Class of One
Suzuki is a crossroads with the Vitara.
When they launched the Vitara in late 2017, there weren't very many competitors in the subcompact crossover class. That's all changed today, with more and more new models being launched to chip away at the class the Vitara actually helped popularize.
Suzuki, however, isn't a stranger to challenges and to make big changes to adapt. In 2017 when the fourth generation Vitara was launched in the Philippines, we didn't know what to expect because there were so many fundamental changes. Suzuki made the huge switch from building the Vitara on a ladder frame (even the 3rd gen had a ladder frame welded underneath) which was primarily rear or four-wheel-drive to a crossover unibody with front-wheel drive and an option for all-wheel drive (in other markets).
Suzuki downsized the Vitara by over 325 millimeters; that's huge in car terms especially since new models typically get bigger with every generation. That also meant they dropped the “Grand” badge, which was good in my opinion; Suzuki stuck to their strength which is small cars.
That paradigm shift in the Vitara may have been surprising, but when I first got behind the wheel of the front-wheel-drive model in 2017 I really liked it. I felt it was competitively priced considering where they get it from Hungary. Imagine that: a vehicle with good pricing versus counterparts that are produced in countries we have FTAs with but has to travel halfway around the world and probably through the Suez.
It's a very different playbook for Suzuki to get a car from that far away. But now they've got a new version: the Vitara with the AllGrip system. Can this four-wheel-drive Vitara impress us as the front-wheel-drive model?
This is actually my first time driving the Vitara again after so many years, and the one I'm looking at is visually different... well, slightly. This one is the facelifted model, and as far as nip and tuck jobs go, this one is quite on the mild side. I'm not complaining actually; even after so many years, I still think the Vitara is a neatly designed crossover.
The headlights still look cool with that halo of blue on the projectors. The taillights are new and seem to be an all-red affair with the amber indicators blending in neatly. The front and rear bumpers have also been enhanced, and have new silver-painted skid plates below; personally, I prefer the gray on the 2018 model I drove. Nevertheless, the proportions are just right, the stance is nice, and the details still look good, particularly with the two-tone color scheme: red body with a black roof and blacked-out pillars.
All Suzuki really changed with the facelift is some minor bits and bobs around the body, particularly on this GLX AllGrip. Actually, it's mostly chrome; if you've seen how I review cars, you know I prefer as little chrome as possible. The bumper was changed a bit over the original fourth-gen look, featuring more chrome. The chrome on the nostril grille was reduced significantly, but more chrome found its way on the door moldings and on the door handles. But again, a lot of customers here do like some bling on their cars.
Inside, not much has changed either. The steering wheel still looks the same, but I still like it. The shifter, the placement of the pedals, and the buttons are all good. The audio system has also been updated; the size of the screen is the same, but these newer models now have Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and navigation.
Some of the alterations are fairly minor, so much so that I found myself flipping between the photos of the 2018 FWD GLX and this 2021 AWD GLX. The upholstery design is new to me, along with the instrument cluster which now has a color multi-info display in the middle. The most notable changes are the presence of the AllGrip badge on the dashboard as well as the control dial just below the shifter, but we'll talk about that later.
Looking around, there are a lot of nice convenience features in the Vitara. The rearview mirror is the electrochromic kind, meaning it dims automatically if there's a vehicle behind that hasn't dipped its high beams. The headlights are the automatic variety, and the wipers are automatic too. The steering wheel has buttons for the cruise control, the audio system, and the speed limiter function. There are also paddle shifters just behind the spokes of the steering wheel; this should be fun.
There's a long list of safety features, as expected. While many prefer to check out the number of airbags (this one has six) and the crash safety offered by the body, we prefer to look at features that prevent a crash like the front and rear disc brakes with an anti-lock system and stability control. This Vitara also has hill hold, hill descent control, front/rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera. But not everything is here; if you look at the bumper, there's a provision for the radar system that would be used for an adaptive cruise control system or even automatic emergency braking, but the Vitara doesn't have those features.
One of the best things about the Vitara GLX, be it the front-wheel-drive model from 2018 and this 2021 all-wheel drive, is the presence of the panoramic glass roof. Suzuki was actually one of the first (if not the first) to offer a sunroof like this in the subcompact crossover class, and the market really took notice of it. Because of the dimensions of the roof, the Vitara's power glass roof is a two-panel unit, meaning it's split somewhere above the B-pillar. This was done to make it more compact and allow a larger opening. If you don't want extra sunlight in the cabin you can press a button and a ceiling blind covers it up, but it's not as opaque compared to the ones found on some other models.
The rear seat, as expected, is still the same. It's not going to win awards for space, but that's not saying it's uncomfortable. I actually like it back here with a good amount of knee room considering the dimensions of the vehicle. This Vitara is really good for families that are just starting out, especially given the presence of child seat anchors on either side. So if you have two little ones, then you can safely secure them in a child seat as per the law.
The boot space of the Vitara is also one of my favorites in the category. The rear seats almost fold fully flat, giving a loadspace that's about 61 inches long and about 40 inches wide between the wheel wells. With the rear seats up, Suzuki says cargo space is at 375 liters. With the rear seats folded, the rear can accommodate 710 liters, though Suzuki also says the absolute max cargo volume is 1120 liters; we have a feeling that includes the spaces where the rear passengers' legs would go.
The clever thing about the Vitara is the extra storage compartment underneath the rear cargo floor. Lift the board and you've got more cargo space for tools (i.e. EWD) and such; I find this particularly useful if I have to leave a laptop bag in the car, as it's best to keep such items away from prying eyes. Lift another board underneath and you'll find the space-saving spare tire, along with the basic toolkit.
