The Suzuki Vitara is the latest arrival to the ever-expanding mini-SUV segment. With rivals like the Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka to compete with, it certainly needs to offer something different to stand out from the rest.
Suzuki has taken a fairly sensible approach, getting the basics – such as safety and practicality – right rather than create an exercise in form over function.
Outlandish is certainly one word that springs to mind when trying to describe one of its rivals, though. The Citroen C4 Cactus has gained many fans for its concept car styling and typically French design.
For two cars aimed at the same segment of the market, the approach each has taken to styling couldn’t be more different. Suzuki has played things fairly safe – the square front end is dominated by a large, chromed grille while boxy wheel arches hint at some off-road potential. The design isn’t outlandish, but it can be livened up with some bold paint finishes.
The Cactus, on the other hand, is one of the most distinctive cars on the road. What catches the eye first are the odd ‘airbumps’ on the doors and bumpers. Not only are they an interesting design cue – breaking up the ‘slab-sided’ look that afflicts so many SUVs and crossovers – but they have a practical purpose too. They’re constructed from a rubberised plastic, which means parking bumps and clumsily opened doors won’t dent the body or chip the paint.
Even the details – such as the split headlights, quirky paint schemes and the funky alloy wheel designs – help it stand out. At 4.1 metres long, it’s a surprisingly compact design in the flesh, which means it isn’t an intimidating car to drive around town.
Each car’s cabin follows a similar theme to the outside. Where the Vitara is square and simple, the Cactus is full of interesting and unconventional touches. The Citroen’s main instrument panel is a digital readout, while the majority of major functions are controlled through the touch screen. The door pulls are simple leather straps, and the rear windows don’t wind down (they instead hinge outwards). It all feels a little eccentric – just like a Citroen should.
Both cars are very spacious inside, but the Vitara edges the Cactus for headroom thanks to a taller body. There’s plenty of storage in each, and neat touches like Citroen’s decision to relocate the passenger airbag to roof allows for a larger glovebox in the dash. To keep costs down, the Citroen’s rear seats are a simple bench which can get a little uncomfortable on longer journeys.
The Cactus and the Vitara offer good boot space for the class, but the Suzuki’s 375-litre volume edges the 358 litres on offer in the Citroen.
From behind the wheel, the Vitara is well-liked by reviewers. Suzuki has tried to emulate the feel of the smaller Swift and, for the most part, it has succeeded. Despite the tall body, the Vitara feels sharp and agile in corners, and all the main controls are light and precise. It all makes for an easy to drive crossover, which can be fun to drive when the time calls for it.
The Citroen is by no means bad to drive but offers a more relaxed driving experience. Overall, it’s softer than the Vitara, but its trump card is its weight. By keeping the design simple, Citroen has produced a car which, in entry-level spec, weighs barely over 1,000kg, to the benefit of agility and performance.
If you ever have any desires to go off-road, there’s only one winner. The Vitara offers buyers the option of four-wheel drive on top spec models, while every Cactus is front-wheel drive only. While we haven’t yet had a chance to venture off-road in the Vitara, we’d be surprised if the makers of the Grand Vitara and Jimny had built anything other than a capable car in the rough stuff.
Suzuki has kept things simple with the Vitara’s engine lineup – there’s a choice of one petrol and one diesel unit. The former is peppy and enjoys to be revved, lending the car a slightly sporty feel. The diesel, on the other hand, relies on low-down torque, making it the better choice if you intend to take it off-road. The diesel is a little rough during hard acceleration but, with a delicate right foot, it should be capable of 70.6mpg.
The Cactus is offered with a little more choice – a 1.2-litre petrol is available with 75, 82 or 110hp and diesel fans are catered for by a 100hp 1.6-litre unit. Thanks to the Citroen’s low weight, it claims an impressive 83.1mpg fuel economy figure. That seems plausible, too – when we drove one to Germany recently it achived over 60mpg while carrying four people and their luggage.
Both cars are available with an automatic gearbox, but testers say the Citroen’s is best avoided – it’s slow witted and a little clumsy at times.
Value for money
Prices for both cars are similar to the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur. If base price is your most important consideration, then the Citroen edges it – the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol costs £1,000 less than the Suzuki – but it isn’t as powerful as the Vitara’s 1.6. Every Cactus is well equipped, though, with cruise control, DAB radio and a seven-inch touchscreen all fitted as standard. The Vitara is loaded with goodies too, and all but the base model get standard-fit satellite navigation.
Thanks to low carbon dioxide emissions, diesel C4s are free to tax, while petrol versions only cost £20 per year. The Vitara is a little more pricey – diesel models fall into road tax band B (£20 per year) while petrol models are in band D (£110 per year).
It’s worth noting the Suzuki is the safer car, too. When crash tested by Euro NCAP, the Vitara achieved a maximum five-star rating, in comparison to the Citroen’s four stars.
On the face of it, these two crossovers seem very different but, in truth, they’re incredibly closely matched. Indeed, both achieve an identical (and impressive) wowscore of 7.6 so, whichever you choose, you’re likely to drive away happy.
Given they are so similar, picking a winner depends where your tastes lie. If you’d rather a sensible, sturdy-looking vehicle with a little off-road potential, then the Vitara is the one to have. If you’d rather show off your individuality and sense of style, the Citroen is one of the most compelling choices on the market right now.
If you’ve fallen for either, put the Citroen C4 Cactus or the Suzuki Vitara in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, head over to our deals page to see our latest discounts.