variants has ceased last February. The reason behind it is due to tax and pricing no longer being competitive to continue importation of the said variants, and the influx of aggressive (and more affordable) competition from Chinese brands didn't help either.
No, that doesn't mean Suzuki is killing off the Vitara here. Instead, Suzuki will introduce a new variant that aims to directly compete against the newcomers. As for the current GLX and GL+ variants, they will continue to be available to customers while stocks last.
At PhP 1,158,000, it can be said that the Vitara GLX is not exactly priced as competitively as before. Still, it looks good, is loaded with features, has a decent powertrain, and it sips fuel.
Truth be told, you'll be perfectly content with the Vitara regardless of the variant. It's that competent.