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Suzuki Vitara diesel

 

One of the most bewildering factors in a free market like the NZ new car market is deciding which vehicle to buy.

Take the small car sector: the choice is huge and the competition fierce, and deciding between such standout cars as the Suzuki Swift and Ford Fiesta is very difficult indeed.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a car company makes the choice easy.

Suzuki, which is fast becoming an important player in the NZ new car market, has just done that, though the choice involved is among versions of its own Grand Vitara compact SUV.

A diesel version has just gone on sale here, and though it's not flawless, it really is a gem and is the pick of the Vitara crop.

Till the Vitara oiler arrived, fast-growing (both in market share and vehicle quality) Korean brand Kia had the only diesel-powered compact SUV on sale here - the highly-regarded if a little awkwardly-styled Sportage.

Originally Suzuki offered only petrol-engined versions of its five-door Grand Vitara wagon - one with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, the other with a 2.7-litre V6.

The four was a little underpowered, the six had plenty of get-up-and-go but has been slammed by the motoring media for being too thirsty, though we discovered that with judicious use of the throttle and making the most of the reasonably generous torque you didn't need to keep a smile on the oil barons' faces if you drove a Vitara V6.

Initially, Suzuki hadn't marketed a diesel among the all-new Grand Vitara line-up. Its engine was supplied by French manufacturer Renault, and Renault hadn't signed a licensing agreement for this part of the world.

That's now been sorted out and along comes the diesel Grand Vitara, with more torque than any of its siblings and a price that's slap-bang in the middle of the range.

A manual five-door petrol four will set you back $33,000; a topline V6 Limited auto costs $41,000.

With the diesel you can only have a five-speed manual gearbox - which might limit its appeal somewhat - but the price is $37,500, the same as the standard auto V6.

The manual-only consideration aside, to us the decision on which Grand Vitara to buy is crystal clear - the diesel.

We couldn't match - didn't come close really - Suzuki's fuel economy figures, but the diesel is much easier on fuel than the V6 and has power and torque figures that easily outshine the petrol four-cylinder.

The diesel is a Renault 1.9-litre turbomotor with common rail technology.

It's 18.7 percent more powerful and has 11 percent more peak torque than the previous model's Peugeot diesel engine.

The 1870cc, four-cylinder, direct fuel-injected Renault diesel is boosted by a Garrett water-cooled turbocharger, and develops 95kW of power at 3750rpm, and peak torque of 300Nm at 2000rpm. The torque a good increase over the petrol V6's 250Nm and the four's 183.

Suzuki says the diesel Vitara will accelerate to 100km/h in 13.2 seconds and has a 170km/h top speed.

It's a willing and surprisingly free-revving motor, though there's more diesel clatter than there was in the old model's ultra-smooth and quiet Peugeot oil-burner.

Its greatest drawback is noticeable lag before the turbo spins enough to deliver boosted power.

It's noticeable most at the traffic lights where you might win the reaction time race but will be beaten off the line as the Vitara hesitates before the turbo starts boosting.

It's noticeable, too, off corners. Where you might expect a diesel to seamlessly deliver creamy torque out of a third-gear corner, you find yourself shifting down to second to get the best drive off the bend.

It's not a major problem but it does take a wee bit of the sparkle off the vehicle.

The punch in second gear, though, is substantial and the diesel Vitara will make strong progress on winding roads. Once the turbo starts boosting there's good acceleration, even in fifth gear.

The gearbox itself has a suitably rugged feel, but shifts smoothly and easily, and the match with the clutch is exemplary.

We have liked the new unitary body Vitara's handling since we first experienced the vehicle at last year's media launch, and the diesel drives and handles as well as its petrol-powered siblings (all have four-wheel independent suspension).

Turn-in to corners is refreshingly direct for an SUV and the steering is well-weighted and offers good feel.

On State Highways the SUV can be punted along with car-like ease and at car-like speeds: there's never a feeling that the vehicle is trying to tip over, merely a nice, well-sorted rear-wheel drive feel (the four-wheel drive system is permanently on but in normal running is biased more to the rear wheels in a 47/53 torque split).

It's very confidence-inspiring, and the Vitara will handle even demanding winding roads with aplomb. Most of the time it has a neutral feel, and understeer is only really noticeable on very tight corners taken quickly, where there is some minor sledging before the front wheels bite and the car trucks on around.

The Vitara really comes into its own on gravel where the handling is secure, and the car extremely sure-footed.

Ride is excellent at speed, though it's a little lumpy and rugged-feeling on bumpier city streets.

Fuel economy? Suzuki is very bullish on the diesel Vitara, saying it's 23 percent more economical than the petrol 2.0-litre in the city cycle and 18.4 percent better overall.

It quotes highway consumption of 6.7 litres/100km (42.2mpg); 9.4 litres (30.1mpg) in the city cycle, and 7.7 litres/100km overall (36.7mpg).

We managed an overall figure of 28mpg, achieved in running that was biased to city use and included a lot of second and third gear driving on gravel roads. Overall consumption in the low-30mpg bracket would seem easily achievable.

Brakes are disc front/drum rear and were efficient and fade-free; the headlights cast strong light and the windscreen wipers are efficient.

A dial on the central dashboard allows the driver to select among 4WD high, 4WD high lock, or 4WD low lock. There is a choice of highway and low final drive ratios, the latter for off-road work.

Creature comforts include well-shaped seats, climate-control air-conditioning, a good Compact Disc sound system, 16-inch alloy wheels, a hard cover for the tailgate-mounted spare wheel, roof rails, ABS anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution, a cargo area security blind, and dual front airbags.

We wrote immediately after the new Vitara's media launch that if its sweet-handling was mated to a diesel engine, it would be one of the finest of all SUVs, regardless of size.

Now that the turbodiesel version is here we reiterate that assessment. Its only minor irritant is the turbo lag - and  the lack of an automatic gearbox option might cost the model some sales. But overall we feel there's only one Grand Vitara variant to buy - the diesel. It's one very fine vehicle, and one that we enjoyed immensely.

 


Auto Trader New Zealand