Suzuki's newest compact defines value in the entry-level SUV segment
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.