Suzuki Grand Vitara car reviews


Suzuki Grand Vitara XSport

dodge caliber SRT-4 car reviews

Nice-enough SUV that can go off-road
Why we’d buy it
Quiet, inexpensive, good AWD system
Why we wouldn’t
Indecisive automatic, gas mileage
Mileage and credits
EPA mpg: 17/21; review by David Zatz

The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a pleasant, inexpensive SUV that doesn't stand out in any particular way, but does offer a nice value for those who don’t want what everyone else has. The front clip features Grand Cherokee headlight assemblies wth a Saturn-like grille, while the sides have an unusually mild sculpting.

The current Grand Vitara is based on a new unibody design introduced in 2007, allowing for lighter weight; at the same time, the XL-7’s 2.7 liter engine was adopted. That engine is a V6 with decent enough power (185 hp/184 lb-ft), a bit short on paper but not bad in normal driving; the engine gave us sprightly acceleration when the pedal was stomped, and provided enough torque for moderate hill climbing or using the air conditioner without having to think about it. (That puts the Grand Vitara ahead of the base-engine Hummer H3, at least.) Given the size of the Suzuki and the power of the engine, we expected good mileage, but we found that to be disappointing, even for a vehicle with full-time all-wheel drive (17/21, about 1 mpg better than the 210-hp/235 lb-ft Jeep Liberty 4x4 automatic).

The transmission had a tendency to busily shift around, immediately downshifting to pick up engine power whenever possible, but also feeling as though it was one upshift short when coasting. Overall, the transmission was too busy and active, seemingly without any hunting controls as it went up and down the gears without much driver input, but it did downshift readily and made up for some of the engine’s lack of optimization. On the whole, we ended up wishing for a manual transmission rather than the five-speed slushbox.

The drive controls were sensible, with a simple knob allowing us to quickly lock in four wheel drive mode in either high (normal) or low gear. In the default mode, the rear wheels are driven (for gas mileage and lower wear) until slippage is sensed, at which point four wheel drive is engaged. The tires seemed inadequate for a mild snow, calling the antilock brakes into play at less provocation than we'd have liked. On the lighter side, the Grand Vitara is actually offroad capable, with low-gear four wheel drive and skid plates in strategic locations. The independent suspension, front and rear, helps to deal with off-road issues like washboard surfaces, holes, and the like (it also handles potholes nicely); stability control comes in handy and is tuned properly for offroading. The suspension is high enough to deal with minor rocks and obstacles but water crossings are probably not a good idea.

On dry roads, cornering is good but not out of the ordinary; the ride is comfortable and the vehicle is quiet, not making noise over bumps or squealing excessively around turns, with a quiet interior and just a bit of wind noise on the highway. In short, everything is well within the normal bounds for a compact SUV. When the back seats are filled, the Grand Vitara can feel skittish or squirrely, a problem shared with some popular vehicles in the class, particularly the RAV4. Road noise is a bit higher for rear passengers but not unacceptable.

The dashboard is clear and visible, with the usual overly inflated top speed on the speedometer, and a standard tachometer, temperature gauge, and voltage gauge. The gauges are large and easy to read, despite the red backlighting, with the one major annoyance being the daytime running lights indicator. It is hard to think of something more pointless than a green light indicating that your daytime running lights are on, which they are whenever the car is running; especially when another light goes on to tell you that your headlights are on, too. (You may be thinking this feature was installed by GM, and maybe it was, but there won’t be a Chevrolet Tracker version of this Suzuki.) Much more sensible is the cruise control alert, with one light telling you that the system is active, another that a speed is actually locked in.

The SmartPass system is a bit inane, but some may like it, especially in winter. It's a keyless system, which normally would mean that you leave the key fob in your pocket, and unlock the doors by touching them; in this case, you have to open the doors from the remote, like you would with any other car, but you don't need to put a key into the ignition, though you can if you want to. Push the oddly shaped ignition switch in, turn, and the engine starts, with the key and fob right in your pocket, or, in summer, in the cupholder or wherever else you can stash it. After you leave, the doors are locked via buttons on the front doors or the fob. If the battery fails, the key can be taken from the fob and used normally.

