Suzuki and Jeep add to SUV ranks
New Renegade packs punch in the mud, while Vitara can also hold its own off road, writes Martin Brennan
The demand for SUV/crossover vehicles keeps on expanding as more and more motorists turn their backs on the old favourites -saloon and hatchback models.
The reason is simple, their design is more user friendly and women as much as men are taking to the macho look. It is not surprising then that one in five vehicles sold these days as family transport are of the SUV/crossover variety, a hefty 20pc chunk of the market. The segment continues to grow and will be five per cent of this year's new car market, expected to be about 123,000 units.
Two new such vehicles have just been launched here. Suzuki has introduced the Vitara after an absence of some years due to high emission engines, and Jeep, now part of the Fiat-Chrysler group, has introduced a totally new member of the family, the Renegade. The name alone has excited some interest. By coincidence, the best selling version of each of these compact SUVs will be powered by an excellent 1.6-litre diesel Fiat-designed engine.
Jeep, with seven dealers are planning to expand their network here, and initially have low expectations for Renegade sales, about 100 units a year, with the larger Cherokee and Grand Cherokee adding another 120 sales.
Suzuki, meanwhile, has high hopes to sell 700 Vitara models a year through their 22 dealers. Their supermini, Celerio, is now back on track after a brake recall with 200 sales expected, while the evergreen Swift is targeting 450 sales and the SX Cross, which shares the same platform as the Vitara, could add 500 sales.
The Renegade is Jeep's smallest ever model and it brings real off-road ability to the increasingly trendy SUV brigade. Built in Europe for sale across the Atlantic also, it is part of the overall Jeep plan to go premium grade as the firm plans big celebrations next year for its 75th birthday. The Renegade is aimed at the young at heart, upwardly mobile professionals, and the firm is already predicting over 70pc conquest sales of motorists who have never driven an SUV before.
The unique looks, round headlights, seven-slot grille, long bonnet and tall stance will help make it stand out against the Nissan Juke, MINI Countryman and Skoda Yeti. It oozes character, has plenty of space and was faultless in some rough driving over slippery fields and challenging mud tracts around Co Wicklow. On the road, good suspensions and steering made for pleasant driving with good suppression of engine and tyre noise. The design may appeal to the more rebellious among us but it will be interesting to see if Jeep are right in their expectation that the urban driver will rally to the strong outdoor look.
While the Jeep tops the Vitara as an all-terrain vehicle, the majority vote will go to Suzuki. It has a good history on 4WD and behaved well on less strenuous off-road tests in Co Kildare. The Allgrip 4WD comes with big wheels and high ground clearance and there are four modes to choose from, depending on road surface, weather and terrain. The brand reliability and the more conventional SUV look will guarantee sales. Suzuki say that 70pc of their sales will be for the 2WD version. The established heavy hitters in the compact SUV arena will be looking more at the in-roads the well kitted out Suzuki is likely to make into their sales targets than towards the Renegade.
Both marques offer a range of petrol and diesel engines and a wide choice of trim levels. Suzuki has an introductory price of €19,995 for the entry-level petrol-powered Vitara, but the big seller will be the 1.6-litre diesel with the mid specification of trim at €22,995. The top grade Allgrip 4WD rises to €27,995. Introductory prices last until October, when they will rise by €1,000.
Jeep prices start at €22,950 and the best seller with a very high level of kit will be the strong-performing 1.6-litre diesel at €25,200. Jeep has plans for a range of new engines and some new models soon.