While GM and Suzuki do go a long way,their recent offerings in India are all set to tear at each other
While GM and Suzuki do go a long way, their recent offerings in India are all set to tear at each other.The car I was driving before I tested the Forester was the Hyundai Accent CRDi. The Korean oil burner was efficient and even fast but it was still a diesel and that meant I was quite happy with the performance of the Forester’s 120 bhp four cylinder powerpack. I even got romantic and talked glorious things about how involving an experience revving up the boxer can be.
Two months later I picked up the Vitara, but this time the key I had to leave behind was that of yet another common rail diesel powered car, the C 200 CDI to be precise. The 154 bhp V6 endowed Vitara had the punch to dismiss the sophisticated diesel to history, but as an overall automotive package it came a cropper – after all, the C 200 CDI
is a Mercedes-Benz.
Amends had to be made and that meant a one-on-one comparison test between the two Rs 17-odd lakh SUVs, now battling for honours. Here’s a warning – so close were these cars on various parameters, even BSM had to employ a photo-finish machine to find a clear winner.
The Forester is the small car here and parked next to the biggest Suzuki ever , it is comprehensively dwarfed. While the Chevy-badged Subaru is fresh from a recent revamp, this crossover machine’s original lines date back to the mid nineties. But it is still quirky and very purposeful to look at. The Vitara, on the other hand, was designed, in all probability, by the same team that created the jellybean-like Zen. The front-end treatment is so reminiscent of the good old-hatch that I had squint to make it look good.
In profile, the Forester looks like an estate fitted with wrong size tyres while the Vitara is a never ending procession of windows. Maybe, Suzuki would be well advised not to resort to unnatural ways to enhance the length of their cars. Both cars look most purposeful from rear three quarters – the Suzuki wearing that customary spare wheel on the tailgate and the Chevrolet preferring a cleaner, er, estate car look. If I am asked to pick one on the basis of looks alone, I would gun for the Forester just because it is a more original design and looks quite purposeful overall. That said, I do admit that the Suzuki is more Pajero-esque amongst the two and in our country that matters.
As the name indicates, the Grand Vitara XL 7 is a seven seater, as in, it’s got seat belts for seven people. Yes, the third passenger is a squeeze in the middle row.The Forester does not make any such claims and all it can carry is four people in comfort and a fifth passenger if necessary. The Vitara’s Limited Edition version we tested came with real leather upholstery, faux wood trim and a music system with single-CD changer. But it still failed to look inviting enough. Suzuki could certainly have avoided the plasticky knobs, especially for the automatic air-con system. In our test car, one of the push-release things got stuck even before we could start testing. A classic case of weird design and improper execution. GMI has scrimped on leather but the Forester’s interior feels sophisticated and purposeful. There is nothing dramatic all right, but if you are the sort who likes fine attention to detail, you will enjoy the Forester’s interiors for ages. Automatic air-con and a six-CD changer come as standard fitment. In essence, what the Forester loses in sheer space it gains with its top notch trim – GMI should have offered leather upholstery as standard fitment, though.
A four pot boxer Vs a beefy V6, life has never been so good for us motoring scribes. Given an option, both these car makers would have launched diesel engines under the hood of their CBU-route SUVs. But what we have are two interpretations of good old gasoline performance. The Suzuki’s V6 shines through, and more than once I thought it could have been powering a stately German sedan rather than a Japanese SUV. It displaces 2736 CC to generate 154 bhp at 6000 revs and 23 kgm of torque at 4000.
That is 34 bhp and 4.5 kgm more than what the smaller, 1994 CC boxer four produces at 5600 and 3600 rpm, respectively. The V6 has a deep, raucous exhaust note, while the boxer emits a staccato tone that can be played around with to create your very own internal combustion music. On the move, the heavier Vitara is quicker off the block than the Forester, thanks to additional torque on demand (0-60 kph in 4.79 seconds compared to 4.9 seconds), but the boxer’s mid range power spread ensures that the Vitara is slower to reach the 100 kph mark (0-100 in 11.2 seconds versus 10.5
seconds). Both cars can nudge the 170 kph mark but the Vitara V6 does it in a more civilian manner, while the high revving boxer makes the Forester a more involving car to push the performance envelope in. The Vitara cruises beautifully at 100 kph in fifth gear and even begs for a sixth, while with the Forester, you need to keep the engine always on the boil to get the best out of it.
