By Kevin Miller
Suzuki’s Grand Vitara is a small SUV, in a segment full of such vehicles. It seems like every family I know has a car in this segment. It also seems like virtually every automaker has a car in this segment. That being said, Autosavant has tested both the Grand Vitara the Toyota RAV4 this week. Here’s the scoop on the Grand Vitara.
The Grand Vitara is the third Suzuki product I’ve tested for Autosavant. The first was the SX4 hatchback, which I found to be a clever, useful little car. The second was the Canadian-made Suzuki XL-7, a badge-engineered GM product which very clearly shared DNA with its platform-mate, the Chevrolet Equinox rather than any Japanese-made Suzuki. The Grand Vitara is clearly a real Suzuki, with high-quality interior bits and sound design and assembly.
The exterior of the Grand Vitara is distinctive, with sharp-looking headlamps and grill, and a nicely shaped body. The Deep Sea Blue Metallic paint was a flattering color on the Grand Vitara, though in strong sunlight the finish looked thin.
Climbing behind the wheel of the Grand Vitara XSport, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of space for my long legs in the driver’s seat. The interior upholstery was a black-colored synthetic fabric like would be used for outdoor clothing, it breathed well and seemed like it would hold up to years of abuse. The same fabric was used to upholster parts of the door panels where elbows are likely to rest. The front seats were plenty comfortable for hour-long commutes, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel felt nice in my hands. The wheel also featured controls for audio and cruise control systems. Sitting in and driving the Grand Vitara, everything felt “just right”.
The gauge cluster uses blue-and-white luminescent gauges which are solid black until the car is started. Below the centrally-mounted speedometer is a high-resolution monochromatic screen which displays temperature or trip odometer, gear selected, and vehicle fuel economy stats. Unfortunately, the sound system and automatic climate control displays on the center stack use totally different display colors- blocky red pixels indicate the stereo and climate information, and the stereo display disappears when wearing polarized sun glasses. It was a mismatch in an otherwise nicely-designed, functional cabin.
In keeping with the cheap-looking displays on the radio and automatic climate controls, both of those devices had facets which were not well executed. The stereo has a six-disc in-dash changer and eight speakers, but sound quality was quite poor whether listening to radio or CDs. The automatic climate control seemed to always run the fan very quickly, and the fan was quite noisy.
Interior materials on the dash and console were a mix of nicely grained soft-touch plastics and nicely-grained hard plastics. The whole assembly of the flat-finish center stack components flanked by silver trim and surrounded by grained surfaces had a high-quality appearance. Really the only mis-cues were silver bezels around the outboard vents that reflected in the side windows, and relatively few storage cubbies- there was nowhere except a cup holder to put a pair of sunglasses where they wouldn’t slide around.
The back seat had plenty of room for two child seats (a forward-facing convertible seat and a Graco Snug Ride infant seat/base), though the infant seat had to mount behind the passenger seat, which had to be moved slightly forward. Even so situated, my wife had plenty of room in the passenger seat. With those two child seats in place, however, there was not enough room for an adult passenger to fit anywhere in the back seat.
Moving around to the back of the Grand Vitara, Suzuki’s cute ute shows its less-grand side. The Grand Vitara’s cargo area is accessed through a side-hinged single-piece door, which is heavy because it has the vehicle’s spare tire mounted to it. The door employs a single small gas strut to lighten the opening effort, and to hold the door open. Unfortunately, if parked on a slope where gravity works against the hydraulic strut, the heavy door will slam shut, or will slam into your backside while you try to load or unload. Additionally, the door is hinged on the right side of the vehicle, so if you parallel park, you have to load from the street rather than the sidewalk.
After getting around the awkward door, the cargo area is not very spacious. As you can see from the photos, grocery bags from the weekly shopping trip filled the boot. Ditto for the two equipment cases I carry; at least some stuff can be packed on top of my equipment cases, though I had to remove the clever-but-flimsy cargo cover to do that. If you fold the 60/40 split seats forward, cargo room drastically increases, but you lose the back seat.
On the road, the 230 HP V6 and its five-speed automatic transmission moved the Suzuki down the road energetically. The transmission doesn’t have any fancy Tiptronic-style gates or shift paddles, just a kinked-path between P, R, D, 4, 3 and L. The four-wheel-drive Grand Vitara also features a rotary switch on the dash to switch between all-wheel drive with front wheels engaging when slip is detected, locked high-range four-wheel drive, and locked low-range four-wheel drive. The system also features Hill Hold Control, Hill Descent control, and a Neutral setting which the Suzuki’s documentation notes is usable for towing the Grand Vitara behind an RV. Body roll, squat, and dive were kept in check except when executing slalom-like maneuvers.
This Grand Vitara has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17/23 city/hwy, with combined rating of 19 MPG, which is exactly what I was able to achieve. That’s not great fuel economy for a five-passenger vehicle with a smallish luggage area.
The Grand Vitara XSport V6 4WD starts at a very reasonable $25,299,and includes the equipment discussed above plus heated exterior mirrors, alloy spare wheel, electronic stability program and traction control, front, side, and side-curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring, power sunroof, and Smartpass keyless entry/start. The only thing notably missing from this car was Bluetooth telephone integration. My test car had minimal options, including All Season Cargo Mat & Net for $130, Floor Mats for $119, and Premium Metallic Paint for $115, for a very reasonable grand total of $25,663.
Aside from a few (somewhat major) flaws such as the gravity-challenged cargo door, tiny luggage compartment, and lack of Bluetooth integration, the Grand Vitara is a well designed, nicely assembled small SUV/crossover. It costs about $4500 less than the comparable Toyota RAV4, though it has a bit less room and somewhat poorer fuel economy, and I’d bet the Grand Vitara is more fun to drive, I enjoyed the week I spent with it. In a crowded market amidst falling vehicle sales, the Grand Vitara’s blend of inexpensive price and stylish design warrants a look if you are in the market for this type of vehicle.
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