2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited: off-road, four-wheel-drive capability

February 15, 2010

2310163254_a55913c32f_m.jpgLast year, the Suzuki Grand Vitara was completely overhauled with more advanced drivetrains, bigger brakes, many new features, and a new V6 engine was added to the already capable four-cylinder. The 2010 Grand Vitara Limited V6 4WD ($26,299) that I tested is a vehicle that will compete with a number of other Sport Utility Vehicles out there.

The other vehicles that come to mind are the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, and Mitsubishi Outlander. But these are vehicles that have all-wheel drive systems that arent built for much more than a dirt road. The Grand Vitara is built on a rear-wheel-drive platform and is available with four-wheel drive, not just all-wheel drive. The difference is in its added low-range gearing. This allows the Grand Vitara to climb or descend steep inclines and navigate rocky terrain without destroying its drivetrain. It is properly equipped with steel suspension arms rather than aluminum, and the engine compartment is configured in a way that a muddy river at the door bottoms won't damage it.

Even though the Grand Vitara is a four-wheel drive vehicle, that doesnt mean it rides like one. With a fully independent suspension, the Grand Vitara does not have the rough-and-tumble ride of most four-wheel drives. It has a great ride quality and feels right at home on the pavement. While the Grand Vitara is more capable off-road than most of the competition, it does not compete with true four-wheel-drives like Jeep Wrangler or Hummer's H3.  Both are heavier, more expensive and considered severe-duty machines that sacrifice ride comfort and fuel economy.

Unlike other four wheel drive vehicles, it's easy to get in and out of the Grand Vitara. It sits at just the right height to slide in and out easily. On the inside, the seats are nicely shaped to allow freedom of movement and supportive enough to take extended trips with out getting tired. The Limited model I tested upgrades with leather upholstery and synthetic leather door trim, heated front seats, premium audio systems, dark-silver wood print trim, 18-inch aluminum wheels on the V6, and a hard spare tire cover. The rear view camera and auxiliary audio input jack are the only options.

In the rear, passengers have more than adequate leg and headroom, although some car-based Sport Utes have a bit more room Cargo space is decent given the compact exterior dimensions and shaped with more of an upright stance. There are numerous nets and clips to help secure items, and the rear seats fold easily to increase volume by a factor of 2.8.  The rear suspension allows for a lower cargo floor and with an outside tire, there is a large storage area underneath it.

Under the hood, the 3.2-liter V6 engine is used in the Suzuki XL7 and Cadillac CTS and the 2.8-liter turbo used in the Saab 9-3. The 3.2-liter version is designed for longitudinal use, as in the Grand Vitara and other trucks, as opposed to a transverse layout where the engine sits sideways, usually over the front drive wheels. The 3.2-liter delivers 230 hp at 6200 rpm and 213 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

The V6 is smooth and powerful, and shows up at highway speeds when you need the extra power. The fuel economy rating hit is not as economical as the four-cylinder because the V6 gets an extra gear in its automatic, and if you make a habit of using the extra 64 horsepower you will pay in mileage. EPA fuel mileage estimates are 17/23 mpg city/highway for a V6 automatic 4WD.

Tow rating for the Grand Vitara is 3,000 pounds, sufficient for a pair of snow machines, dirt bikes or a small pop-up trailer. Grand Vitara 4-mode models may be pulled on all four wheels behind a motorhome, following instructions in the owner's manual and proper fitting of an airbag-compliant tow bar.

The Grand Vitara is a solid choice if you are looking for a compact SUV. Suzuki has built the sport utility vehicle with more than city use in mind, keeping the components and durability required for off-highway use. This is a vehicle that will not only meet your needs during the week, but also on the weekends.

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