I think I might have had my bluff called for a while with this week’s car. You know the way I’m always going on about people buying diesels when they really don’t do the mileage to justify paying a premium for one?
Lots of people keep on coming back to me to say they don’t want/trust/like the new generation of tiny petrol engines in a larger saloon. They’re okay in a little hatch but, they say, they don’t feel quite right in anything bigger.
Indeed the idea of a one-litre petrol engine powering a Skoda Octavia, which I reviewed here some time back, prompted a fair bit of email discourse. That engine may not have achieved the MPG that Skoda claimed, but it certainly passed the road test on lots of other fronts. And let’s not forget that many diesels don’t come near their claimed levels of frugality either.
Anyway, this week it is the turn of Suzuki’s new 1.4-litre Boosterjet petrol to contribute to the debate. It has just arrived to power the Vitara S compact crossover. My version had 4WD (AllGrip), so I guess that makes it a petrol SUV. This had the full 4WD machinery (not to be confused by Grip Control, which is an enhanced traction control system on other vehicles).
Vying for your money against the likes of the Renault Captur, Mazda CX-3, Honda F-RV etc, the Vitara on test costs the guts of €30,000 – a lot for a small enough motor. However, prices for the range start around the €20,000 mark, so that puts a much different complexion on things.
The stiffer price comes with higher spec, 6spd auto transmission and lots more equipment in what they call the ‘S’ segment of the Vitara models.
So it’s legitimate to ask the question: Considering it has a powerful petrol engine, auto box and 4WD, why would you buy a diesel?
I have driven the 1.6-litre diesel too (GLX AllGrip 4WD, 120bhp, 106g/km, €190 road tax, from around €28,000). And it would win on fuel consumption and road tax. However, the petrol gives you a significant 20bhp more power and is a quieter drive.
I do think that, with its arrival, the 1.4 makes diesel v petrol a tougher decision than heretofore for many buyers. It certainly makes a game of it.
I know, for me, it would be the first time I’d have had to think twice before recommending the diesel. Comparing previous petrols with a 1.6 diesel just wasn’t a runner. This 1.4 called my bluff. But I think I know a way around it. As a result, you might benefit from my experiences with the car.
First off, the engine was quiet and gave a silent seam of power, especially at cruising speeds. However, while I knew I had plenty on tap, the delivery was sometimes not helped at all by the 6spd auto. It was far too easy to slip it into ‘manual’ mode, which meant I’d keep it in a lower gear/higher revs for too long before realising the need to nudge the handle to D (Drive). Secondly, the auto box took too long to kick down when I wanted acceleration. Thirdly, the 17in tyres on my test car made a racket over anything other than motorway tarmac. Most of my 700km+ drives were lengthy and on decent surfaces. But after a fair bit of traversing ‘ripple-road’ suburban routes and roller-coaster dips on the Woodfield Bog road, I wasn’t impressed at all. Would a noisier diesel engine (a complaint I had when I tested that version) have drowned out the tyres? Maybe in part, but it would still, I believe, have been a criticism.
They have made effective attempts to jazz up the cabin – with red stitching on seats and trim around air vents etc. But the seats were too narrow and unsupportive, especially for the backs of your thighs over longer journeys. And some of the plastics used, particularly on the steering-column paddles for up/down gears, and seat levers, were cheap to look at and touch. So I’d buy a diesel then? No. I don’t see it as being that clearcut anymore (and anyway, plastic in the cabin is plastic in the cabin, regardless of engine).
I wouldn’t buy the petrol if I were covering 20,000km a year. I think the diesel’s lower fuel consumption and road tax would justify it. But if I were like thousands who cover 10,000km to 15,000km doing the family rounds of dropping to school, shopping, short sorties etc, then the petrol would be a serious option.
What I am saying is that your assessment has to be based first and foremost on your mileage/use. After that it is reasonably straightforward. The petrol is a realistic alternative for up to 15,000km and good enough to make ignoring it a difficult decision.
Play your cards right, therefore, and you could find that having your bluff called can be good for you.
Facts & figures
Suzuki Vitara crossover AllGrip (4WD), 1.4-litre petrol, 140bhp, 6spd auto, 128g/km, €270 road tax. Price: €27,495 (manual), €28,995 (auto).
Standard spec includes cruise control/speed limiter, auto air con, electric windows, DAB radio, smartphone link, nav system. SZ5 trim adds LED headlights, 17ins alloys, suede seat fabric, adaptive cruise control, panoramic sunroof. ‘S’ model tested had 17ins gloss black alloys, special grille, rear spoiler, red interior stitching/air-con vent.