Suzuki Vitara - AA

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Car test
U9975
Suzuki Vitara
Y
OU COULD SAY THAT SUZUKI INVENTED
the baby off-roader – remember the cheap and
cheerful Samurai and Santana jeeps back in the
mid-80s? But although they had titchy engines and not
much power, they had the right stuff for an off-roader,
with a tough, separate chassis frame, part-time
four-wheel drive and a high- and low-ratio transfer ’box.
Suddenly 4x4s were a “must have” fun machine – never
mind that the nearest most drivers got to going off road
was parking on the grass verge outside their house.
Not slow to exploit a successful niche market, Suzuki
decided to move up-market. This resulted in the
introduction in October 1988 of a more sophisticated
Vitara, the 1.6-litre/74bhp JLX, initially as a three-door
Hard Top and a two-door Soft Top. These still had all the
necessary off-roading credentials, together with a
decently trimmed interior. A better equipped SE version
with power steering became available in December 1989.
In September 1991, a livelier 95bhp 16-valve engine
was introduced on certain models and four-speed
automatic transmission (in place of the original
three-speeder) was offered. The Sports Soft Top arrived
in 1993, together with the JX – the lead-in model to the
five-door Estate range.
Big news came in mid-1995 with the announcement of
the smooth, two-litre, 24-valve V6 engine with 134bhp in
the five-door Estate, followed six months later by the 70bhp
two-litre turbo-diesel with standard automatic
transmission. In July 1997, this model was given an
intercooler (boosting power and torque) and the option of a
five-speed manual gearbox. The Vitara had grown up into a
wide-ranging and more sophisticated machine.
Watch out for several well-equipped, “cosmetically
enhanced” limited editions, including Executive (air
con, leather and walnut), Mustique (white paint job) and
Verdi on the three-door Estate (back seats as standard);
X-EC on the five-door Estate (limited slip diff and
freewheeling hubs), and Rossini (a targa top on the
three-door Soft Top).
With the arrival of the newer Jimny and much more
refined Grand Vitara, the current range has dwindled to
December 1999
US
ED
CA
R
SU
RV
EY
If you're thinking of buying a used Vitara, we can
help. We've delved into our breakdown, warranty
and vehicle inspection service statistics covering
the last few years and have come up with what you
need to know if you're planning to become the
second owner.
2
just three, eight-valve 1.6 litres: JX and JX 4U
three-door Estate and JX 4U two-door Soft Top, but
there’s a wide range of used models to choose from.
The main points to look for …
Engine and cooling system
The Vitara’s wide spread of engines provides either
performance (V6) or economy (2.0D), but the 16-valve
is a popular compromise. In fact, it featured most
strongly in our survey, so it’s this engine that we’ll
concentrate on here. There are no serious faults to cause
alarm under the bonnet, but check that there are no oil
leaks around the cylinder head gasket and the front oil
seal, rocker cover and sump areas; it’s here that any
seepages are likely to occur. Listen for worn, rattly valve
gear and check that the engine starts promptly, pulls
smoothly and runs at a steady idling speed when warm.
See that the heat pipe from the exhaust manifold isn’t
split, ensure that there’s no corrosion on the fuel pipes,
and make sure that any rust on the exhaust system is only
surface corrosion – a leaky, “blowing” exhaust should be
obvious. On higher-mileage models, try to find out
whether the cam belt has been renewed. This should be
done every 60,000 miles – a breakage will have costly
consequences. Radiators are prone to leaks. Also check
the water pump and its drive belt for wear. If the coolant
temperature gauge shows an abnormal reading, suspect
the thermostat – a none too reliable component.
Transmission
Nothing too dire in this department, and anyway, if there
are any nasties they are obvious by oil leaks and “noises
off”. Expect the clutch to be medium weight and have a
firm engagement (but watch for late take up and signs of
slip); likewise, the gearchange should have a meaty,
no-nonsense action and unbeatable synchromesh.
Check that the second gear lever engages low range
cleanly when the vehicle is stationary. Walk away from
any model emitting growls or knocks from the gearbox
or differentials. The same applies to the propshaft and
driveshaft universal joints. Make sure that the driveshaft
gaiters aren’t split and oozing lubricant and look
particularly around the rear of the gearbox and transfer
’box for oil leaks.
Suspension, steering and brakes
Check for play in the suspension caused by worn bushes
and make sure the suspension rubbers are sound –
including those for the front anti-roll bar. See that there's
no slackness in the front hub bearings and ensure they’re
not letting out gravelly growls.
Both the steering pump and hoses should be leak-free
and there should be only slight play at the steering wheel.
Uneven front tyre wear or a cock-eyed steering wheel (or
both) indicates faulty steering geometry that needs to be
checked and reset. Make sure that the road wheels and
spare wheel match, and remember that your insurance
policy may be void if your insurer hasn’t been informed
of the fitting of non-standard wheels and tyres.
Be aware of any brake judder, it could mean worn discs
and faulty pads. Pulling to one side when braking is
unacceptable, as is a feeble or long-travel handbrake.
Watch out, too, for leaking rear wheel cylinders.
Electrics and instruments
Fuel gauge and tank sender units are the biggest cause of
problems in this area, followed by the alternator, but the
starter motor, wipers and indicator switch have their fair
share of snags, as well. Home in on these components
first and also see that the coolant temperature gauge
reads as it should. Check the central locking system and
make sure that the windows operate easily, and that
powered ones work smoothly and quietly. Also see that
the interior light and courtesy switches function
correctly. Battery terminals and clamps are sometimes
corroded due to overfilling.
Bodywork
Not many 4x4s indulge in serious off-roading, but it’s
well worth studying the bodywork for scratches, dents
and damaged door mirrors. Look closely for cracked
paintwork and subsequent rust, not forgetting body
seams and the fuel tank. It’s also vital to look for damage
to the underside – the result of contact with rocks, roots
and so on. Other flaws on the body to watch for are worn
door hinges and stiff or jammed seat mechanisms; also
make sure that all the locks operate correctly. Finally,
find out whether the jack and wheelbrace are on board –
many go AWOL.
Costs and servicing
The Vitara’s hefty depreciation is good news for buyers of
used models, keeping prices in check and helping to offset
the high cost of spares – should you need them. Look for a
full service history when buying or, for extra assurance,
shop at one of Suzuki’s 143 dealers who operates Suzuki
Care or Support schemes – but be prepared to pay over the
odds. Expect about 32mpg from the 1.6 16-valve model,
25mpg from the V6 and 35mpg from the two-litre
turbo-diesel, but remember that the diesel needs more
frequent servicing. There have been recalls over the years
relating to front seatbelt stalks, the steering shaft
pinch-bolt, driver’s airbag and brake light switch. It’s
worth checking that these have been dealt with.
So to sum up...
The Vitara’s street cred has taken a dive recently, but
there’s still a lot of enjoyment and practicality to be had
from this junior off-roader that can give many a
heavyweight mud-plugger a run for its money over the
rough stuff. Don’t expect inspired ride and handling or
too much refinement on the road, but that said, the V6
certainly adds a touch of class to the marque. What the
Vitara will give you is tough and reliable running with
respectable performance and economy, together with
versatility and a healthy dose of the fun factor.
© The Automobile Association 1999

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