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2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review - Long-Term Report

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on December 1, 2009
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Photographers: Greg Smith

We've always been big fans of Suzukis around here. From the Jimny to the Samurai, and down to the present day, we're continually impressed by their affordability, economy, and overall stoutness of build; for a line of budget SUVs, we've learned first-hand that they can stand a lot of abuse and still keep running. We were plenty impressed with the new-for-2009 Grand Vitara when we first tested it last January, so when the folks at Suzuki asked us if we'd like to give one a year-long shakedown, we gladly took them up on their offer.

Our silver-metallic Grand Vitara tester came to us equipped with the new-for-'09 Luxury package, which for $1,500 over sticker gets you front fog lamps, 18-inch alloy wheels and 60-series Dunlop Grandtrek radials, heated leather-trimmed seats, HomeLink wireless control, and seven-speaker audio system with speed-sensing volume control, in addition to the "Four-Mode" full-time four-wheel drive system with a 1.97:1 low-range gear.

Powering the newest Suzuki is an all-new 3.2L DOHC alloy V-6 rated at 230 horsepower at a peak 6,200 rpm and 213 lb-ft of torque at a decent 3,500 rpm. Our luxury tester came with the Aisin five-speed automatic transmission, which also gets you a pair of 5.13:1 axle gears (which comes with the Luxury V-6 model; a five-speed manual and 3.73:1s are standard). Suspension is four-wheel independent, with MacPherson struts up front and locating links in the rear.

The peppy DOHC 3.2L V-6 pulls surprisingly strong, even in the lower rpm band.

On the road, we really enjoy the Suzuki's compact size and commendable power-to-weight. The five-speed automatic betrays none of the jerkiness of the previous model's four-speed, and the V-6 pulls strongly through the powerband, even on long uphill stretches. Throttle tip-in can be a little abrupt, but is otherwise easily modulated at road speeds. Understeer is predictable in corners, and brake feel, while slightly grabby, is solid with minimal fade. Maneuverability in city traffic is awesome-there's very little rear overhang (save the rear-mounted spare tire) behind that 104-inch wheelbase, so backing into tight parking spaces is a snap. From the cockpit, visibility is very good fore and aft, though we're still not entirely sold on the Grand Vitara's instrumentation; the HVAC/stereo controls on the center stack still seem a bit of a clutter to us, though we're gradually getting accustomed the location of the switchgear.

Off the pavement, the Grand Vitara is great fun on desert dry washes and other loose and fairly level surfaces. The V-6 provides plenty of high-end power in low-range, and the traction control is fairly forgiving when drifting in high-speed chicanes. (Just be mindful of the whoops, though, for it's easy to stuff the tires in the 'wells.) On slower, more technical sections of trail, the 5.13:1s provide good granny gearing, and the ABS-actuated Descent Control does an admirable job of mimicking compression braking on steep downhills. On the other hand, the little 'ute's 71/2 inches of ground clearance and lack of skidplating anywhere make rockcrawling a discipline best left to the experts; if you've absolutely gotta hit the rough stuff in this rig, be sure to keep some spare fluids and a tube of JB Weld onboard, just in case. (And yes, we speak from experience.)

One big improvement the current Grand Vitara sports over the previous model that we really appreciate is a larger (17.4-gallon) fuel tank, which bumps up cruising range to nearly 300 miles on the highway. Interior storage space has been compromised somewhat with a taller rear deck height, but we're happy to make the trade-off if it keeps us out on the road for longer stretches of time between fill-ups. Mileage has been a bit underwhelming during the break-in period, though we've logged some recent 23mpg highway tanks-directly in accord with the Suzuki's 17/23 EPA ratings. We'd expect mileage to improve somewhat over the next 5,000 miles. We've experienced no mechanical issues to date, with no added expenses required save gasoline; our Suzuki is due for servicing soon, and we'll include those numbers in our next report.

The Grand Vitara's center stack is still a bit of a jumble for us, but all controls are within easy reach.

Long story short, we're still big Suzuki fans around here. The Grand Vitara is not a hardcore mountain goat, but it's a great little runabout for that weekend fishing or camping trip, and an affordable everyday conveyance for commuters. It's been a perennial Best Buy candidate in the compact SUV class for years, and while the newest model is a bit more expensive, it's a lot more refined-and still a lot of truck for the buck.

Report: 1 of 4
Previous reports: None
Base price: $23,699
Price as tested: $25,199
Four-wheel-drive system: Electronic full-time two-speed transfer case

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 6,230
Miles since last report: First report
Average mpg (this report): 17.68
Test best tank (mpg): 23.07
Test worst tank (mpg): 16.56

This period: None
Problem areas: None

What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Zippy acceleration, smooth drivetrain, 5.13:1 axle gears, Hill Descent Control
Not: Low ground clearance, no skidplate package, confusing switchgear layout

Logbook Quotes
* " V-6 seems to have plenty of power, even uphill"
* "Throttle's a little sensitive at slow speeds"
* "Nice-looking, functional interior"
* "Suspension a little on the harsh side on uneven pavement"
* "My kingdom for a skidplate!"

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