Alan Douglas: Suzuki’s full hybrid offers the best of both worlds
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A review of the Suzuki Vitara Full Hybrid
The electric revolution seems to be taking two steps forward and one back as the price of electricity rises almost as fast as that of a litre of conventional petrol or diesel.
That’s bad enough, but many drivers are put off by issues in the charging network, where there’s not enough capacity as the number of EVs increases and if you can find an available one, don’t be surprised if it’s out of action.
In the meantime, until there’s a massive investment in the charging infrastructure, the safest option is to go for a hybrid, with electric power and the security of a petrol engine as back-up.
For some time now, Suzuki have been turning out some impressive mild hybrid models across their range but now they’ve gone the whole hog with a full hybrid higher-voltage version of their Vitara SUV.
It’s their second “proper” hybrid after the Swace, but as that is a joint venture with Toyota and effectively a re-badged Corolla estate, this is the first one where Suzuki have done their own thing.
The higher-powered version uses a 140-volt lithium-ion battery instead of the 48-volt in the mild hybrid version, which will continue to be available with a manual gearbox. The new model comes as standard with an Auto Gear Shift – a clever automatic/manual – which selects the most efficient gear for a combination of performance and economy.
What that means is that it’ll use electric power whenever that’s the best option for economy and the resulting drop in emissions.
As a back-up there’s a new fuel-injected 1.5-litre petrol engine and along with the 33bhp electric motor there’s a total output of 113bhp. It’s controlled by the Motor Generator Unit which acts both as a generator for the battery and starter motor to assist the petrol engine when moving off.
It’s all done automatically and the only input needed from the driver is to switch between Eco and Standard to increase the proportion of electric driving.
Suzuki say that compared with the previous mild hybrid version with an automatic gearbox, you should get an extra 3.5 miles for every gallon, equating to a saving of about £10 per month which can only be welcomed with the soaring price of petrol.
This Vitara is created for economy so the performance is far from speedy, taking more than 13 seconds to get up to 62mph, but in my experience behind the wheel on some demanding roads around north Wales, it was well up to the job. It felt confident and the raised ride height and good visibility creates a good feeling of safety and security along with Suzuki’s well-established reputation for engineering excellence and first-class build quality.
There’s quite a contrast between the almost-silent EV running and the increased sound level when the petrol engine cuts in but it encourages more gentle use of the right foot. That also applies to get more from the regeneration set-up so you develop a technique to send more energy to the battery during deceleration and braking.
What’s really impressive is that the new Vitara comes with an extensive pack of standard safety and comfort features, most of which are either not available or cost extra in competing models from other makes.
It’s also an authentic SUV – the only one in the compact sector offering four-wheel-drive.
The Vitara has been popular since it first appeared in 1988 but a relaunch in 2015 and the mild hybrid five years later proved attractive to younger, family-focussed buyers, many of whom became Suzuki owners for the first time.
There are two versions – SZ-T and SZ5, which is available in both two-wheel-drive or with Suzuki’s impressive ALLGRIP four-wheel-drive system.
That comes with four modes, Auto, Sport, Snow or Lock which can be selected depending on the conditions. Hill Descent Control is fitted as standard so you can take on steep slopes with confidence.
CAR: Suzuki Vitara 1.5 Full Hybrid SZ5 ALLGRIP Auto
PRICE: £29,299 (£30,134 as tested)
ENGINE: 1462cc hybrid petrol
POWER: 113 bhp
TORQUE: 138 Nm
TOP SPEED: 111 mph
0-62MPH: 13.5 seconds
ECONOMY: 48 mpg combined
CO2: 132 g/km