David Motton

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

Read Practical Caravan's review of the Suzuki Vitara and see what tow car ability this plucky 1.6-litre 118bhp/115lb ft torque petrol engine has

Overview

The Vitara is Suzuki’s latest crossover, a little brother to the SX4 S-Cross on our test fleet. We towed with the diesel 4x4 at the Tow Car Awards and were impressed. Choosing the two-wheel-drive petrol tested here instead would save money, even in high-spec SZ5 trim, but what tow car ability does it have?

We’re not expecting sparkling performance from the petrol engine, but we are looking for enough poke to tow a caravan confidently. And will we miss four-wheel drive? Read on for our full Suzuki Vitara review.

Towing

Let’s go into this with our eyes open. It would be wrong to expect the Suzuki’s 1.6-litre petrol to perform anything like as well as the diesel version, and we don’t. That said, this is a car with a 1200kg legal towing limit, so it should have enough muscle to cope with a small caravan.

Given the lowly 1075kg kerbweight, we matched the Suzuki to a 2007 Sprite Alpine 2 with a Mass in Running Order of 965kg. That’s a 90% match, some way above the 85% matching guideline recommended for inexperienced caravanners, but within the 85-100% range considered acceptable for experienced tow car drivers.

Pulling a total combined weight of over two tonnes was tough for an engine with 118bhp and 115lb ft of torque. Not only is the maximum torque figure a bit slim for towing, but it also arrives all the way up at 4400rpm.

If you want to get the best out of the engine, you need to rev it. Hard. Keep the engine at high revs and performance is just about acceptable, as the 17.7-second 30-60mph time shows. But leave the engine in a high gear and expect the torque to do the work and you might as well run behind and push: 50-60mph in fourth gear took 33.5 seconds.

Otherwise the Suzuki Vitara tows reasonably well. There was some side-to-side movement when passing high-sided vehicles, but in truth the absence of a stabiliser on the caravan will have played a part. We had no cause to worry over the Vitara’s stability at motorway speeds.

In the lane-change test, we were impressed. At high speeds on a damp track the Vitara gripped hard and changed direction in a quick and controlled manner. There was no shoving from the caravan: the Suzuki stayed firmly in charge.

Despite the relatively weak engine, the Vitara coped well enough with a hill start on a 1-in-10 slope. The handbrake held car and caravan still, and the Suzuki pulled to the top of the hill without complaint. However, the 11.6-metre stopping distance from 30mph is slightly longer than we’d expect, even allowing for the damp track.

Everyday driving

Without a caravan to pull around the Vitara is still a fairly steady performer, but there isn’t the same need for frantic gear-changing and a hefty right foot.

Instead, you can enjoy one of the big benefits of choosing the petrol over the diesel: refinement. The 1.6 petrol in the Vitara is much quieter and smoother than the 1.6 diesel, the only other engine option in the range.

Although the steering is light and a little vague, the Vitara corners neatly and without excessive body roll. Ride comfort is good, smoothing away all but the worst roads well.

Space

Those in the front of the Vitara have enough space to get comfortable, despite the panoramic sunroof, which does impinge on headroom slightly. The finish isn’t plush, with some hard shiny plastics, but everything feels well screwed together.

Rear legroom isn’t as generous as you’d find in a SsangYong Tivoli, but there’s enough space for adults to be reasonably comfortable. Headroom is tight, though.

The boot capacity is 375 litres with the back seats upright, which trails the 430-litre capacity of a Nissan Qashqai.

Running costs

With a price tag of £18,499, the Suzuki Vitara SZ5 is good value. Equipment levels are very generous, with a touchscreen infotainment system (which includes satellite navigation), suede upholstery, climate control, and even high-tech features such as adaptive cruise control.

The official combined economy figure is 53.3mpg, and insurance premiums should be low. Modest predicted resale values are all that count against it.

Technical specs

Engine size1586 cc
Kerbweight1075 kg
85% KW914 kg
Towball limit75 kg
Maximum towing limit1200 kg
Power118.0 bhp
Torque115.0 lb ft
Official MPG53.3 mpg
CO2123 g/km
30-60mph17.7 seconds
30-0mph11.6 m

Verdict

We like the petrol Suzuki Vitara a lot more as a solo drive than as a tow car. We’d only consider it over the diesel model if we owned a micro-caravan such as a Going Cockpit.

In day-to-day driving, the small size, comfortable ride and surprising levels of standard equipment make the Vitara very easy to live with, and it’s great value. But for most caravanners, the diesel is the better choice.

Conclusion

Pros

  • The engine is quiet and refined
  • It kept control of the caravan, even when pushed
  • Kit levels are good
  • Front seat occupants have good room and it's a well-built cabin

Cons

  • Better to drive solo than when towing
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