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Toyota and Suzuki draw guns with new Urban Cruiser and Grand Vitara

Toyota and Suzuki draw guns with new Urban Cruiser and Grand Vitara
The rear view of Toyota's new Urban Cruiser that looks lot like the RAV4. (Photo: Toyota SA)

The hotly contested SUV B segment is about to get much hotter as Toyota SA and Suzuki SA launch their latest budget crossover offerings.

I was recently invited to back-to-back launches of the all-new Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Urban Cruiser. It felt a bit like déjà vu as I listened to both brands singing their products’ praises. Because, dear reader, in case you weren’t aware – the Grand Vitara and Urban Cruiser have the same 1.5-litre petrol engine (offering a somewhat underwhelming 77kw of power and 138Nm of torque) and basically the same architecture. 

This is due to a global product share agreement between the two manufacturers, to collaborate on vehicles where, except for badges and a few styling and spec differences, exactly the same car is produced. So, think the Toyota Starlet and Suzuki Baleno, the Toyota Rumion and Suzuki Ertiga – and now we have the new Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Urban Cruiser.  Both the Cruiser and Vitara are built by Toyota Kirloskar Motor at its Bidadi plant in Karnataka, India. Talk about incestuous. For this round, the platform development was led by Toyota.

Suzuki Grand Vitara 

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The new Suzuki Grand Vitara petrol and hybrid derivatives. (Photo: Suzuki SA)

Suzuki managed to pip Toyota by a couple of days with its local launch date, so let’s get to the Grand Vitara first. Launched locally in 1988 as the Suzuki Vitara, the Grand Vitara was launched globally in 2008 and has sold more than eight million units.

The latest Grand Vitara has five models on offer – two straight petrol engines, in GL and GLX spec, with either a five-speed manual or four-speed auto gearbox, as well as a top-of-the-range hybrid.

Suzuki has worked hard to offer some generous specs, especially in its top-of-the-range models. The entry-level GL has standard stuff including 17-inch alloys, black roof rails, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system (wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible), a reverse camera, automatic climate control, cruise control and a leather multifunction steering wheel.

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The Grand Vitara’s 360° view camera. (Photo: Suzuki SA)

The top-spec petrol GLX has all of the above but goes the extra mile with a larger nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a 360º view camera, a head-up display and wireless smartphone charging. To sweeten the deal even further, there’s a panoramic sunroof, extra audio speakers, silver roof rails and machine-polished alloys.

The (very) top-of-the-range GLX 1.5 Hybrid AllGrip offers a 48-volt mild hybrid system with slightly less power (76kW) and torque (137Nm) and a six-speed auto transmission. What puts it into an almost new segment – surely now drawing guns with Toyota’s Corolla Cross hybrid – is a nifty AllGrip system that offers all-wheel drive with four selectable drive modes: Auto, Sport, Snow/Mud and Lock.

I spent almost two full days in the hybrid Grand Vitara, doing plenty of gravel, curvy passes and pretty steep mountain tracks. While the 1.5l engine in both brands could definitely do with a few more kilowatts, I was impressed by the hybrid’s “off-road” capabilities. However, because it’s almost R200k more expensive than the entry-level GL, I have a feeling that Suzuki’s hybrid may be left in the shade when it comes to budget-conscious customers.  

Toyota Urban Cruiser

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The Urban Cruiser’s cabin. (Photo: Toyota SA)

A few days later I found myself in Toyota’s new Urban Cruiser. Since its launch in March 2021, the Urban C has done incredibly well for South Africa’s top-selling brand, becoming a hit with consumers for its affordability, urban styling and practicality. You’ve probably seen a lot of them on the road as they’ve sold 27,500 units in just two years.

At the press briefing in Cape Town, Toyota spoke at length about the Urban Cruiser customer who’s typically between 35 and 49, is after stylish looks in a car as well as affordability, good safety and tech, along with a spacious interior and good ground clearance to suit an outdoor lifestyle.

