There is a new model Vitara out – the Sport – which is a limited edition model, with just 100 units for sale in New Zealand.

This is what Fred Alvrez from Drive Life had to say after he took a Vitara Sport from Brendan Foot Supersite out for a road test.

The Big News here is that finally the Vitara gets a decent engine to go with its reputation. Gone is the old 1.6 litre normally aspirated engine (that the standard Vitara still runs); in its place is a jewel of a 1.4 turbo. Gone is the CVT – in its place is a decent 6-speed automatic transmission.

2016 Suzuki Vitara Sport - Drive Life Review Brendan Foot SupersiteFirst Impressions

The Sport throws itself out there as being different – and bold. A sure sign of this is the colour choice: Bright Red or Cosmic Black – and that’s it. No grey or silver! A big gamble by Suzuki, but good on them.

Our test car in Bright Red looked fantastic and stood out amongst all the other cars on the road. Does it look good, though? For me personally, it was a bit too busy in places, but I still give it credit for being different. There are many small SUVs for sale that could belong to any brand.

The Vitara sure seems a bit more grown up now, and along with that comes a pretty decent amount of interior space. In the front, passenger and driver are well taken care of for space, with the width of the cabin almost luxurious.

Rear seat passengers too are well looked after, with an abundance of rear leg room, for the size of the car. Added to that is a large boot, which has some good extra features.

I was quite surprised that our test car was only 2WD, it really has a ‘get off road’ look about the Vitara Sport. Hey if you like you can stump out just $3k and get the AWD model. Both come with skid plates front and rear for those adventurous types.

The Sport 2WD model retails at $34,990 with the AWD model at $37,990. There isn’t a huge equipment list for that price, but the engine and transmission make up for it. Still, there’s plenty of nice goodies, like a 7” touchscreen display, SD card and USB input for the audio system, reversing camera, front and rear sonar, a leather steering wheel, LED headlamps, 7 airbags, keyless entry with push-button start, Hill Hold Assist, auto wipers and lights, DRLs, alloy brake and accelerator pedals, cruise control (with speed limiter) and climate AC.

As for the mechanicals, as mentioned the 1.6 is gone in the Sport model, and a 1.4 Direct Injection turbo is fitted, with 20% more power and 40% more torque than the 1.6. There wasn’t anything really wrong with the 1.6, but it certainly got a bit thrashy when being pushed along. The new engine pumps out 103kw at 5,500rpm compared to just 86Kw for the existing model and 220nm at 4,000rpm (1.6 is 156 @ 4,400rpm).

We’ve said it again and again. It’s all about the drivetrain and the driving experience that makes the car special, not the goodies it might come with. This is so true with the Vitara Sport.

2016 Suzuki Vitara Sport - Drive Life Review Brendan Foot Supersite

What’s it like to live with?

The Sport is a no-effort, perky little runabout that also does great work on the motorway. Instant acceleration from that 1.4 makes around town driving a breeze. The steering is almost too light around town, but does load up nicely once you get some speed on. The reversing camera is super-clear, adding to the way in which the Sport lends itself nicely to shopping and everyday life. One problem I found was that the A and B pillars are quite fat – especially the A pillar. I expect this helps with safety, but it does hinder your visibility.

My time with the Sport was a solid 50/50 mix of around town and motorway driving, and it was the motorway driving that surprised me most. For a 1.4, it is extremely quiet and never thrashy, like the 1.6 can be. Suzuki have done a brilliant job with this engine, it is a gem. Acceleration at any speed on the motorway is effortless, and that 6-speed auto does its job exactly as it should.

This car can really move, surprising many drivers away from the lights and onto the motorway.

Around town too it’s very quiet and unobtrusive – in fact sometimes, I thought the engine had the feature where they turn themselves off at the lights to save gas – it really is so smooth, even at idle.

One thing to keep in mind, you are going to need to fill up with 95 octane petrol for the turbo model. Stated combined fuel economy with the turbo Vitara is 5.9 L/100km which is barely just below the 1.6 at 6.0, and guess what I got? Exactly 5.9. For the available performance of that motor (which I have to say, I did use) this is good result.

