The all-new Suzuki Grand Vitara has launched in South Africa, with a four-wheel-drive, mild-hybrid model spearheading the local line-up. We sample the flagship on- and off-road in George…

Since its introduction as a compact pukka off-roader in 1988, the Suzuki Grand Vitara has evolved significantly over 35 years from the three-door first generation to its five-door successors, which, with each iteration, became more premium-feeling and technologically advanced. The latest evolution of the “Grand Vitara” namesake has recently launched in South Africa.

suzuki grand vitara

The five-strong local line-up is spearheaded by the model that’s the subject of this review (and, arguably, the talking point of the revamped Grand Vitara range), the 1.5 Hybrid AllGrip GLX AT, the sole four-wheel-drive derivative in Suzuki Auto South Africa’s model range … and it’s exclusively equipped with a mild-hybrid powertrain, a first for Suzuki SA, and available in only range-topping GLX spec. What’s not to like? It’s a compact, four-wheel-drive, family-orientated SUV that should save you money at the fuel station, generously equipped as standard and has a more premium-feeling cabin than ever before.

It has some big shoes to fill, however. “The previous-generation Grand Vitara was very popular and had a particularly long life cycle in South Africa thanks to its popularity,” said Brendon Carpenter, brand marketing manager of Suzuki SA. However, the new Grand Vitara has been improved in all aspects and, as a result, should undoubtedly do so.

suzuki grand vitara

The Grand Vitara Hybrid AllGrip is, like its front-wheel-drive stablemates (see full pricing and spec here), equipped with a Suzuki K15-series engine, which, here, incorporates mild-hybrid technology. The K15C dual-jet unit (the familiar K15B found in the likes of the new Baleno, Ertiga and Jimny powers the rest of the range) produces 75.8 kW and 136.8 Nm of torque, sent to the Japanese automaker’s sixth-generation AllGrip Select four-wheel-drive system, which automatically directs power between the wheels (in Auto mode), via a six-speed automatic transmission (the models endowed with the K15B is available with a five-speed manual gearbox and four-speed self-shifter).

Thanks to the addition of the mild-hybrid arrangement, the AllGrip Select model’s 1.5-litre naturally aspirated, mild-hybrid four-pot sips 0.4 L/100 km less fuel than the two-wheel-drive variants at a claimed 5.6 L/100 km. On the launch route, the TFT information screen sited betwixt the legible analogue speedo and tachometer (expectedly) displayed a considerably higher figure, not because it is heavier on petrol than claimed (we’ll report more in-depth on the fuel consumption when getting the Grand Vitara on test), but because the route comprised extended off-road driving, including a stint up a mountain at Louvain Guest Farm, our lunch stop and accommodation for the evening. So, as this model is four-wheel-drive, let’s start there — off-road driving.

suzuki grand vitara

According to Suzuki, the suspension system and steering have been “specifically” created for the most comfortable ride on rough surfaces. On the mountain road, the AllGrip Select-equipped derivative fared remarkably well (it’s worth noting that en route to our destination from the airport, driving behind a two-wheel-drive variant, the latter left us impressed when seeing how well it traversed the gravel of Montagu Pass).

In Auto mode, the Grand Vitara climbed the first segment of the hill with aplomb. However, as the road got rougher, we activated Snow mode (which provides “more muted” power delivery on slippery surfaces, including mud) before selecting Lock. The former has to be activated first before the latter can be engaged. The Grand Vitara continued to impress. Thanks to the AllGrip Select system, short overhangs and 210 mm of ground clearance, it was a cinch travelling up and down (hill descent control engaged) the steep road (which comprised several ditches) leading to picturesque views … and coffee with condensed milk.

Heading down, we opened the panoramic sunroof. I accidentally sprayed the rear passenger with some water when cleaning the front window … followed by several “sorries” and a few laughs (in addition to the several during the drive) afterwards.

Following dinner, a performance by Arno Carstens and lekker chats, we retired to our luxury tents, looking forward to the on-road drive back to George Airport. So, the Grand Vitara impressed on gravel. How would it be on the tarmac?

With the sun still set to rise over the mountains, we left the venue, the Grand Vitara’s LED projector headlamps (replete with LED daytime running lights) lighting up the road ahead. The 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels soaked up road scars with aplomb. Under spirited throttle input, the six-speeder did elicit some noise, however. But as soon as a consistent speed is reached, it quieted down. Bar this intrusion into the solidly constructed, spacious — my 1.7-metre-tall frame could easily fit into the passenger’s pew behind my taller driving partner — and generously specified cabin (during the on- and off-road drive, we didn’t notice any creaks or rattles inside), the NVH levels were good.

GLX spec includes a 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, activated wirelessly/via cable and by cable, respectively; wireless smartphone charging; a 360-degree surround-view camera system, which includes a 3D view of the SUV; automatic climate control, and adding ambience to the interior, ambient lighting. Keyless entry and push-button start are also present. Safety features (across the range) include six airbags, Isofix child-seat anchorages, ABS with EBD, ESP and hill-hold assist.

At a glance

Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.5 Hybrid AllGrip GLX AT

The all-new Suzuki Grand Vitara is a commendable package, from the entry-level GL manual (R339 900) to the range-topping non-hybrid and -four-wheel drive GLX automatic (R417 900) to the variant evaluated here (R529 900). The latter pricing might leave some wide-eyed when comparing it to the asking prices of the two-wheel-drive models. However, divert your eyes to what the top-tier Grand Vitara offers and, more importantly, how it compares to some of the top-spec, front-wheel-drive-only competitors and, of course, their pricing (it’s worth noting one is a full-hybrid, allowing for travelling on electricity alone, and the other, which falls into this price range, is turbocharged, and both offers more power and torque, and boot space).

For example, the Grand Vitara Hybrid AllGrip is the only SUV in this price range offering four-wheel drive and the highest ground clearance, making it a worthy option for more lifestyle-orientated folk. It’s generously equipped, solidly built and comfortable. Objectively, however, we expect the non-hybrid GL and GLX automatic models to be the best-sellers in the range.