We just returned from a couple of days in the West Texas hill country near San Antone, where we wheeled Suzuki's newest incarnation of the Grand Vitara, as well as its new Equator pickup. Long story short: one behaved on the trail exactly as we expected, while the other was a pleasant surprise.
2009 SUZUKI GRAND VITARA
First, the surprise: The 2009 Grand Vitara. The GV returns for 2009 with an all-new V-6, a 230hp 3.2L 24 valve aluminum block which is both more fuel-efficient and emissions-friendly than the previous-gen 2.7L Six it replaces. A 2.4L four-cylinder is also available, as are either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Suspension is independent at both ends, and four-wheel drive comes in the form of an electronic single-mode or "Four Mode" system that offers 4-Hi, 4-Lo, and 4-Lo Lock settings. (No, there's no rear locker, but "lock" engages the ABS/traction control to provide traction front to rear, and side to side, in roughly even torque splits in low-range. We wheeled the new GV over some rocky trails in the hardscrabble hill country, including some fairly technical stretches of grille-deep water crossings, rocky wash-outs, and steep hill climbs of loose dirt, and it handled pretty much everything we could throw at it. The only limiting factor, as in the past, is ground clearance (8 inches claimed), and the Vitara's unprotected underbelly (no skidplating package---yet) is a tempting target for hungry rocks. On the plus, side, the GV now comes with Hill Hold and Descent Control, which provides added compression on downhills, and the rig's Yokohama Geolandar tires have always been a staff favorite for their combination of good road feel and grabby, square-shouldered trail prowess.
2009 SUZUKI EQUATOR
We also test-drove the new Suzuki Equator pickup---and if you've spent any time in a Nissan Frontier lately, you know in advance what a capable truck it is. While the Equator does sport some Suzuki-unique styling cues----to the grille, interior componentry, side airbags, and a cool detachable pop-up-from-the-dash Nav system that you can carry with you---most of its mechanicals and underpinnings are shared with the Frontier: 260hp 4.0L V-6, five-speed automatic trans, two-speed transfer case, and an off-road package ("RMZ-4," in Suzuki-speak) that gives you the same full skidplating, BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires, Bilstein shocks, and (yee-hee!) rear locker that you get with the Nissan Pro-4x package. We piloted the Equator through the same off-road course we took the Grand Vitara through, and it wasn't even challenged---not surprising, given that the Frontier is arguably the most capable pound-for-pound midsize pickup truck on the market these days. The timing may not be optimal to launch a new truck in the US market, but Suzuki has chosen wisely and well in its partnership with Nissan. We'll have both a Grand Vitara and an Equator in our 2009 Four Wheeler and Pickup Truck of the Year tests, which we'll feature in the February and March 2009 issues, respectively. Stay tuned.