Visibility is unusually good, with large expanses of glass, strong, well-focused headlights, fog lights placed low down, and nicely sized rear-view mirrors that fold in when needed. The sun visors could use some work; they do not extend, and are hard to pull out from their default stops. The wipers are effective, in both front and back.

The stereo was a bit below par for the class, though integration of MP3 discs was better than usual, and satellite radio capability is built in; the system has six speakers and a subwoofer, but the end result is, as with too many subwoofer-equipped, low-end audio systems, muddy. We did like the information display at the top of the center stack, which had the time, outside temperature, and gas mileage (average, instant, or distance-to-empty).

The Grand Vitara is the basis of the larger XL7, which seats seven; it has two rows of seats, comfortably seating four people (though legroom in the rear is constrained, it is still reasonably good, and the raised front seats allow for extra foot-room). The seats are larger than in the last model and the steering wheel easily tilts up high enough for tall people; but installing children in booster seats is a bit difficult because the space between the belt and receptacle is too tight (larger adults can have the same problem). Though the back seat is rated for three, the middle passenger won’t be happy.

Cargo space is moderately generous considering the size of the vehicle, and the rear seats fold forward easily enough. Our test vehicle had but one hold-down strap in the rear, not long enough to actually hold anything down.

Interior storage consisted of a small enclosed compartment next to the cupholders, map pockets in both front doors, a rather small cubby located too far back between the seats, and whatever space was available in the glove compartment, as well as the usual cargo area in back. The cargo door opened in just the right direction for a vehicle sold in left-hand-drive countries, or in what we in America call “the wrong way.” 

The standard automatic air conditioning looked good, with its unusual round display featuring the temperature in large letters, but to change the vents one had to keep pressing a button repeatedly while watching the display, a bad idea in a moving vehicle; and with the vents on heat, we were hit by a cold breeze seemingly coming from the dashboard vents. We also never understood why, with 20 degree temperatures (Farenheit; that's, um, cold in Celcius), the air conditioner was automatically activated. Fortunately, it was easy to override the system, and it let us change one thing while leaving others intact, so we could shut off the a/c and use just the heat vent while letting the system control the moderately quiet fan. Changing the temperature was easy to do by feel; and there was a defrost mode that could be activated or de-activated by pressing a single button.

Our XSport test car did not have any options, and was priced at $23,749. That included a huge number of features. For safety, there were side curtain and seat-mounted airbags, stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes with electronic distribution, rear window defroster and wiper, tire pressure monitoring, fog lights, a full-size spare, and a car alarm. For comfort, there was air conditioning, the power sunroof, power windows, locks, and mirrors, cruise control, tilt wheel, six-disc CD stereo with steering-wheel controls, automatic headlights, SmartPass, and the perennial favorite, floor mats. But that’s not where the standard features end; the engine has a timing chain, so that timing-belt replacement at 60,000 - 80,000 miles never happens, roadside assistance is included, there is a three year bumper to bumper warranty, and a 100,000 mile or seven year powertrain warranty. Suzuki has joined the new group of companies that have given up the fiction of the destination charge, so that’s included, along with a full tank of gas — and a courtesy car if the Grand Vitara has to spend time at the dealer. Those are some pretty good extras.

The base Grand Vitara comes with the same extras, but starts at $19,349 with a manual transmission and rear wheel drive; it has most of the same standard features as the XSport, minus some of the frills (sunroof, SmartPass, tonneau cover, six-speaker subwoofer stereo, big wheels, and full size spare); it's really the bargain of the bunch. The manual transmission makes better use of the engine power, but actually drops gas mileage down by 1 mpg in the city, whether rear or all wheel drive is used; so it’s 16/22 with manual and RWD, versus 17/22 with automatic and RWD (4x4 knocks 1 mpg off the highway estimates either way). That makes the Jeep Liberty actually more economical with the stick-shift.

The Grand Vitara has a strong array of standard features, an excellent warranty, and competent, comfortable on-road and off-road cornering and comfort. It is certainly worth a look if there’s a Suzuki dealer nearby and you were considering the RAV4, CRV, Escape, or Liberty.