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It mightn't look as cute as its two-door stablemate, but the four-door Suzuki Vitara JLX Estate Wagon has plenty of appeal for the smaller family who is looking for a versatile 4WD recreational vehicle priced under $30,000.
The Wagon's longer body and wheelbase (compared to the two-door model) has done wonders for interior space and it can readily cope with a family of four, or even five, if the three in the rear don't need a lot of hip room. The four-door design also makes life a lot easier for occupants when entering or getting out of the vehicle.
Not unexpectedly, there is a price premium to pay over the two-door Vitaras (over $4,000 for equivalent models). However when you take into account the Estate Wagon's extra features such as fuel injection for the engine, its high levels of standard equipment and the increased versatility and space afforded by the four-door design, I'm sure many buyers will consider it money well spent.
Though it's still just 1.6 litre capacity, the Wagon's fuel-injected 16-valve four-cylinder engine puts out nearly 30 per cent more power than the two-door model. This helps to compensate for the Wagon's 150 kg extra mass.
As in all Vitaras, buyers can choose between five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Brakes are discs at the front and drums at the rear.
Vitaras ride on all coil springs all round - Macpherson struts up front and trailing links and a centre wishbone at the rear. Free-wheeling hubs are standard but you have to get out and lock and unlock them at the wheel.
As a special offer package, the JLX Estate Wagon comes with a number of "free" extras that include air conditioning, body graphics and a rear wheel cover. The JLX also has electric windows, power mirrors and central door locking. Both the JLX and the standard JX wagons have power steering.
With its squared-off rear, the Wagon has a more utilitarian look than the two-door, but the styling is tidy and reasonably attractive overall.
Though the Vitara's body doesn't have the solid "feel" of larger 4WDs, the general standard of finish is good for this class of vehicle.
Suzuki says that all main sections of the Vitara's body are made from galvanised steel to provide added protection against rust - an important factor in this type of vehicle which may, at times, be subjected more to corrosion-prone elements than a conventional passenger car.
Drivers and front passengers who find that many four cylinder cars don't provide them with sufficient head or leg room should have no problem in the Vitara - there's plenty of both. The front seats are effective in insulating occupants from bumps but could do with better lumbar and thigh support.
With the front seats set right back, there's not a huge amount of rear leg room but as long as you can have the seats a notch or two forward, adults will fit in OK. The rear seat isn't really wide enough for three adults to be comfortable, it's better suited to two adults or three children. Comfort is satisfactory in the two outer positions and reasonable in the centre.
The Vitara isn't as high off the ground as larger 4WDs and this is a benefit for occupants getting in and out. In some 4WDs, it's a real effort for less agile or smaller people to haul themselves up into the cabin
Being a relatively light vehicle, the Vitara Wagon is inclined to jiggle over rougher surfaces but overall, I rate the ride as good for this type of vehicle and better than the two-door versions.
Ventilation is good in the Vitara and the controls are easy to use, but the large glass areas let a lot of sun and heat into the cabin. The JLX Estate's standard air conditioning is certainly useful in keeping cabin conditions comfortable.
Load space is a lot better than the two-door Vitara, both with the rear seat up and down. The backrest is divided 60/40 and can either be laid down over the cushion or the whole seat can be folded forward for greater floor load length.
Apart from the location of the bonnet release (it's in the glove box) and the fact that the large transmission hump doesn't leave enough space to rest your left foot off the clutch pedal, I found the Vitara's control layout easy and pleasant to use. The instrument panel is neat and legible.
Vision for general driving is very good and the six-jet windscreen washers are particularly effective. Looking to the rear, the spare tyre obstructs your view somewhat, but you get used to it.
The Vitara doesn't have an especially tight turning circle, but it's not a difficult vehicle to park. The JLX's power steering makes light work of manoeuvring.
One of the attractions of the Vitara is that it drives much like your average 1.6 litre car. Performance, though not what you'd call sparkling, is adequate in traffic and for general use. The Vitara responds best to drivers who are prepared to make good use of the gearbox and keep the engine working at a reasonable speed.
Performance can be expected to drop off when the wagon is fully loaded and also I wouldn't expect the automatic versions to be lively. The automatic is an electronically-controlled unit, featuring Power and Normal modes and a torque converter lock-up clutch that operates on both third and fourth gears.
Fuel consumption for the manual test wagon makes the larger variety of 4WDs look like positive gas guzzlers (which in most cases, they are!). The JLX Estate used only 8.5 litres/100 km on highway running and 9.8 litres/100 km in city and suburban conditions.
Interior noise levels are higher than a sedan car but aren't high compared to other 4WDs. Some backlash and noise can be heard from the transmission when changing gears or when running slowly in stop/start traffic.
Apart from a tendency to be buffeted by cross winds, and the previously-mentioned jiggling over bumps, the Vitara handles well, in an easy and controlled fashion. It's particularly good over well-surfaced dirt roads.
The brakes have a progressive action, with good stopping power under normal conditions. However in emergency braking tests, the front wheels locked too readily to achieve the sort of stopping distances associated with high efficiency braking systems. Resistance to fade was satisfactory, but not outstanding.
Gearchange action in the manual is a little heavier than the average four-cylinder car but the gears engage cleanly and positively. Ratios are well chosen and the clutch has an easy action.
Though not your ultimate off-roader, the Vitara is capable of tackling reasonably difficult terrain. Good approach and departure angles and satisfactory ground clearances allow you to clear most obstacles without scraping anything.
Power is sufficient to haul you out of trouble but I found the accelerator action too touchy in slow going such as climbing rocky ledges. In these conditions the Vitara is also inclined to lift a back wheel fairly easily.
Under-bonnet accessibility is good, with all regular check items, plus spark plugs and oil filter, easy to reach. If you're unlucky and get a puncture, at least you won't have to unload the vehicle to change the wheel. The spare is mounted externally on the rear door and the jack and wheel wrench are conveniently stored under the driver's seat.
Service is at the usual intervals - six months/10,000 km, or every three months for vehicles operating under severe conditions. Warranty is a generous three years or 60,000 km.
Suzuki has enjoyed plenty of sales success (particularly among the younger generation) with its trendy-looking 2-door Vitaras and the four-door wagons represent a logical extension of that appeal for buyers with family responsibilities.
The JLX Estate version tested is a well-equipped, versatile and likeable little vehicle that's well suited to smaller families who like to explore the great outdoors, but who also want a vehicle that's easy to handle around town and not too expensive to run.
All round, the Vitara Estate Wagon is an interesting and attractive alternative for people who don't need (or can't afford) the larger types of four-wheel drive vehicles.
By NRMA Motoring, May 1993.
Ease of driving
Insufficient space to rest driver's left foot
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Warranty||Three years, 60,000 km|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.590 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||70.6 kW @ 5600 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||132.4 Nm @ 4000 rpm|
|Wheel size||15 "|
|Type||Bridgestone Desert Dueller|
|Type||Power- assisted, ball and nut|
|Turns to lock||3.6 m|
|Turning circle (measured)||11.7 m|
|Width (including mirrors)||1635 mm|
|Fuel capacity||55 litres|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||13|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||7.3 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||10.5 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||9.6 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||15.7 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||8.5 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||9.8 L/100km|
|Average on test||9.2 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||37.3 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||70 dB(A)|