Suzuki Grand Vitara: Mid-cycle Makeover
The first time I drove Suzuki's current-generation Grand Vitara "4WD Luxury SUV" was during February 2007's much-hyped, storm-of-the-century. Lots of snow and ice didn't faze the GV. In fact, it was the perfect TV-news weather prop!
Previously, Suzuki relied upon body-on-frame construction and truck-like suspensions for off-street cred. The latest unibody Grand Vitara maintains its off-road prowess; it has "creepy-crawler" low gear and four-wheel-lock drive. Short overhangs permit steep approach and departure angles. There's more interior space, ample greenhouse and almost car-like ride.
Drivelines: neutral (for towing it), all-wheel-drive, four-wheel-lock high and four-wheel-lock low. A simple rotary control selects modes. This Suzuki, unlike most other compact SUVs, uses a rear-drive-biased drive train rather than a front-drive one. My 2010 tester added hill assent and descent control.
Although the new Vitara is agreeable, the sturdy, pleasant feeling interior materials, thoughtful center console knobs and where-you-need-them interior overhead lights aren't enough. For instance, poor pedal placement robs legroom. The front seat is tiring; the steering wheel doesn't telescope.
The optional V6 now displaces 3.2 liters and produces 230 hp. This GM-derived high-content mill puts much-needed kick into the GV's motivation. There's still too much noise--particularly wind rush. Fuel economy: EPA figures 19 mpg city, 23 highway. I got 21.5.
The Limited version lists for $27,500. It has a comprehensive warranty, traction and stability controls, antilock brakes, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed, heated front seats, portable navigation system and airbags front, side and curtain. The now obedient-shifting, five-speed automatic transmission has a maze-like shift gate.
Entering the Grand Vitara is easy. It has Saab 99-like doors and flat floor. The slab-like rear seats with three adjustable head restraints and center seat-mounted shoulder belt don't fold flat. Instead they tumble forward limiting cargo length. The right-hinged rear door with spare tire makes curbside loading problematical. Not only does this require more room behind the vehicle, its door swings toward the curb.
Ride is firm, jittery with some pogo. Overall, handling is competent. The GV grips curves well. Brakes proved effective.
In sum, GV could mean good value. Ultimately, this tweaked Suzuki makes sense for off-road bound motorists.