New for '09 are both a base four-cylinder, at a very RAV4 and CR-V 2.4 liters, and a 3.2-liter V-6 based loosely on the GM high-feature V-6 found in products as disparate as Malibus, Enclaves, and the CTS. The four-cylinder, Suzuki's own design, benefits from the wonders of variable-valve timing and is smooth, torquey, and more than adequate in the Grand Vitara. Its torque curve is arguably more usable than the V-6's, which finds most of its motivation at mid-to-high rpm. All the better, as the four is capable of a respectable 26 mpg on the highway. Even hampered by only four ratios in the optional automatic transmission (vs. the V-6's five-speed auto), the four was responsive and only showed flaws with a bit of coarseness at high RPM compared with segment leaders Honda and Toyota.
Suzuki brought a slew of GVs along to Knibbe Ranch, where we also drove the new-for-'09 Equator pickup. Proving the benefits of rear-wheel-biased 4WD in a balanced chassis, the GV went absolutely everywhere the bigger, badder Equator went. Through streams, over rocks, up muddy inclines, and across split-traction surfaces from a dead stop. Not to mention, with a shorter wheelbase and lighter curb weight, some of us preferred the Grand Vitara in the rough stuff, where extra weight and size are liabilities. Optional four-mode four-wheel drive with a true low-range, lockable center differential, Hill Descent Control (V-6 only), and Hill Hold Control (V-6 only) made our test examples shockingly competent, far beyond what soft-roaders like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 could manage.
With interior upgrades also included for '09, including touches like electroluminescent instrumentation, the GV is finally a refined on-road competitor to the likes of the aforementioned Honda and Toyota. And for small-SUV buyers who need serious off-road capability, the GV truly rates a test drive.--Colin Mathews