In town, these cars are amazingly docile to drive. The Vitara has the edge, despite the burly engine. When it comes to fuel efficiency, the smaller engine, of course, has an advantage and the Forester returned a steady 9 kpl. The big Suzuki drank unleaded stuff to the tune of 7.5 kpl (admit it, it is a big car with a big engine and that figure is not all that bad when
compared to some D-segment sedans).
Clay and tar modelling
The character of our test SUVs comes into question here. The Grand Vitara, with its body on chassis construction, should have been the more capable off-roader by miles. But the problem is it is stretched to accommodate that third row of passengers. Which means it has negated its natural strength a little. Don’t worry, the four wheel drive transfer case is still there and it can still teach the Forester a lesson or two when it comes to attacking deserts and rain forests. The 16-inch tyres mounted on neat six spoke alloy wheels give it more ground clearance than the Forester, and yet we beached the whale, sorry, the Vitara, a few times during our off-road tests. The Forester is developed from the rally-going Imprezas and that means it is more car than SUV. Don’t try telling Subaru engineers that though, since the Forester’s underpinnings has been re-engineered a great deal to suit the needs of a cross-over vehicle. The all-wheel drive running gear is suited for both tarmac and no-road conditions. It will tackle a series of hair-pins and fast sweepers in the same way as it would
dismiss a hailstorm and month-old snow. What it cannot do is mud-plugging of the Camel Trophy kind – yes, it has a low ratio to get you out of trouble, but this is not the car you want to drive to the North Pole. The Vitara might take you there, and therein lies its strength. The Suzuki’s tarmac behaviour is extremely similar to that of the large SUVs like the Pajero and Land Cruiser – it goes around corners well as long as you are keeping speeds under check, but you can sense and hear the tyres protesting as the speeds go above the 120 kph mark. The Vitara’s on-road behaviour gets much more predictable in 4WH mode, but if your life revolves around tarmac and concrete, you will be better off with the Forester.
In short, you have to get your priorities right to choose between these two cars. And here are my conclusions.
A. You should be happy with the Forester if you live in town for 325 days a year, and most of your driving is also in between towns.
B. All of the above, and if you also need to carry 6-7 passengers while at it, then please opt for the Vitara.
C. If you have to do regular off-roading to survive in life, then it’s the Vitara again.
D. If you are looking for a fun-to-drive machine in all weather conditions, we’re in favour of the Forester. Really sorry, didn’t mean to confuse you, all that means both SUVs do have their own strengths.
King of craft
BSM has a simple rule – a shoot-out should have a winner, and the winner of this fare is the big Suzuki. The Grand Vitara XL-7 is any day more SUV for your money – whether it be more sheet metal, more seats, more ponies or more performance. The base version Suzuki is avoidable and it is the Limited Edition that will guarantee the Vitara promise all the way. Go ahead and sign that cheque for Rs 17,00,000. It is another matter altogether that I would love to park the Forester in my garage if I could.
What an absolute blast! The Vitara is the proverbial sinner in a saint’s garb. Mild styling belies the roguish V6 that lurks below the hood, whose 154 horses are ever-willing to spin the Suzuki’s rear wheels, and slam the tail out in a fashion that’s so entertaining. The joys of rear-wheel-drive! The Grand Vitara XL-7 is essentially a large-ish estate (it can seat all of seven people) that’s also game for a fair bit of off-roading. However, given that most of these things will rarely be taken off tarmac, the Vitara’s plush ride, handling and pretty much everything else is optimised for the road and that’s a good thing if you ask me.
The top-end limited edition Vitara gets leather, CD-player, remote locking and other luxury bits and is a very pleasant place to lounge around in, but the most entertaining place to be in has to be the driver’s seat – slot that five-speed box in first, floor the throttle and let the fun begin!
The Forester’s styling has more attitude that the Vitara’s. And given its full-time, all-wheel-drive, it also leans more towards off-road use. The Subaru (ok, Chevrolet if you insist) boxer-four is unique to this country, and is adequately powerful. However it’s about 700 CC and 35 horsepower down on the Suzuki’s V6, and I have to admit I had much more fun in the Vitara. The Forester is slightly cheaper to buy, sips petrol at a more leisurely rate, and perhaps has more badge value than the Vitara, but I’d still take the V6 Suzuki...