Monday, September 3, 2012

Used Car Review - Suzuki Vitara (1994-2004)

With the CR-V's and the RAV4s dominated the streets, Myk Belmonte revisits this little SUV that can dominate the rough roads. It may be small but this one does the job terribly when tackling floods or the uneven terrain. So, are you ready for this SUV?

1994-2004 Suzuki Vitara

If you think that the Vitara is sold as a Suzuki exclusively, you'll be surprised with what would I mention on the next sentence. Motorists would see the Vitara's body sold in Asuna (Canada exclusive), Chevrolet, Geo (the entry level brand of General Motors back then), GMC, Mazda, Pontiac, and Santana (a car maker based in Spain) dealerships. Enough of badge reading, all (except for the Chevrolet) badges are gone with the wind, with these brands not offering their rebadged Vitaras after the first one.

Available in both 2 and 4 door SUV and convertible body configurations, the Suzuki Vitara (Sidekick or Escudo names are also used) was offered from 1988 to 1999 (although some nations had this body for a little longer). This SUV sold well due to the mini dimensions, a wide range of engine configurations (this depends on the country), and the affordable price. An identical vehicle with the name of X-90 with rounded styling and a removable top (similar to the Daihatsu Feroza and Suzuki Samurai) was launched in 1996. Suzuki called it a day and the X-90 was dropped two years later with disappointing sales.

The Vitara was the first vehicle (along with the Samurai) were the two vehicles wearing the Suzuki badge that are available locally in 1994. At first, all Vitara buyers had to make do with a manual transmission, with an automatic transmission variant launched in 1996. This version stayed - mostly unchanged - for 10 straight years. For good reason, it was discontinued in 2004 due to the entrance of new competitors. Only one variant was sold - the JLX with a 1.6 liter engine standard

Value and Costs
Those interested on a small off-road ute that can double everyday duties will find the Vitara a bargain. From the price ranges of P150,000-P270,000, one can obtain this little SUV and there are plenty of examples to choose from. Again, the Feroza and Samurai of the same period can be had but not civilized on the roads and won't be a good companion for everyday living. A warning, there are used imports from Japan bearing the Escudo name and conversion quality are suspect, so steer clear from them.

One good news for prospective buyers is that, parts are widespread and inexpensive. Check out the oil pan area if oil leaks are present, steering play, and with old vehicles, the automatic transmission. These are inexpensive fixes and can be done by a component mechanic. Go with a unit that had been used within the paved roads than one seen days in the beaten path.

Exterior and Interior
Among all the words that exist in the dictionary, the Vitara is best described as 'boxy' and 'bare'. But despite this, this SUV manages to have a timeless exterior. While designing this SUV, it had to be overhang-free so it could tackle the worst off-road paths can offer with ease. The narrow body is one advantage, especially if one intends to use it in everyday driving.

Utilitarian against its direct competitors, the Vitara has the basics - which includes an air conditioning system, power amenities (be thankful for that since others have a watered down version, but if you plan to use it in the city) and a then trend cassette player. Please be reminded that the driver-side power controls for the rear windows are placed in the center console. Front seats are decently enough while the rear won't be easy to live with for tall people.

A 1,590cc I4 gasoline engine that carries 95hp at 5,600rpm and 135Nm at 4,000rpm which powers this mini-ute is not outstanding in any way, since it does not produce much power as other similar-displacement engines of the period. For comparison, the Chery Tiggo has a 1.6 engine but with figures of 107hp and 144Nm, which can outsprint the Vitara.

Driving Impressions
Start the engine and you'll be greeted with a agricultural-like tone. Shift to first gear (or drive if in case its an automatic) and you're good to go in a balanced run - not too fast but not slow. It hums well, but don't let it reach 6,000rpm since it would get out of stream. Handling requires some patience due to a stereotype that it will tip over. Honestly, it wont unless you do something crazy. Visibility is top-notch, a good thing to avoid pot holes and bumps.

If you seek a compact off-road companion that can perform daily driver duties with a fair share of creature comforts, the Vitara is one good choice. However, if you are more picky when it comes to driving characters, and standard features; other modern choices are available and the Vitara is not for you. Besides, the Feroza and Samurai are very hard core.

The Good:
  • Cake to park
  • Excellent off-road dynamics
  • Cheap to acquire
The Bad:
  • Bad on the roads
  • Poor specs
  • 1.6 engine can be taxing at high speeds
The Pick: JLX MT

Engine: 1,590cc I4 gasoline
Power: 95hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 133Nm @ 4,000rpm
Fuel Consumption: 6-8km/L (city), 8-10km/L (highway) (*estimated and varies)
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Suspension: Front McPherson strut with coil springs, rear trailing link with center wishbone

Price (New): P680,000-P790,000 (range from 1994-2004)
Price (Now): P150,000-P270,000
Rivals: Daihatsu Feroza, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V
On Sale: 1994-2004

Suzuki Auto Kalookan - 364-9093
Suzuki Auto Pasig - 571-6780
Suzuki Auto E. Rodriguez - 726-3747

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