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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.