Pop the hood and a familiar engine make itself known: the naturally aspirated M16A. I honestly hoped that Suzuki would have selected a downsized turbo engine (they do have a few abroad) but they elected not to; no doubt a decision based on cost and maybe even fuel quality. Nevertheless the M engine in this Vitara makes 115 PS and 156 Newton meters of torque. This engine has been around for quite a while, but Suzuki has updated it through the years as it has proven to be a reliable engine option for a variety of their models worldwide.
Bolted onto the engine is a 6-speed automatic transmission, but unlike before, this transverse gearbox is all-wheel drive. Take a peek behind the engine and you'll spot an output shaft for the AWD system which Suzuki calls AllGrip. If you're familiar with the Jimny, then the AllGrip system sounds the same, but it isn't. The reason is that the crossover has an independent front suspension and a multi-link rear. The Jimny has solid axles front and rear, and that alone makes a big difference in how a vehicle performs off-road.
That is going to be the important thing to remember here: this Vitara can't off-road like the Jimny. That boxy Suzuki 4x4 is meant to tackle all kinds of terrain; rock crawling and the like. Just by the ground clearance alone, the Vitara's 185mm (about 7 inches) of minimum clearance will not be fun to have on the back of your mind on an off-road trail. The approach and departure angles of the Vitara also make that clear at 18.2 degrees and 28.2 degrees, respectively. By comparison, the Jimny has 210mm of clearance, an approach angle of 28 degrees, and a departure angle of 49 degrees.
The Vitara AllGrip is not meant for that kind of off-roading. This is meant to handle driving on trickier surfaces with a bit of speed. The all-wheel-drive system here is about giving you extra traction when you're driving fast on paved roads or unpaved roads like gravel or dirt. As with many all-wheel-drive models, the Vitara is primarily front-wheel drive but can activate all-wheel drive when the need arises. That's what AllGrip does in Auto Mode.
There are three more settings available. One is Sport, which engages all four wheels more liberally, and allows the transmission to hold each gear a bit longer. Another mode is Lock, which basically simulates the feel of a limited-slip differential; that's useful if you've got a wheel or two in the air like if you found yourself on some kind of off-road obstacle course. The last mode is Snow; yes it sounds silly to have snow mode in the Philippines, but the settings for an extremely low grip condition like winter are very similar to the settings for sand or gravel. Activate any of these modes for the appropriate surface or condition and you're bound to enjoy your drive.
The first thing that struck me about the Vitara AllGrip as a driver was the weight on the steering. It just seems slightly firmer than I remember which is odd. Normally when a four-wheel-drive system is engaged, the steering gets heavier and the turning radius gets bigger, but this isn't that. I was still in auto mode on concrete, meaning it should be front-wheel drive. The difference isn't much, but I can notice it.
The weight on the steering isn't a problem; actually, I prefer it that way because it gives the perception that you're driving something well built. The suspension with 17-inch and 55-series wheel/tire combo does lean on the sportier side of the spectrum; good for handling, but you do feel a bit more of the road. Surprisingly though, the ride is not something I would characterize as harsh. It's actually nice and balanced. Road noise is actually nicely managed; those Continentals aren't noisy.
What I liked was the fuel economy. In town, we were averaging 10 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 22 km/h. On the highway, it fluctuated a bit, but still, it was averaging 14 to 15 kilometers per liter, depending on your speed. I think we can get more out of it if we really tried.
Where the Vitara AllGrip will disappoint is in the acceleration department. It took 16.18 seconds to get from zero to 100 km/h via our GPS performance meter. Up to around 60 km/h, it was fine, but 60 km/h to 100 km/h took quite a while; probably a combination of the tall gearing at that speed and the engine. This could really do well with a small gasoline turbo engine, but that will probably have a big effect on cost.
Once the road gets a bit twisty, you'll enjoy the Vitara AllGrip. Twist the knob to sport and the Vitara will be a fun little machine. It's not fast when it comes to accelerating from corner exit to corner entry, but the confidence you can have when you're actually cornering is quite high even when the road is very dusty.
So yes, the AllGrip is fun and this Vitara is definitely still interesting. But there is a challenge that Suzuki has to grapple with: pricing. The 2021 Vitara GLX AllGrip retails for PHP 1,468,000 for this two-tone variant (other colors are PHP 1,458,000). The pricing is definitely premium considering the vehicle's size.
Now don't judge Suzuki for that because we don't think that's a result of pushing the profit margin of the Vitara AllGrip. That pricing is a result of the disadvantage they faced with the manufacturing and logistics of this specific model. There is no nearby factory for them to source the model where they can take advantage of a free trade area.
Suzuki doesn't produce the Vitara in Thailand, Indonesia, or even Japan. The Vitara in India is the smaller Brezza version. There was a joint venture in China where Suzuki made the Vitara with Changan, but that's no longer active; Suzuki sold their stake in that JV about 3 years ago. That's why our Vitara units have to travel all the way from Hungary to get here.
Three years ago, the Vitara was able to excite the market with its price and value; it was outstanding considering it was already sourced from Hungary at the time, and that it still paid full 30% import duty. But times have changed, and the influx of many more affordable front-wheel-drive models from China have forced Suzuki to re-evaluate their options, which is why they chose to withdraw and try something different. Unless we missed something, there is no all-wheel-drive subcompact in the market; everything else is FWD.
That's what the AllGrip is: a new option without direct competitors. Suzuki knows there won't be as many customers looking for a vehicle like the Vitara AllGrip, but those that select it will undoubtedly enjoy tossing it around on a nice weekend getaway.