Despite its new name, the V-6 powered Suzuki Grand Vitara and its four-cylinder companion, the Vitara, take the place of the Sidekick in Suzuki’s product line for 1999. The redesign is long overdue. During the nine years the Sidekick has been on the market, the mini-utility-vehicle segment changed dramatically. As the car-based Toyota RAV4 arrived four years ago, followed by the Honda CR-V, they offered buyers something more; better on-road manners and less noise, vibration and harshness than the Sidekick. More recently, the Subaru Forester has been added to the list of mini-utility vehicles vying for customers. With all the new competition, Suzuki dealers were left to sell the Sidekick, based on price and its off-road capabilities alone.
That will change when Suzuki’s new Grand Vitara goes on sale in late August. After driving the Grand Vitara both on-road and off-road through Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, we walked away with a positive perception of this new addition to American Suzuki’s lineup. In part, that impression is due to what lies under the hood.
A 155-horsepower V-6 engine gives the Grand Vitara a 30-horsepower advantage over the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. In spite of its heavier body-on-frame construction, the Grand Vitara feels quite a bit faster than the competition. The quiet V-6 also makes it a comfortable highway cruiser, whereas the CR-V and RAV4 seem to strain in order to keep up with traffic. We were pleasantly surprised at how much fun the Grand Vitara is to drive on paved roads. Its responsive suspension and standard manual transmission made driving twisty mountain roads quite fun as well.
Good on-road and off
After sampling the Grand Vitara on the road, we presumed off-road performance would be compromised. Our assumptions were unfounded. It performed marvelously, fording streams and tackling the mountainous terrain with aplomb. When the going got rough, we simply shifted the Grand Vitara’s transfer case into "four-low" and motored through.
1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara
Inside, the Grand Vitara is roomy enough for even my 6-foot-5-inch frame. Standard power windows and power door locks are a welcome addition to the four-door Grand Vitara. Although the interior functions well as is, two options are conspicuous by their absence - a factory-installed CD player and a power moonroof.
The Grand Vitara comes in both two- and four-wheel drive. Regardless of your drivetrain choice, it is available in two trim levels - Standard and Plus. Plus models add four-wheel ABS, aluminum wheels and cruise control. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional on all models.
Positive price point
Overall, the Grand Vitara is a great vehicle. Prices start at $17,999 for a base two-wheel-drive model, while a fully optioned four-wheel drive example with automatic transmission carries an MSRP of $20,999. Those figures compare favorably with the competition. However, the Grand Vitara’s V-6 engine gives it a distinct competitive advantage. Coupled with its fresh styling and good driving dynamics, the Grand Vitara can now be considered the segment leader.
However, stay tuned - several other vehicles of this type are in development elsewhere. Ford and Mazda recently confirmed they are jointly developing a similar vehicle for the 2000 model year that will utilize a Ford-sourced V-6. In addition, Hyundai is working on a V-6-powered mini-utility vehicle. Furthermore, Nissan, Toyota and Honda are surely not resting on their laurels.