|THE SHORT STORY|
|Pros: Handsome, upscale looks; comfortable cabin; off-road capable 4wD system; lots of bang-for-the buck; 7/100,000 powertrain warranty|
|Cons: Somewhat jittery ride; low ground clearance/fully independent suspension doesn't match the rugged 4WD system; fussy cupholders|
|Overall: Another bargain from Suzuki. However, it provides a mixed bag of performance both on and off the asphalt. Still worth a look on value alone.|
I really like the Grand Vitara's styling, especially in black. From certain angles it looks like a smaller Land Rover; its attractive 18” wheels and tires give it an upscale look. The SUV has minimal front and rear overhangs which not only make the vehicle look sportier, but also help with approach and departure angles if the vehicle ever sees any off-road action.
Unlike most SUVs (sans the Toyota RAV4), the GV has a sideways-opening rear door instead of a hatchback. A love-it-or-hate-it feature, it does swing open wide, but also takes a lot of room to open—something to be careful of when parallel parked. The door also wears a hard-covered spare tire. Which, thankfully, does not obstruct outward vision.
INTERIOR: Comfortable and simple with few gripes
My test vehicle was a Grand Vitara V6 Limited, which included leather upholstery, a large power moonroof, automatic climate control, and wood trim applique. The overall look is good and it feels well made. A few things here and there feel a bit flimsy, but overall it's good. The dashboard is easy to read and bright. There is a multi-function computer that displays a variety of info, and also provides information with regards to engaging/disengaging the 4WD system.
I put a decent amount of miles on the SUV while I had it, and the heated driver's/passenger's seats were always comfortable, especially on long trips. Ergonomics were good, and everything, including the automatic climate control, was intuitive to operate. The GV had Suzuki's pop-up Garmin navigation unit, which also doubles as the truck's Bluetooth system.
My mom was in down during the week I had the GV, and she spent a decent amount of time in the backseat (love ya, mom!), as did my wife. Both of them said the back seat was comfortable and roomy. However, both complained that exiting was a bit challenging due to the doors not opening up terribly far.
Suzuki seems to have a problem making cupholders that do a good job holding cups (my Suzuki SX4, is an offender, too), and this goes for the Grand Vitara, also. Both the front and rear cupholders were sub par. Minor detail, but worth mentioning.
The rear cargo area is deep and spacious for a smaller SUV, yielding good carrying ability. It also included a handy multi-section tonneau cover. For those looking for more space, the rear seats fold down and tumble forward for more space.
TECHNOLOGY: Functional and easy to use
As mentioned, this SUV included a Garmin GPS, automatic climate control, heated seats, a seven-speaker stereo with subwoofer and aux jack, power moonroof, and automatic headlights. Also included is Suzuki's HomeLink system as well as a keyless entry and start system called SmartPass. The technology is easy to use and straight forward. The stereo wasn't the best on the market, but was adequate. I am, however, a big fan of the Garmin GPS. It's compact, removable, and can be updated via your computer. The steering wheel has cruise control and audio controls, as well.
The GV has all of the safety tech you'd expect including four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, skid control, traction control, and front/side air bags. It also has a push-button hill hold control (HHC) which will hold the vehicle on inclines for a couple of seconds as you go from brake to accelerator.
ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN: An interesting combination (and contradiction) of features
The 230 horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Shifts are very smooth, although the engine does tend to get a bit thrashy in the upper ends of the revs.
One of the Grand Vitara's most noteworthy aspects, however, its its true 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case. Operated using a simple dial on the dashboard (at left: the dial at the lower left), the system is usually in automatic 4WD High. However, it can be shifted to 4WD Lock mode on the fly, which splits the power 50/50 to the front and rear wheels in foul driving conditions. If things get really bad, or you're doing some off-road driving, you can stop, put the transmission in neutral, and switch to 4WD Low. This lower gear ratio allows maximum torque and power to the wheels, and reduces the vehicle's speed limits—something off-road enthusiasts want. The GV also has a unibody chassis with a built-in ladder frame for rigidity and durability.
There is some contradiction, though. Although Suzuki equips the GV with an off-road-capable 4WD system and built-in ladder frame, it rides on a fully independent suspension system—not the choice of most who venture off the pavement, although it provides improved ride quality versus a solid axle. Also, the GV has only 7.9 inches of ground clearance, and it's approach/ breakover/departure angles are somewhat lower than its "soft-roader" competition. For comparison's sake:
|SUV||Ground Clearance||Approach Angle||Breakover Angle||Departure Angle|
|Suzuki Grand Vitara V6||7.9"||29°||19°||27°|
Other than the Grand Vitara, the Xterra is the only SUV above that has a two-speed transfer case. However, it also offers the preferred solid rear axle, and better off-road specs.
One thing that should be noted is the Grand Vitara's towing capacity: 3,000 lbs. Of the above-mentioned SUVs, only the Xterra can pull more (5,000 lbs.).
DRIVING: A mixed bag of dynamics
Although the Grand Vitara's all-aluminum 3.2-liter V-6 has 230 horsepower, it doesn't feel terribly powerful. Don't get me wrong: The SUV has plenty of passing power and accelerates fine. But when compared to the Toyota RAV4's 269 hp. 3.5 liter V-6 or Subaru's 224 hp 2.5-turbo four cylinder, it feels heavy and somewhat lumbering.
The suspension is firm and bumps can yield rubbery kickback on broken pavement. On the highway things mellow a bit, but the ride is noticeably stiff. Handling feels confident, albeit the steering is slow.
I didn't have a chance to do any hard-core off-roading with the GV, but I did take it on a mild trail outside of Hood River, OR where I tried out the four-wheel low setting. Over some inclines, light mud, and rocky surfaces, the Grand Vitara felt very solid and secure, and was confidence inspiring.
The GV is rated at 17 city, 23 highway—towards the lower end of the spectrum for its class. My week with the Grand Vitara returned 20 MPG with 60% highway driving.
OVERALL: Low entry price, good capability, mixed feelings
Suzuki is known for packing in the value. My 2010 Grand Vitara Limited V-6 4WD stickered at $28,318 including destination—a fairly low price compared to equally equipped competitors. I couldn't help but love the SUV's appearance, especially with the great-looking 18” wheels/tires—I think it's the best-looking smaller SUV out there. I equally enjoyed the interior's good combo of luxury and practicality.
The true 4WD system is attractive to the small amount of people that may want to actually venture off the pavement, and the fact it is in 4WD all the time means it's on par with all of the other mid-size SUVs and crossovers out there. However, if you actually plan to take it off road, be weary of its low ground clearance (there are aftermarket lift kits available).
Although the GV doesn't have the best ride or power in its class, it is stable and confident, but there are more comfortable cruisers. But for the price of admission you get a lot of truck for the buck. And with the outstanding 7 year, 100,000 powertrain warranty, shoppers may want to take a look at the Grand Vitara on the sheer value aspect.