FIRST DRIVE: 2017 Suzuki Vitara GLX

Suzuki Philippines, Inc. (SPI) launched the all-new, fourth-generation Suzuki Vitara a month ago, and on paper, it seems well-equipped for its price. That's because for P1.048 million, you get a compact crossover that rides taller than sedans, has a panoramic sunroof that opens almost all the way through, and is equipped with six airbags.

Still, nothing in this world is perfect. Just because everything looks copacetic, it doesn't necessarily mean it actually is. Fortunately, SPI had planned a two-day jaunt into La Union for the media a couple of weeks after the Vitara's launch, giving us some time to get to know its newest offering through a roughly 600-kilometer road trip from Suzuki Caloocan to the Thunderbird Resort in San Fernando, La Union and back. It may not be as engaging as a week-long test drive and our units may be fresh off the boat with less than 100 kilometers  on the odometer but that should give us enough of a first impression of Suzuki's latest offering.

The Good

  • Two-tone exteriors are making a comeback and Suzuki has made sure it isn’t late in joining the game by giving the GLX variant three color schemes, with the Atlantis Turquoise Pearl option you see here leading the pack, and by "leading the pack" we mean that ALL of the units provided for the media by SPI had the same color. What's disappointing though is that a white unit with a black roof isn't available since it looks great, and here's the proof care of Suzuki UK.

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  • The front fascia of the Vitara looks handsome, with the dual-bar grille giving it a sense of solidity while the crystal-clear headlights and the blue projector cover give it a touch of elegance. The side is equally attractive, with the character line emphasizing the slightly flared rear fenders.

  • The Vitara is made in Europe--in the city of Esztergom in Hungary, specifically--so those who are concerned about where their car is made can rest easy.

  • The Vitara GLX’s interior looks so upscale with a combination of leather and suede-like material for the seats and inner door panel.

  • The 10-inch capacitive touch screen of the infotainment system is one of, if not the biggest, in its class. And since it runs on an Android operating system, it's compatible with the most popularly-used OS for smartphones the world over. It has Bluetooth, WiFi, and USB connectivity and can also function as an interface for a GPS navigation system.

  • If you haven't noticed, the Vitara is smaller than its predecessor, making it even easier to maneuver around tight corners and congested city streets. That hasn't stopped Suzuki though from giving it ultrasonic sensors in the front and rear bumpers to aid you as you're parking the Vitara, with an indicator on the multi-function display in the instrument panel to tell you where the obstruction is, eliminating the guesswork that comes with typical sensors. And it doesn't stop there as Suzuki has even fitted the GLX variant with a reverse camera system using the aforementioned 10-inch touch screen so you can actually see what's behind the car while you're backing up.

  • While most cars in its class are only equipped with rake-adjustable steering, the Vitara's is also telescopically adjustable by 36 mm. And combined with the height-adjustable driver's seat--51-mm range fore and aft and 59-mm range up and down--and finding your perfect driving position won’t be a problem.

  • The Vitara has an expansive panoramic sunroof that practically reaches all the way to the back seat, thanks to its use of dual glass panels. And this is where it gets interesting as the party trick here is that both glass panels slide back to give the Vitara one of the biggest sunroof opening areas, perhaps not only in its class. The trick here is that the glass panels overlap as they slide back so that the system doesn’t affect both the cabin or carrier space.

  • The Vitara's cargo area is a voluminous 375 liters though if more space is needed, the rear seat backs can be folded down to increase it to 710 liters.

  • With an output of 115 hp and 156 Nm of torque from a 1.6-liter engine through a six-speed automatic transmission, the power might only seem adequate at best but we can assure you, it won't have a hard time breaking the nationally-mandated speed limit set for expressways. With the assistance of the Philippine National Police's Highway Patrol Group, we were able to do 160 kph on some stretches of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union expressways.

  • For those who want more control on when to change the gears, the manual override on the slushbox makes that possible through the paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel. And to help notify you when it’s time to change gear, there's a light in the instrument panel that, well, lights up to tell you that it's time to go up a gear to avoid stressing out the engine.

  • While the Vitara has not yet been tested by the ASEAN New Car Assessment Program (ASEAN NCAP), the Euro NCAP has and it received its highest rating of five stars, with protection to occupants rated as "good," with a similar level of protection being given "to occupants of different sizes and to those sat in different positions." Playing a role in the Vitara’s exemplary rating are its six airbag system, with front and side airbags for the driver and passenger and left and right curtain airbags to benefit the rear passengers as well.

The Bad

  • As good looking the Vitara’s front and sides are, the same can't be said for the rear. It seems uninspired, bland even, and you miss the upright tail light design of its predecessors.

  • We mentioned earlier that the interior of the Vitara looks upscale with the use of leather and suede-like materials for the seats and inner door panels. Well, the operative word here is "look" since the use of mostly hard plastics for the rest of the cabin reveal the vehicle's affordability. Also, a nice option would be to see the faux aluminum accent on the dashboard replaced with one in the car's body color to liven up the interior.

  • With almost anyone and everyone having a gadget these days, it's disappointing that the Vitara only has one USB port and one 12-volt socket in the cabin, and it's located at the bottom of the center console so charging the said gadgets might come down to either who needs it the most or buying a smart car charger that turns the socket into a USB charger.

  • The cloth shade covering the panoramic sunroof in the cabin is on the thin side that, under the midday sun, the Vitara’s climate control system has to work overtime to cool the cabin. Then again, that’s a perennial problem with all vehicles equipped with a panoramic sunroof regardless of the brand; the lack of insulation will really keep the cabin slightly warmer than usual as compared to a vehicle that has a completely solid steel roof fitted with proper heat-absorbent insulating materials.

  • There's some wind noise coming from the A-pillar, particularly from where the side mirrors are located. It's not intrusive but it's quite noticeable when the cabin's silent; a problem that's easily solved by turning on the audio system.

  • At 100 kph, the Vitara remains stable. Push it to 120 kph though and you'll begin to feel some vibration through the steering wheel. It's not disconcerting but it is noticeable.

  • Sadly, unlike its predecessors, the Vitara is only available as a front-wheel drive crossover. We asked SPI Assistant General Manager Cecil Capacete why the carmaker won't bring in the four-wheel drive version fitted with Suzuki's "AllGrip" technology and we were told that it's because SPI is afraid of the four-wheel drive Vitara stealing the sales from its Jimny mini SUV--a confusing answer given the fact that the Japanese carmaker that has two models in the same class in the Alto and Celerio.

Since we had the help of the PNP-HPG to beat the traffic throughout the journey and the units were all fresh off the boat and have yet to be broken in, we couldn't say exactly how fuel efficient the all-new Vitara is, and that's something we can only do once we get it for a proper test drive. With all its features and priced at just a little over P1 million though, the all-new, fourth-generation Suzuki Vitara is undoubtedly the most bang-for-the buck, power-to-the-peso vehicle offering in the market today. It's a shame it isn't offered with its AllGrip all-wheel-drive technology though perhaps if there's enough clamor for it, we might just get it.

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