SAMURAI SWAT TEAM

18 May 2017
The current and previous generations of the Suzuki Vitara are designed to conquer suburbia with their special weapons and tactics.

FEATURE SIBLING RIVALRY

 

• Story David Ting • Photos Desmond Teo

 

Before crossovers started crossing en masse from the hatchback metropolis to the pseudo-SUV jungle, Suzuki had already crossed the river between the city and the countryside with the first Vitara, which put its four-wheel-drive tyres on/off the road here in 1991 (see box story on next spread, Venerable Vitara).

 

What we have here is the latest fourth-generation Vitara, together with the thirdgeneration Grand Vitara.

 

The newcomer is a few months young, while the old-timer is approaching its 10th year, so any comparative comments on my part have to be taken with a pinch of salt – or maybe a pinch of sand, from a beach resort somewhere in Malaysia, where countless Vitaras have rambled and played since the 1990s.

 

Today, the new 1.6-litre Vitara plays in the same local playground as the Honda Vezel/ HR-V and Nissan Qashqai 1.2.

 

Yesterday, the old 2-litre Grand Vitara played in the same playground as the old Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, alongside two Korean kids destined for greater things when they grow up, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.

 

The designs of the two Vitaras are separated by a decade of development, not only in the fields of manufacturing and vehicular aesthetics, but also in terms of SUV culture.

 

The previous Grand Vitara is made in Japan and styled like a traditional off-roader, with a “backpack” spare tyre. The new model has a flat-tyre repair kit instead, which saves weight but might not save your skin in the middle of nowhere like a full-size fifth tyre could.

 

Both Suzukis can be specified with a variety of outdoorsy accessories (original or aftermarket), such as skid plates, fender extenders and roof racks.

But only the old one came with a choice of five-door and three-door bodystyles (Champion Motors sold just the five-door version). The older, second-generation Vitara had more variants, which included a stretched seven-seater called XL-7 and a two-door soft-top convertible!

 

The new Vitara, built in Hungary, is only available as a practical five-door, reflecting the SUV segment’s evolution from “weekend fun for a twosome/threesome” to “everyday functionality for family and friends”.

 

Its size is closer to that of the three-door Grand Vitara, but superior packaging has given the new-era Vitara almost as much interior space as the old-school five-door Grand Vitara. The boot, for instance, offers 375 litres of cargo capacity, expandable to 710 litres with the rear seatbacks folded; compared to 398-758 litres in the retired sibling.

 

There’s also a significant improvement in efficiency, which starts with weight loss.

 

The Vitara tips the scales at just over 1.2 tonnes, about 300kg lighter than the Grand Vitara. That’s like leaving four excess adults on the roadside for good.

 

The current model also feels lighter on its feet. Whatever advantage the old 2-litre model has in low-end torque (183Nm versus 156Nm) and high-revs power (140bhp versus 118bhp) is negated by the current 1.6-litre drivetrain’s sweeter, uh, drive. Its 6-speed automatic transmission, versus the predecessor’s ancient 4-speeder, is smoother and more responsive. The acceleration seems more urgent on the expressway, even though the official 0-100km/h timings are identical for both Vitaras. The maximum speed is now 10km/h faster, which might be useful to road trippers in a hurry.

 

The vehicle is less thirsty, too, able to travel about six kilometres further (estimated) on every litre of petrol. Although I couldn’t find the CO2 emission figure for the old Vitara, I reckon it’s significantly higher than that of the new one. 

 

As for ride and handling, the current Vitara is generally quieter and more comfortable, while the defunct model is both rougher and tougher on the move, and seems to be better prepared for suburban warfare.

 

Suburban welfare is more relevant these days, though, especially for soft-roaders like these. Which is why the current Vitara’s weapons and tactics, which include enough equipment for everyone’s convenience, sticky AllGrip multi-mode four-wheel-drive, steady hill descent control and colourful paint schemes (like this demo unit’s Savannah Ivory), work well in our Garden City. 

 

THE LAST SAMURAI

 

Suzuki’s sports-utility expertise extends “downwards” to the Jimny. It’s a tiny SUV in 1.3-litre export format, even tinier in 658cc domestic form for Japan, but it’s a pukka offroader with a rugged ladder-frame chassis, ballsy ball-nut steering, ample ground clearance and a guerilla of a gearbox. This bonsai SUV can climb farther than Mount Faber and tackle tougher ridges than Kent Ridge Park. It has the skill to make a molehill out of a whole hill. And its five-slot grille pokes fun at Jeep, whose distinctive seven-slot grille has been part of its brand heritage since 1945. In a slightly muddy way, the Jimny is Suzuki’s last Samurai, a walk-on-the-wildside small warrior standing its groundas city-slicker crossovers explore the outdoors.


"THE TWO VITARAS ARE SEPARATED BY A DECADE OF DEVELOPMENT IN MANUFACTURING, VEHICULAR AESTHETICS AND SUV CULTURE".

 

VENERABLE VITARA

 

Before the first Vitara came to Singapore in 1991, Suzuki already had a swarm of SJ413 Samurais working hard in construction sites, industrial areas and ulu parts of the island. The little 4x4 vehicle was a tough panel van for equally tough men.

 

The original Vitara (extreme right) was less austere than the spartan Samurai, but it was still as tough as an SAF sergeant’s boots, with a boxy body ready to bash its way through undergrowth, a hardworking 1.6-litre engine and a three-mode 4x4 system (2H rear-drive for normal roads, 4H four-wheel-drive for abnormal roads and 4L low-ratio, low-speed four-wheeldrive for off-road journeys).

 

In 1994 (1995 when it reached Singapore), Suzuki put a 2-litre V6 engine into the Vitara to create its flagship, complete with a heavily chromed grille, two-tone paintwork and optional leather upholstery.

 

Priced at just over $100,000 excluding Category 3 COE, the car served as a cheaper alternative to the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Land Cruiser of the mid-1990s, while providing a similar kind of ruggedness in the wilderness, which would include concrete forest.

 

In 1998, the second-generation Vitara range (right) made its debut. It was improved in every area, but retained its body-on-frame and rigid rear axle.

 

If the V6 Vitaras were anomalies, the Vitara-based X-90 (right, centre) was pure absurdity. The weird two-seater with a two-piece removable glass roof looks like a car-toon, drawn by a silly kid.

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