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2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara XSport - Review and Test Drive

8,500 miles in our slightly bruised-but-not-yet-abused GV

When we last reviewed our long-term Grand Vitara (Oct. '06), we were nursing it back to health after an off-pavement flog that saw its poor (unskidplated) oilpan punched following a rocky canyon run near Death Valley, California. Since then, we've learned to respect the little 'ute's limitations, and enjoy its many virtues, as a versatile everyday driver and fun desert runner-just keep her out of the rocks. Here's an 8,500-mile rundown:

What we've liked: The Suzuki's standard 2.7L 185hp V-6 engine, working in tandem with the Aisin five-speed automatic transmission, delivers tire-chirping acceleration off idle. And while it starts to run out of ponies above 4,000 rpm, and the transmission tends to hunt for the right gear on long grades, overall it's a terrific little powertrain, the strongest ever offered (to the seats of our pants) in a Suzuki SUV.

The GV's independent suspension has been a subject of contention. A couple of staffers feel that the Suzuki is "kinda soft," and doesn't ride or handle as acutely as it should-at least on pavement at higher speeds. We'd beg to differ-to us, the suspension's got just the right amount of stiffness up front to handle highway cornering speeds, and just enough suppleness to soak up desert washboard. It wouldn't take much extra-some skidplating, a rear locker, some bumpers and lights-to turn the Grand Vitara into a nifty little prerunner.

Another thing we really like-a lot-are the GV's super-grippy Yokohama Geolandar radials. We usually associate these all-terrain treads with higher-end vehicles, and it speaks volumes that Suzuki didn't cut corners (or costs) when it came to picking its OE rubber. One tester thought the tires excessively "squeaky" in corners, but we'll happily trade some tread life for the benefit of superb traction. Mercedes uses them on G-Wagens-need we say more?

Finally, our GV has been inexpensive to maintain. Mileage continues to be unimpressive for a compact, but we've only needed to shell out some 90 bucks in maintenance costs for the first 8,000 miles. Our one problem area-a reluctant latch on the fuel filler door-was fixed at no charge at our last dealer service.

What we haven't liked: As we learned first-hand, the Grand Vitara is challenged on tough or rocky trails. Low-range gearing is only 1.97:1, and while the traction control system is first-rate, the lack of lockers or limited-slips, combined with low-low ground clearance, prevents the Suzuki from serious trail chores. The large interior B- and C-pillars inhibit rear visibility. We'd also love to see Suzuki figure out a way to fit a bigger fuel tank between the 'rails of future models to increase cruising range.

In all, though, the GV has remained in high demand hereabouts as a daily driver and weekend play toy.

REPORT: 2 of 4
Previous report: Oct. '06
Base price: $20,399
Price as tested: $22,699
Four-wheel-drive system:
Four-wheel-drive system: Electronic full-time two-speed transfer case

Miles to date: 8,507
Miles since last report: 2,343
Average mpg (this report): 17.87
Test best tank (mpg): 22.16
Test worst tank (mpg): 16.06

7,500-mile service: Oil change, tire rotation
Cost: $91.31
Problem areas: Fuel filler door

HOT: On-road fun factor; well-mated engine/transmission; quiet interior; loves to play on washboard
NOT: Low ground clearance; no locking diffs; rear visibility could be better; un-Suzuki-like mileage

* "Tires squeal easily when pushed through curves."
* "Good traction control, and just enough suspension travel."
* "Somebody tell Holman, life is sooooo much easier with an automatic."
* "Would be nice if it could get 50 more miles per tankful."
* "Interior color and styling much better than in previous models."
* "Overall, an enjoyable ride-positive comments from family and friends."