The new Urban Cruiser which, looks-wise, reminds me a lot of the RAV4 or a small Fortuner, manages to tick all its “ideal” customer’s boxes. There have been a few significant improvements to the outgoing model: 15mm more ground clearance (from 195mm to 210mm), it has increased quite significantly in length and load bay area, the design is bolder and there’s a more aggressive-looking grille.

When it comes to models, there are three in the line-up: the XS entry-level with its five-speed manual gearbox and the top-of-the-range XR, in manual and four-speed auto.

Standard stuff in the XS includes automatic climate control, electric windows and mirrors and a reverse camera. The top-of-the-range XR, like its Suzuki counterpart, adds cruise control and six airbags as well as VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) and HAC (Hill Assist Control) to the XS and XR models. Across the range there’s ABS with EBD, ISOFIX and an alarm/immobiliser system.

I’ve already mentioned its 1.5l petrol engine in the Grand Vitara section, which is perfectly suited to urban travelling, but does feel somewhat underpowered in both brands’ vehicles on freeways, especially on the overtake. When it comes to fuel efficiency, both Toyota and Suzuki claim consumption of about 6 to 6.1l/100km. At the launches, I came in closer to 7.5 to 8l/100km on the manuals and slightly less on the auto derivatives. 

Final analysis 

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The new Urban Cruiser has increased boot space. (Photo: Toyota SA)

When it comes to size, the Urban Cruiser is 20cm longer than the Grand Vitara and subsequently has 43l more boot capacity. The Grand Vitara is 10cm higher, while both have a good ground clearance of 210mm. 

It’s clear that Suzuki has gone the extra mile when it comes to superior specs such as a sunroof, head-up display and a larger infotainment screen. Toyota has, however, managed to offer more competitive pricing, undercutting Suzuki by R10,500 on the entry-level models, and by a substantial R50k on the top-of-the-range XR manual. It will be interesting to see whether price vs spec is more important to customers and how much Toyota brand loyalty will play out here.

To get a clearer picture of just how bullish Toyota is in South Africa, in the top-10-selling vehicles in the country in April, Toyota SA clinched four: the Hilux at number two (2,187 units) narrowly losing out to Ford’s recently launched all-new Ranger (2,201 units). The locally produced Corolla Cross came in at number four, selling 1,281 units, while the popular Hi-Ace was just 14 units behind (1,267). The Starlet that’s been selling up a storm since its launch in 2020 was eighth, selling 1,098 units.

While Suzuki SA has only one vehicle in the top 10 – the mega-selling Swift (1,216 units) – it must be said that the “smaller” Japanese brand has been causing a major disruption over the past few years, regularly coming in at number three as one of the best-selling brands in South Africa, behind Toyota and Volkswagen SA. Year on year, between April 2022 and April 2023, the Suzuki SA brand has grown by more than a whopping 60%, finding more than 50,000 new homes for their products.

It’s no debate that both the Urban Cruiser and the Suzuki Grand Vitara are compelling products in the more affordable B segment. And while the Grand Vitara has more specs on offer, strategically Toyota has probably nailed it by offering its entry-level Cruiser at R10.5k less than the entry-level Grand Vitara. Will Suzuki play second fiddle when it comes to sales, as has been the case with the Starlet vs the Baleno? Or will it be able to sway customers to its more generous service plan? Will the Suzuki hybrid with its AllGrip tech sell well or will people rather buy the locally produced C-segment Toyota Corolla Cross hybrid which is still marginally cheaper than the B-segment Suzuki hybrid?

I’ll be keenly watching numbers at the end of May. The fight for sales between the two Japanese bedfellows is definitely on.

Pricing: 

Suzuki Vitara Brezza  

GL 1.5 Manual – R339,900
GL 1.5 Auto – R359,900
GLX 1.5 Manual  – R397,900
GLX 1.5 Auto – R417,900
GLX 1.5 Hybrid AllGrip six-speed Auto – R529,900

The Grand Vitara includes a five-year/200,000km warranty and a six-year/90,000 km service plan.

Toyota Urban Cruiser 

1.5 XS MT – R329,400
1.5 XR MT – R347,400
1.5 XR AT – R369,900

The Urban Cruiser includes a three-year/100,000km warranty and a four-service/60,000km service plan. DM

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