In this age of the ubiquitous crossover vehicle, it’s easy to forget about real SUVs. What if you want a reasonably-sized vehicle that can actually go off road occasionally and has real four-wheel drive? The Suzuki Grand Vitara can do it, while still offering the creature comforts buyers demand today.
I tested my Black Pearl Metallic Limited V6—the top level offering—between two luxury crossovers, so the differences really stood out. The Suzuki’s windshield is more upright and the interior feels more businesslike than the overtly stylish designs of the crossovers. That doesn’t mean that it drives like a truck, though. The artificial wood was attractive, the light and dark tan plastic panels and silvery accents were well finished and the inside felt open and airy.
From the outside, there’s no mistaking the Grand Vitara for anything other than an SUV. But at 177.2 inches long, with short overhangs, it is not too imposing or lumbering. Stylish touches, such as the rear pillar slicing down, defining the wrap-around taillamps, work nicely, and there’s a big spare tire on the rear door—which opens sideways, not up like a hatch.
My tester rolled on 18-inch alloy wheels, the largest standard rims, which gave it some extra road presence. They resided in typical SUV fender bulges, giving the car a purposeful look.
You can select from two engines—a new Suzuki-designed inline 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 3.2-liter V6 with more power than last year’s model. My car had the V6, and with 230 horsepower and 213 lb.-ft. of torque through a five-speed automatic, it moved the nearly two-ton car along easily at 70 mph. The five-speed automatic performed flawlessly and I didn’t hear the engine straining on sustained uphill grades.
The four-cylinder offers somewhat better fuel economy and makes the car a bit lighter. With 166 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, it comes with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. This car would make a great little workhorse up at the cabin, and, with Suzuki’s standard four-wheel independent suspension could be a reasonable in-town car, too.
The four earns EPA ratings of 19 City and 26 Highway; the six drops to 17/23. The V6’s official average is 19 mpg, and I got 18.9.
The EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide puts the Grand Vitara at 7 for Air Pollution for all models. The Greenhouse Gas numbers vary from 4 to 6. The 2-wheel-drive, manual-equipped four-cylinder makes it into the SmartWay category.
The Grand Vitara offers real four-wheel drive—in two flavors. The single mode is the more basic, but my tester had Suzuki’s 4-Mode Fulltime system. Leave it in 4H and it moves torque from front to rear automatically on the road. If you’re out in the dirt, you can lock the system in 4H or 4L (low). V6-equipped models also include Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control. You’ll appreciate this in the wilderness—or in San Francisco.
You can tow a Grand Vitara behind your RV without putting miles on the odometer or wear and tear on the transfer case by setting it to neutral. V6-equipped models can tow 3,000 pounds themselves.
The Grand Vitara comes in four levels, from Base to Premium to XSport to Limited. You can pick the four-cylinder or V6 engine and rear-wheel drive or four-wheel-drive. The manual five-speed comes only with the smaller engine.
Every Grand Vitara includes a navigation system, automatic climate control, a trip computer, remote keyless entry, tilt steering wheel, automatic on/off headlamps, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/XM Satellite Radio®-compatible audio system and power windows, mirrors and door locks.
The Premium level (four-cylinder models only) adds cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, privacy glass, a full-size spare tire cover, a cargo cover, hands-free calling, Bluetooth, and the option of an automatic transmission.
The XSport adds a power sunroof, keyless entry and start, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rack rails and fog lamps. V6 models get 17-inch alloy wheels and an upgraded audio system.
The Limited puts frosting on the cake, with heated leather seats, fancier interior trim, 18-inch alloy wheels and more.
Prices range from $18,894, including shipping, for the Base car with manual transmission, to $27,994 for the Limited with V6, four-wheel drive and all the trimmings.
For the standard navigation system, Suzuki placed a portable GPS system into a little pop-up door on the top of the dash. Sound runs through the car’s audio system. Programming is easy, although the long reach and tiny buttons require careful work. The bird’s eye view on the small screen works surprisingly well.
There’s a sense of authenticity to the Grand Vitara—handsome but not overstyled—honest, rugged… and that feels good.