New Suzuki Vitara JLX a cost effective and satisfying driving experience

After four years of enjoying the experience of owning a Honda 2 litre V-tec Civic Sport, I decided it was time to shift up a few gears and become proud owners in the hot-selling SUV sector.

To be fair, the Civic was always going to be a tough act to follow – it’s packed with power and super sporty with compliant ride and suspension. However, it wasn’t until I got behind the wheel of an SUV did I realise that what the Civic lacked, the SUV made up for. My Civic was without a reversing camera, all-round visibility, and didn’t come with the high seating of the latest crop of Sports Utility Vehicles.

I set about compiling a shortlist of suitable SUV candidates in the $30,000 to $40,000 RRP range, which, after applying lease company fleet discount bought monthly payments down to the $450 to $550 bracket.

The criteria for an SUV included:

  •   •  Long-term affordability – economy, servicing costs and resale value

  •   •  Easy entry/egress for elderly passengers

  •   •  Complete visibility and a good quality reversing camera with a decent sized screen

  •   •  Room for golf clubs and trundler (or a dog), without having to fold seats

  •   •  All the latest safety and technology features; cruise control, phone integration, GPS including Apple CarPlay, at least 6-speed auto with flappy paddle gear box, and of course full climate air control

  •   •  Height-adjustable seating with excellent front and one-third rear visibility.

  •   •  Comfortable ride, lumbar and thigh support, right foot rest support due to predisposition to use cruise control excessively

  •   •  Smooth modern styling but not too polarising, leaning towards a traditional 4WD look.

From this, I shortlisted to three models: Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander and Suzuki Vitara.

Of course, when it comes to identifying the best car for you, personal preferences come into play. I particularly liked the styling of the Sportage and the practicality and space of the Outlander. While they both had huge appeal, the overall economy of the Vitara, coupled with my happy memories of the fun I had driving my Swift Sport a couple of years earlier gave it an advantage.

My final decision was sealed during a long test drive in which the Vitara averaged 5.8L/100km even after a spirited drive over the Kaimai Range to Okoroire and back! That equates to 700km per $65 fill. Another major factor was the crispness of the 6-speed full auto with the steering wheel mounted paddles, allowing for manual override. This was a turning point for me, as I’d never really come to grips with the alternative CVT auto of some of the others in this class – they took me back to my days of my first car which had a slipping clutch.

Overall, the Vitara surprised me – in a good way! Having been a petrol-head all my life, I thought the 1600 naturally aspirated engine would struggle in the SUV configuration. I thought this could be a trade-off to get such good economy but now after a year of owning and driving my Vitara, it has always exceeded my expectations. Would I like the turbo version – of course. Could I justify upgrading to turbo for an additional $4000? Probably not, but that’s not to say you couldn’t!


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