What I really liked about the launch of the new Suzuki Vitara was the route we drove in the Southern Cape. It’s that part of the world where the breakfast run brigade get misty-eyed about Route 62, the Robinson, Prince Alfred’s and Outenique Passes and Meiringspoort.
Fortunately, we had other ideas.
Instead, from George we tiptoed through the usual never-ending roadworks to the Montagu and Prince Alfred’s Passes.
The Vitara felt right at home. Rides the bumps like a champ, with 185 mm ground clearance. Stays nicely on track, even with just two-wheel drive. And that was the least interesting part of the drive.
We ventured on the tar again briefly to see if Route 62 was all it was cracked up to be. I can report that the Little Karoo country-side was on its best behaviour, which is to say whipping past at a goodly rate. The 1,6 Four is hardly the last word in boot-up-the-backside oomph, but it spins smoothly and willingly to get you to a decent cruising speed, where it will resolutely remain come hill or dale. Decent torque, but could possibly benefit from lower gearing.
So much for the ride, what about the car? At a glance, the new model does look suspiciously similar to another well known and distinctly upmarket compact SUV, right down the contrasting roof colour, black pillars and clamshell bonnet. It edges closer to Grand Vitara than its predecessor, and is available with either front-wheel drive or four-mode AllGrip all-wheel drive, which we sadly didn’t get to drive. And that stubby profile suggests that it should be quite nimble off-road.
AllGrip. Like similar systems, Suzuki’s latest version of all-wheel-drive normally activates only the front wheels. When the front starts losing traction, torque is sent to the rear. In the Vitara, though, that’s enhanced by a new feed-forward function. This uses data such as road surface condition, accelerator pedal position and steering angle to predict a loss of traction and direct torque to the rear axle even before front wheelspin actually occurs.
This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.