Suzuki's Vitara features both mild hybrid and full hybrid tech. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Electrification is these days so important to automotive makers that developing it takes precedence over creating new designs. For proof of that, take a look at the Suzuki Vitara. The current fourth generation 'LY'-series design has been around since 2015: time, you might think, for an all-new version, given the over-riding importance of the compact SUV segment just at present.
Instead, Suzuki has diverted its budgetary spend beneath the bonnet, first in 2019 redesigning its core 1.4-litre Boosterjet petrol turbo engine and adding sophisticated 48-volt mild hybrid tech into it. Then in early 2022, the company introduced its own 1.5-litre Full Hybrid engine as an alternative for customers seeking even greater levels of efficiency. The result is the revitalised Vitara line-up we're looking at here.
The Vitara has a slightly more athletic feel than Suzuki's other compact SUV in this segment, the S-Cross, and that hasn't been appreciably diluted by the marginal extra weight of the additional electrified tech. Let's start with the 1.4-litre mild hybrid model, which comes only with a manual gearbox. You may be familiar with the way that mild hybrid engines work but just in case not, here's a quick re-cap. Basically, energy that would otherwise be lost when braking or cruising off-throttle is harvested via a kinetic energy recovery system and sent to a small lithium-ion battery that here has been placed beneath the front passenger seat. This is used to drive a belt-driven 'ISG' unit (an 'Integrated Starter/Generator') and power the engine's stop/start system. Suzuki's old 12-volt mild hybrid package didn't do a lot more than that but this improved 48-volt set-up can also deliver a couple of other important benefits. The first is something quite unusual amongst current mild hybrids - the ability for this Suzuki to idle and even coast on full-electric power, though only below 10mph.
What about the 1.5-litre Full Hybrid model? Well here, a normally aspirated petrol unit with 114bhp is combined with a 33bhp belt-driven electric motor generator powered by a tiny 0.84kWh battery. All the power is fed through a 6-speed automated manual gearbox, which you can expect to feel somewhat slow and clunky until you learn to lift off between ratio changes. There's an 'Eco' mode to improve frugality, but you might not want to engage it too often because it restricts throttle response and even in its normal drive setting, this car is no ball of fire. Rest to 62mph occupies 12.7s on the way to a top speed of 111mph. This powertrain can be specified with a proper lockable ALLGRIP 4WD system on the top-spec 'SZ5' variant.
Design and Build
There are no visual changes with this Vitara model's switch to both kinds of Hybrid power, though these days, LED headlights now feature on all models. The car has been on sale since 2014 and the version we have now is the model that was facelifted in 2019. It remains a crossover positioned size-wise somewhere between the small and mid-sized SUV segments, 4,175mm in length and slightly taller than its visually less striking S-Cross showroom stablemate. This remains quite an assured piece of design work with its clamshell bonnet, blacked-out floating glasshouse, heavily sculpted flanks and a very neat tail-lamp finish.
Inside, the cabin is beginning to date a bit, with quite a few hard plastic surfaces, though it all seems to have been pretty well screwed together by the Hungarian factory. The centre-dash infotainment screen still has graphics that look a bit after-market but this display certainly includes quite a lot, with sat nav and 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring as well as a DAB tuner and Bluetooth. There's reasonably comfortable room for a couple of adults in the rear, though the twin sunroofs of the top SZ5 model do rob a few centimetres of headroom. Out back, there's a reasonably-sized 375-litre boot. If you need more room, pushing forward the 60:40-split rear bench frees up 710-litre of space - and the floor can be completely flat if you position the adjustable boor floor in its upper position.
Market and Model
Pricing is quite a bit higher than it used to be for the Vitara, sitting in the £24,000-£30,000 bracket. That's partly because going forward, Suzuki doesn't plan to offer smaller, more affordable engines than this 1.4 Boosterjet mild hybrid unit in our market. Partly it's also because the car these days features a higher standard of spec (Adaptive Cruise Control on all models for instance). And partly it's reflective of the cost of the extra forms of hybrid technology.
You'll need a premium of around £1,750 if you want to move from the manual gearbox 1.4-litre mild hybrid model to the 1.5-litre Full Hybrid version, which features a 6-speed automated manual gearbox. either way, there are two main trim levels, 'SZ-T' and 'SZ5'. Even base 'SZ-T' trim gives you LED projector headlights, auto air conditioning, auto headlamps and wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear electric windows, roof rails, heated door mirrors, seven airbags and 'Radar Brake Support' autonomous braking. Plus navigation, 17-inch silver painted alloy wheels, skid plates, rear privacy glass and white-stitched upholstery. The top 'SZ5' trim level you have to have if you want the option of ALLGRIP 4WD gives you a double-sliding panoramic sunroof, 17-inch polished alloy wheels, keyless entry and suede upholstery. Across the range, there's a choice of eleven different paint shades, one of which is solid, four of which are metallic finishes and six are dual-tone metallic with a Cosmic Black roof colour.
Cost of Ownership
The WLTP figures show a front-driven version of the mild hybrid model managing 49.7mpg on the combined cycle and 128g/km of CO2 emissions. So, what kind of efficiency difference does the alternative Full Hybrid tech make to the Vitara? Well, the official combined cycle WLTP figure of the Full Hybrid version is 53.0mpg, with 121g/km of CO2, which is comparable in this segment to what you'd get from, say, a Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid or the full-Hybrid self charging version of Renault's Captur E-TECH. To give you some perspective though, the existing manual gearbox mild hybrid Vitara manages 49.7mpg and 128g/km of CO2 in 2WD form, so the step forward here isn't huge. Yes, the drop in CO2 does put the Full Hybrid model in a more affordable BiK taxation band, but because of this larger capacity model's higher list price, the saving in company car tax isn't very great - think around £50 over three years for someone on 20% income tax.
As with all Suzukis, all Vitaras are covered by a three year/60,000 mile warranty, plus a year of AA Suzuki Assistance, providing 24 hour UK and European roadside assistance, recovery and associated services. There's also a 12 year perforation warranty.
There's still plenty to like about the Vitara. The light kerb weight delivers agile handling. There's more space inside than you get with competitors like Nissan's Juke. And there are high standards of specification to sugar the showroom proposition. If you regularly drive on potentially treacherous roads, it'll also matter than this Suzuki is one of the few SUVs in the class that can be ordered with 4WD.
But it's harder to like all of this quite as much at the significantly higher prices that Suzuki needs to charge to cover the cost of the mild hybrid and Full Hybrid tech. Particularly given the fact that the electrification benefits, though welcome, are still not quite as extensive as you might hope. Still, this is now much more a Vitara for the modern world. And a car that in this form is now just a little more than just a fashion statement.