When we first tested Suzuki's all-new Grand Vitara in our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year competition (Feb. '06), we were impressed by its versatility and value-not to mention its stoutness of build; despite a brutish encounter with the back end of a Hummer H3 (that bashed in its radiator and trashed its front clip), the Suzuki, unperturbed, motored 100 miles back to our base camp under its own power after the incident. "What a tough little truck," one tester wrote. So, when Suzuki offered us a long-term unit for additional testing, we gratefully accepted.
We've now logged more than 6,000 miles on our test unit, and while we'll gladly acknowledge the vehicle's limitations on certain types of terrain, we're still impressed with its on-road ride and handling, off-pavement fun factor, and overall budget-friendliness-so much so, we recently named it one of our "10 Best Buys in Four-Wheel Drive" (Sept. '06).
Our tester, sporting 120 on the odo and Shining Red Pearl on the sheetmetal, arrived at our offices with the XSport package, which includes roof rails and running boards (since removed), six-disc CD changer, heated mirrors, and keyless entry/start. Underhood is a standard 2.7L 185hp V-6 engine mated to an Aisin five-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive on our tester is an electronic full-time system, with 1.97:1 low-range gearing. Suspension is independent at both 'ends-the front utilizing MacPherson struts and coil springs, the rear a multilink setup and coils.
On the pavement, the Grand Vitara has become a staff favorite for around-town errand-running and daily commutes. Its 104-inch wheelbase, nose-heavy stance, and rack-and-pinion steering combine to lend it a decidedly front-drivey road feel, though some testers felt that the coil rates and/or shock valving could be a little stiffer for improved stability at higher speeds. The five-speed and V-6 are fairly well mated, though the tranny can sometimes be too quick to drop a gear (and too slow to upshift) on long grades. The GV's upward-swooping rear body panels, combined with thickish C- and D-pillars, inhibit rear visibility somewhat, though front and side views are excellent. Overall, words such as "sporty," "tossable," and "pretty darn fun" have filled testers' logbooks when describing the GV's road manners. Mileage during break-in has been a decent 18.38 mpg-reasonably in line with its EPA 19/23 rating-though its smallish 17-gallon fuel tank dictates more frequent trips to the gas pump than we'd like.
Wheeling the Grand Vitara has been a mixed bag. On the plus side, we've flogged it over plenty of dirt trails, desert washes, and sand dunes, and with its light weight, nimble turning radius and free-revving engine, the Suzuki performs like a champ-just punch low-range Third gear, rev her close to redline, and have a rally-car blast all day. (Best to have a strap and a shovel along anyway-while the Suzuki's traction control system is quite responsive on loose surfaces, the diffs, alas, remain open.)
That said, the GV is not quite up to more severe trail duty, which we observed first-hand on its maiden run at our recent Death Valley trek. The same ride and handling manners it exhibits on pavement made it fun to wheel, and easy to drift, in the rocky sluices of Echo Canyon. But with fewer than 8 inches of ground clearance, no standard skidplating (an optional 'plate is available from Suzuki, which we'll install at our first dealer service), and grabby Yoko Geolandars flinging rocks and pebbles throughout our undercarriage, by trail's end we'd managed to punch a neat little hole in our oilpan, retiring the GV from the remainder of our trip. Though the real moral of this story is "Don't drive so fast next time, boss," we'd caution against piloting this low-slung rig over the rocky stuff-at least not aggressively.
Rock bashing aside, we'll heap praises upon the Grand Vitara for its high degree of user-friendliness and its commendable fit and finish. Suzuki has raised the quality bar with each new generation of this platform, and the latest GV is no exception. An added bonus, to our minds, is its bang-for-the-buck price structure. Suzuki only offers three option packages for the GV, and for a base of only $20,399, you pretty much get the works: A/C, power everything, remote entry, 12V powerpoints, Brubaker-endorsed XM-ready stereo, and 7-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Everything and the kitchen sink, in other words. We'll keep logging the street and trail miles, and we'll return in a few months with another update.
Report: 1 of 4
Previous reports: None
Base price: $20,399
Price as tested: $22,699
Four-wheel-drive system: Electronic full-time two-speed transfer case
Miles to date: 6,164
Miles since last report: First report
Average mpg (this report): 18.38
Test Best tank (mpg): 22.16
Test Worst tank (mpg): 16.53
This period: None
Problem areas: Loose fuel filler door latch
What's Hot,What's Not
Hot: Everything and the kitchen sink for one low price; interior finish and trim; highly maneuverable in traffic and on tight trails; great sand machine.
Not: Lack of skidplating, low ground clearance inhibit hard-core 'wheelability; small fuel tank limits cruising range.
* "Handles off-pavement like a front-drive rally car; fun to drift in corners!"
* "Small size, light weight, good traction control, just enough suspension travel make this pretty darn fun on moderate trails."
* "This thing needs a bigger gas tank!"
* "Tires like to pick up pebbles, then eject them on the street."
* "Auto climate control works well in various temps."
* "Overall, a pretty fun vehicle to drive."