Ten Second Review
Suzuki has at last got around to developing its own Full Hybrid engine, introduced here beneath the bonnet of its Vitara compact SUV. It comes only with an automated manual 6-speed gearbox and the gains in efficiency aren't huge. But at least this 1.5-litre powertrain is all the company's own, a good sign for the brand's future independence.
Suzuki claimed to be pioneering hybrid technology across all its SUVs back in 2019 when it introduced that tech in its Vitara and S-Cross models. When the small print was inspected though, it turned out that 'hybrid' in that particular case meant 'mild hybrid': basically a tiny battery assisting celebration and working the start/stop system. But not really doing that much for efficiency at all.
Unlike a full-Hybrid, mild hybrid engines can't allow the powerplant to ever run on full battery power. Suzuki knew it had to do better. First in 2020, it borrowed a 1.8-litre full-Hybrid engine (and just about everything else) from Toyota to create the compact Swace estate. That was merely a prelude though, to the introduction of its own 1.5-litre Full Hybrid engine, which features here in the Full Hybrid Vitara.
Suzuki has chosen to base this Full Hybrid engine not on its engaging 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine but on a completely new normally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol unit with 114bhp. This is combined with a 33bhp belt-driven electric motor generator powered by a tiny 0.84kWh battery. All the power is fed through a 6-speed automated manual gearbox, which you can expect to feel somewhat slow and clunky until you learn to lift off between ratio changes. There's an 'Eco' mode to improve frugality, but you might not want to engage it too often because it restricts throttle response and even in its normal drive setting, this car is no ball of fire. Rest to 62mph occupies 12.7s on the way to a top speed of 111mph.
At least the crisp handling seems unaffected by the clever engine upfront. Through the corners, the car's eager to change direction and body roll's decently controlled. You even get a welcome bit of initial bite from the steering when first you turn in, though unfortunately, the response gets a bit vaguer the faster you go. Traction's good too and on that subject, it's worth pointing out one of the Vitara model line's key selling points; the fact that it's one of the few models in its segment that can be ordered with 4WD - the Suzuki 'ALLGRIP' system. This can be specified with the Full Hybrid engine and offers 'Auto' and 'Sport' settings for tarmac use and 'Snow' and 'Lock' options to help you through poor conditions.
Design and Build
There are no visual changes with this Vitara model's switch to Full-Hybrid power. The car has been on sale since 2014 and the version we have now is the model that was facelifted in 2019. It remains a crossover positioned size-wise somewhere between the small and mid-sized SUV segments, 4,175mm in length and slightly taller than its visually less striking S-Cross showroom stablemate. This remains quite an assured piece of design work with its clamshell bonnet, blacked-out floating glasshouse, heavily sculpted flanks and a very neat tail-lamp finish.
Inside, the cabin is beginning to date a bit, with quite a few hard plastic surfaces, though it all seems to have been pretty well screwed together by the Hungarian factory. The centre-dash infotainment screen still has graphics that look a bit after-market but this display certainly includes quite a lot, with sat nav and 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring as well as a DAB tuner and Bluetooth. There's reasonably comfortable room for a couple of adults in the rear, though the twin sunroofs of the top SZ5 model do rob a few centimetres of headroom. Out back, there's a reasonably-sized 375-litre boot that's unaffected by the Full Hybrid engine installation. If you need more room, pushing forward the 60:40-split rear bench frees up 710-litre of space - and the floor can be completely flat if you position the adjustable boot floor in its upper position.
Market and Model
Pricing starts at around £25,500, which gets you the entry-level 'SZ-T' version of this Vitara Full Hybrid. You'll need another £2,000 if you want the plusher 'SZ5' level of trim. And just over £29,000 if you want 'SZ5' spec with Suzuki's ALLGRIP all wheel drive system. Basically, you're looking at a premium of around £1,750 over the mild hybrid manual model. Standard equipment for all Full Hybrid variants is pretty comprehensive: even the base 'SZ-T' includes seven airbags, LED multi-reflector headlamps for low and high beam, plus USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
There's also Traffic Sign Recognition, a Blind Spot Monitor, Adaptive Cruise Control, auto air conditioning and front and rear electric windows, keyless entry, 17-inch silver painted alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, white stitching for the seat trim fabric, a 'Smartphone link' audio set-up and a navigation system. Moving up to 'SZ5' trim adds 17-inch polished alloy wheels, suede seat upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors and availability of ALLGRIP 4WD as an option.
Cost of Ownership
So, what kind of efficiency difference does this Full Hybrid tech make to the Vitara? Well, the official combined cycle WLTP figure is 53.0mpg, with 121g/km of CO2, which is comparable in this segment to what you'd get from, say, a Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid or the full-Hybrid self charging version of Renault's Captur E-TECH. To give you some perspective though, the existing manual gearbox mild hybrid Vitara manages 49.7mpg and 128g/km of CO2 in 2WD form, so the step forward here isn't huge. Yes, the drop in CO2 does put the Full Hybrid model in a more affordable BiK taxation band, but because of this larger capacity model's higher list price, the saving in company car tax isn't very great - think around £50 over three years for someone on 20% income tax.
As with all Suzukis, this one is covered by a three year/60,000 mile warranty, plus a year of AA Suzuki Assistance, providing 24 hour UK and European roadside assistance, recovery and associated services. There's also a 12 year perforation warranty.
We're pleased that Suzuki has retained its own approach to engineering for this Full Hybrid engine rather than simply borrowing from Toyota. But a glance at the price list reveals that there's a price to pay for that. We can't help wondering how many Vitara customers are going to be prepared to stump up for it.
Perhaps it doesn't matter too much. This current Vitara design's production life is limited. And generous discounts are available on all variants (including this one) at the brand's dealerships. You'll need that to make this car a really competitive proposition. But at the right price, it might still be.