The current JB Series Grand Vitara came fresh of the boat in Australia back in September 2005 and signaled a change for the Japanese brand’s compact SUV with a move to a modern monocoque chassis with fully independent suspension. Previous Grand Vitara’s got by with an old-school separate chassis and a live rear axle. As compact SUV’s have had to become multi-talented, easy to drive on the road day to day yet still able to handle the dreamt about off the beaten track holiday, the change was necessary for Suzuki to keep the Grand Vitara on buyers shopping lists. It appears to have worked as the current shape Grand Vitara is twice as popular with Australians compared to the previous model.
However three years is a long time even in the car world so Suzuki have recently updated the compact SUV with a mid lifecycle facelift. Look past the new headlight lenses as the big news with the update is under the bonnet. Gone are the previous petrol models, the 2.0L 4 cylinder petrol engine has been replaced with an all new 2.4L 4 cylinder that we’re testing in luxury ‘Prestige’ trim. The power and torque figures have jumped from the 103 kW and 183 Nm to a more meaty 122 kW and 225 Nm.
For those craving more, V6 lovers can smile with the 135 kW and 250 Nm 2.7L making way for a new 165 kW and 285 Nm 3.2L. Like the outgoing models the 4 cylinder continues with a 4 speed auto and the V6 with a 5 speed auto. The sole DDiS turbo Diesel variant that launched in February 2008 continues with a 5 speed manual.
Design and Engineering
The Grand Vitara can rightfully claim to be a true off-roader unlike the majority of compact SUV’s. Switch from variable 4WD to constant 4WD and then to low range 4WD lock for when the off-road track turns malicious. However with optional 18” alloy wheels with relatively low profile tyres the updated Grand Vitara aims to be competitive on road as well.
As with any well designed SUV the inside of the Grand Vitara has an abundance of incoming natural light with its deep windows and commanding front seating position compared to the traditional sedan. Furthermore the rear seats are set higher than those in the front so everyone gets a good view out. Headroom and legroom upfront is ample, however in the rear due to the sunroof, which comes standard on the premium grade, headroom space is at a premium. The extra large exterior side mirrors are a necessity as the spare wheel is mounted on the rear tail gate, reducing the view rearwards when using the rear view mirror.
The front seats are firm yet are still comfortable on long trips with sufficient lateral support. The leather covered steering wheel is adjustable for height only yet it is easy to get a comfortable driving position. The modern looking dials are clear and easy to read with the 2009 model year update seeing the LCD trip computer that displays average fuel economy and the outside temperature.
Fit and Finish is of a high quality with a splashing of aluminium look trim lifting the ambience of the dark and smart leather interior. We’re not sure of the unusual ‘stone’ finish in place of the usual wood grain, however this is purely subjective.
The infotainment system is fully integrated and the climate control system has been updated with an unusual central circle LCD display. The 6 stacker in dash CD player comes with MP3 support. We’ve driven a lot of cars in our time and have never seen such a large ESP OFF button as the one in the Grand Vitara’s centre console.
The centre storage bin between the front seats is nice and deep but a bit short in length. Up front are the usual twin cup holders sitting at the base of the centre console.
Moving rearwards the second row bench seat has three adjustable headrests and has a 60/40 split fold. The rear seats don’t fold fully flat however many compact SUV’s don’t have this valuable feature yet. The bench seat does however feature a reclining backrest for those times when the kiddies or grandparents want a snooze.
The rear cargo compartment is of a decent size and there is a small under floor compartment to place small items that you don’t wish to be visible from prying eyes looking in. The rear cargo door opens sideways with the assistance of a gas strut, the spare wheel located on the outside of the door adds significant weight resulting in difficulty opening the rear if the vehicle is parked on an angle.
The new petrol 2.4L engine upgrade has improved acceleration, with the 0-100 km/h sprint now taking 11.7 seconds, down from 12.5. On the road the Grand Vitara feels adequately powered compared to competing compact SUVs, however the performance is nothing to write home about if you compare it to a similar sized passenger car.
The auto transmission is only a four speed and whilst we had no complaints with it, the 5 speed auto which is standard in the V6 model would slightly improve in gear acceleration and of course fuel economy. Interior engine noise is relatively quiet at cruising speeds with only the usual thrum from the tyres and the wind hitting the large exterior mirrors at speed. The brake pedal has a slightly delayed feel, a trait which is also common to many competitors in this segment.
Ride and Handling
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is an easy vehicle to drive, by no means is it an agricultural 4x4. The ride is firm yet still comfortable, and when the going gets rough off-road the term firm becomes even more appropriate.
If you happen to enter a corner with too much speed you are reminded all too quickly that this isn’t a low riding passenger car. The high ride necessary to head off-road, soft long travel suspension and a kerb weight of 1640kg results in excessive body roll.
Compared to traditional old school 4x4’s with a separate chassis the handling is very good, it’s just that the Grand Vitara also competes in a class, compact SUV, that includes crossovers such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and the upcoming Ford Kuga, which behave far better on road as they are based of their respective passenger cars, the VW Golf and Ford Focus. However head off road and the advantage swings back in favour of the Grand Vitara.
Off the beaten track the combination of 200mm of ground clearance and the easy access of the dual-range 4WD transmission with the 4-mode switch in the centre console means that 4WD lock and low range is only a twist of the knob away. Whilst the optional 18” alloys look very smart, the standard 17” wheels are a smarter choice if you’re thinking of ever heading off road, which surely you would in this SUV.
Buying and owning
The 5-door Prestige variant on test comes complete with leather trim, sunroof, mirror-mounted side indicators, ESP, six SRS airbags, cruise-control, premium 7-speaker (plus subwoofer) sound system and 17-inch alloy wheels.
It ticks the boxes on the safety front with the acronyms ABS, EBD, BAS, standard alongside stability control and traction control.
At $36,990 the Grand Vitara 2.4L Prestige is well equipped and offers good value for money compared to similar priced compact SUVs. The combined fuel consumption of 9.9L per 100km is about right for an SUV of this size and weight, with our time behind the wheel seeing an average of 10.4L per 100km.
If you plan on heading off the main roads, the Grand Vitara is a smart choice as it will probably take you further than its competing compact soft roaders. However, if you’re a city slicker bear in mind there are other choices that are better suited to on-road driving. However for a combination of both on and true off-road ability the Grand Vitara is impressive and gets the nod of approval from us.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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