It's been nearly a year since we took possession of our '09 Grand Vitara, and its life with us has been anything but routine. We've driven it across desert dry washes, on old Mojave mining roads, and in Sierra snowbanks. We've used it to commute, to vacation, to work, and to wheel. It's been busy nearly every weekend as a family hauler and getaway machine.
The 230hp 3.2L V-6 still continues to run strong, and while the five-speed automatic can be a bit loud-and a tad slow at times to drop a gear on inclines-powertrain performance overall continues to impress us. The four-wheel independent suspension makes the Grand Vitara a blast to drive on canyon twisties, though its low ground clearance and limited suspension travel make it susceptible to bottoming out at too-fun speeds in the dirt. Skidplating, please? (On the subject, we'd love to see Suzuki offer some kind of limited-production version of the Grand Vitara like the ARB/Old Man Emu-prepped model we spied at Overland Expo last month. Think "Zuki Raptor," and you'll get our drift.)
We've even gradually gotten more comfortable with the few features we're not the fondest of, such as the toggle-through vehicle info menu on the instrument panel (which our art director figured out how to re-program from French into English, after editors failed dismally) and the jumble of stereo and HVAC controls on the Vitara's small and cluttered center stack.
As it comes closer to ending its working life with us, the Grand Vitara has seen use primarily as a highway commuter, and as a result, our mileage has continued to improve. We finally cracked the 20mpg barrier during the recent test period, with a test-best 26mpg Interstate drive through the San Joaquin Valley, which puts our overall mpg just about smack in the middle of the Grand Vitara's 24/18 EPA mileage rating. We'd still love to see if Suzuki engineers can figure out a way to fit a slightly bigger fuel tank into the next version, though we're obviously stopping for fuel less often as mileage has improved.
Reliability has been outstanding with our tester, too; with the exception of a few minor squeaks and rattles that mostly occur over rough road surfaces (worn bushings? a bit of shock fade?), our time with the GV has been a hassle-free experience. There have been no NHTSA recalls issued for this rig to date, and only five minor Suzuki tech service bulletins, so we'd have to conclude that Suzuki got it right the first time for the latest incarnation of this vehicle, and its overall build integrity would seems to be very good. We'll be back in a couple of months with a final wrap-up.
Report: 3 of 4
- Previous reports: Dec. '09, July '10
- Base price: $23,699
- Price as tested: $25,199
Four-wheel-drive system: Electronic full-time, two-speed transfer case
- Miles to date: 13,012
- Miles since last report: 3,237
- Average mpg (this report): 20.39
- Test best tank (mpg): 26.13
- Test worst tank (mpg): 16.56
- This period: None
- Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Decent mileage, reliability, good tires, a lot of truck for the buck
Not: Cluttered center stack, needs skidplating, not many interior storage compartments
- "Good tires can compensate for a lot of other deficiencies"
- "Nothin' fancy about these seats, but surprisingly comfortable for long drives"
- "Hill Descent works bitchin', but still needs a limited-slip in back"
- "Lots of fun driving the two-lane twisties from Hollister to Coalinga"