I did find though that the Sport can get a bit jittery on bumpy corners. You had to be aware on a 100km/h bend that any bumps may see the car moving sideways a bit. It’s not bad, but certainly noticeable. Otherwise cornering isn’t any real drama – sure, there’s a bit of body roll and that’s to be expected, but this isn’t trying to be a sedan or sports car. The Sport is fitted with 17” gloss black alloy wheels and 215/55 tyres.

2016 Suzuki Vitara Sport - Drive Life Review Brendan Foot Supersite

The brakes on the Sport are another excellent feature – great feel and nicely progressive. They pull up very quickly when the lights turn orange, even at motorway speeds. Simply no fuss.

On the inside, as surprise for me in the Sport was the analogue clock – a welcome feature. Centre-top of dashboard and though it had a funny sort of old-fashioned look to it, still much nicer than a digital readout.

It’s funny how little things can mean a lot, like the analogue clock. The Sport has some of the clearest instruments I’ve seen for a while. Superbly clear and legible, and nothing unnecessary added to the speedo or rev counter. Top marks, Suzuki,

There are lots of hard plastics in the interior of the Sport, but they are nicely done and the mix of cloth and leather is really impressive. The interior of the Sport is one area where any passengers will remark on just how nice it is.

While the interior of the Sport is mostly black, this is broken up with red stitching around the leather steering wheel and seats, and the red is carried over to the vents and clock. Just that splash of colour helps with what could be just a dark interior.

After a few cars in a row with badly-designed steering wheel controls, the Vitara shows how it’s done. Straight forward controls for the audio and cruise control, nothing complicated and easy to use while you are driving, as steering wheel controls should be.

Speaking of the audio system, don’t get your hopes up for a high-quality experience. It does the job just fine, but is no Bose system. It’s all about that Bass will get the doors vibrating.

The central 7” touchscreen display is another feature that’s nicely done. It’s split into 4 segments – Navigation, Audio, Phone and lastly one separate one for Apple CarPlay for SmartPhones.

Touching on any of the four segments sees it take over the screen, a simple touch of the Home button gets it back to the main screen. Dead easy. I used the SatNav on occasion, and it works very well although it’s a real shame that the SatNav directions aren’t displayed in between the speedo and rev counter, where there is already a multi-function display.

Syncing my phone with the car’s Bluetooth was easy as well and I appreciated that incoming texts can be read out by the SatNav voice by pressing a button on the car’s touchscreen.

For the Apple CarPlay system to work, you need an iPhone and must plug it in via the Apple cable – it won’t work on Bluetooth. Apple CarPlay allows you to drive your phone via the display.

Cruise control on the Sport is not radar controlled, but still does the job. It’s a shame it doesn’t give you the speed you have cruise control set at in the display, but that does still seems to be a rare (but welcome) feature of any car under $50K at the moment. Actually you can’t even get the road speed to read out in the display either – it only gives you average fuel consumption, instant fuel consumption and range to empty. A real shame Suzuki haven’t taken more advantage here.

The boot in the Sport is very spacious. It also has a second floor system, so you can put wet items or ones you want to keep away from prying eyes, well away. There is a parcel tray of course, but this second storage area is extremely usable. It can be widened as well by removing some plastic pieces on the sides of the car. The actual load area is low, wide and tall. Ideal for everyday use and perfectly fitting with the SUV mind-set.

2016 Suzuki Vitara Sport - Drive Life Review Brendan Foot Supersite

What do we think?

This is a great little car. The problem is, there’s lots of great little cars in this segment.

I think if Suzuki can get people in to drive the Vitara Sport they will be sold on this car. Quick, quiet and economical – three wins right there.

I rate the Sport as 4–Chevron car. I suggest if you are looking at a smaller-SUV, you should add the Sport to your list quickly, before these 100 units are gone.

Thanks to Fred Alvrez and Drive Life for this review. The full review with more images can be read on their website drivelife.co.nz