Is Suzuki Auto Philippines trying to kill the Vitara?

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There are many factors that Filipinos consider when purchasing a vehicle. But of the car-buying population’s majority, we can safely say that price and overall value are a prime consideration. That’s the reason why the Vios is the bestselling vehicle here because of its wide variant lineup and pricing – and of course its Toyota badge.

With that said, we often see local distributors battle it out in terms of pricing. That’s why there’s an emergence of Chinese vehicles these days because they present good value for Filipinos’ hard-earned money. 

As far as strategy goes, the more competitive (read: lower) the pricing is, the better. 

So when Suzuki Auto Philippines announced the newest Vitara for the 2021 model year, I was dumbfounded. Not because of the addition of the AllGrip all-wheel-drive system; most of the shock comes from its sticker price.

Of note, the new Suzuki Vitara AllGrip comes with a price tag of P1,458,000 (add P10,000 for the two-tone variant). In comparison, the top-spec, front-wheel-drive GLX variant sold for P1,158,000 or exactly P300,000 cheaper than the recent addition to the local Suzuki lineup.

Worse, Suzuki Philippines confirmed that it is phasing out the FWD variants of the Vitara. This means those who are looking to buy the Vitara will have to either accept the heavy SRP of the AllGrip model, or rush to hopefully catch the last remaining stocks of the cheaper FWD versions.

With a price tag that puts the Vitara among the higher-priced subcompacts, the Suzuki-made crossover is now in the same league as the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-30, and Subaru XV. Although admittedly, the Vitara AllGrip undercuts both the Mazda and Subaru in terms of pricing, now standing as the most affordable all-wheel-drive crossover in the country.

Now, why did Suzuki – a company known for selling relatively affordable vehicles – decide to offer the pricier Vitara here? Is it trying to kill off the Vitara nameplate from the local lineup?

According to the press release, Suzuki Philippines Vice President and General Manager for Automobile Division, Mr. Keiichi Suzuki, said that the new Vitara AllGrip “provides individuality, stylish looks, and added confidence on the road.” 

Suzuki-san added that this “car will definitely encourage people to drive and bring more fun into their lives,” obviously referring to the fun that AWD can supposedly bring to the table.

But is AWD really a feature worth the added price tag? Frankly, AWD isn’t so much of an essential in the Philippines. Unlike the AllGrip Pro that’s found in the Jimny, which is made with serious off-roading chops in mind, the Vitara has AllGrip Select. For the uninitiated, AllGrip Select functions as most AWDs do, and that’s for added traction for adverse road conditions like wet thoroughfares and snow.

Obviously, snow isn’t an issue in our warm, tropical country but we’re definitely blessed with rain through a good half of the year. In this regard, Vitara’s AWD system with selectable drive modes can be of great help.

The AllGrip Select features an Auto function that defaults to front-wheel-drive but can arbitrarily choose to let the rear wheels assist when the system detects front-wheel slippage. The Sport function, on the other hand, aids in better acceleration and performance in demanding thoroughfares such as winding roads. 

The Snow function, despite the name, can actually be useful for very slippery surfaces other than snow, while Lock mode focuses on keeping grip during challenging plights on mud and rough terrains. 

But none of these modes are actually built for intently having fun off-road. If anything, the AWD system makes the Vitara a safe vehicle for a wider range of road conditions. And most importantly, the Vitara has a unibody construction, which isn’t exactly something made for fun (and serious) off-road excursions – unless you’re talking about the Land Rover Defender, but that’s a different story.

While you can make a case for the Vitara AllGrip as an off-city vehicle made for safe passage in mountain passes during the rainy season, the nameplate is actually marketed and currently perceived by many as a city car. In this case, a complete reversal of perception is in order.

Whether the AllGrip addition, along with the added exterior and interior bits (hello, clinometer), is worthy of the added price tag is beyond me at this point. I need to see and test the actual unit before I can make a sound judgment.

This brings us to the biggest question: when will Suzuki Philippines hand over the keys to a Vitara AllGrip for an in-depth review?

Before I could finish this story, Suzuki has given me a schedule with a media unit by the end of June. I’ll give my final verdict by July but until then, the positioning of the Vitara AllGrip remains a mystery.

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