Suzuki believes that the compact SUV is now a destination for consumers, and no longer simply a stopover on the way to the land of the super-ute. With the $4 per gallon gas shocks of mid-2008 and sales of large SUVs down, you’d be hard-pressed to argue with them. But unlike the traditionally rugged, large SUVs, most small utes and crossovers are built on car chassis and thus, have tendency to falter on rougher surfaces. But that’s not the case with the 2009 Grand Vitara – it’s a proper SUV in every sense, albeit in a smaller package. With its rear-wheel drive setup and optional high/low four-wheel drive system, it laughs at gravel trails and taunts you to push its limits over rocky terrain. Inside, the Grand Vitara has been improved in nearly every way too; gone are the wonky interior plastics and unflattering design, in are electroluminescent gauges and an ergonomically agreeable cabin. Couple this with an all-new four-cylinder engine and an optional V-6 with more power and improved efficiency, and the Grand Vitara is finally poised to give the competition a run for its money.
What's to Like
The four-cylinder strikes a good balance between fuel economy and power, making the V-6 seem almost unnecessary. The Grand Vitara has a solid chassis with a rear-wheel drive setup for more rugged performance. Suzuki’s seven-year/100,000-mile warranty grants owners peace of mind when it comes to their automotive purchase.
What's Not to Like
The automatic transmission available with the four-cylinder only has four speeds, and another gear would be a welcome addition. Design elements leave something to be desired when compared to some of the more stylish competition.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Though it’s rear-drive layout sets it apart from much of the front-wheel drive, road-biased competition, the Grand Vitara drives like most of the other vehicles in its segment. It’s just as happy cruising on the highway as a CR-V
thanks to its four-wheel independent suspension, but when you come across a dirt trail you can flip it into four-wheel H and continue on your way without issue. The steering weights up well as more lock is applied, and shifting is predictable and smooth, Unless you’re looking to do some serious torque-laden off road driving or towing, it’s hard to argue against the four-cylinder engine, which provides up to 26 mpg and doesn’t feel weedy until you rev it to the very top of its range. However, should towing your weekend toys be a concern, the V-6 model has the ability to tow up to 3,000 lbs.
Engine and Drivetrain
For 2009, the Grand Vitara gets two new engines, the base car receiving a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 166 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. A 3.2-liter V-6 replaces last year’s lackluster 2.7-liter engine, producing 230 horsepower and 213 lb-ft of torque. Both engines put power down via rear-wheel drive, single-mode all-wheel drive or a seriously robust four-mode all-wheel drive system.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
Own an RV but want to bring a car along? Suzuki has equipped the four-mode all-wheel drive Grand Vitara with a transfer case neutral switch so that it can be towed. The XSport model adds some conveniences to the mix, with keyless entry and a six-disc CD changer coming standard. If you’re looking for a more comfortable environment, the top of the line Luxury model adds leather seats, heated front seats and an eight-speaker audio system to the mix.
Key Technology Evaluation
Plenty of off-road appeal has been injected into the Grand Vitara, as is evidenced by the addition of Hill Descent Control. This technology, previously unavailable in this price range, keeps the vehicle under control by applying the brakes on steep descents. Keeping your foot off the brake is somewhat disconcerting the first time you use the system, but it works well. Uphill assistance is provided by Hill Hold Control, which holds the brake on steep slopes to prevent the car from rolling backwards when starting from a standstill.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Obviously the four-cylinder engine has the most economic appeal, and Suzuki is well aware. They plan on selling 70-75 percent of Grand Vitaras in four-cylinder guise, which manages to return 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. While the V-6 engine has grown to 3.2-liters, it’s actually more efficient than the outgoing V-6 engine, returning an improvement of one mpg at 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. On top of that, emissions are 20 percent lower than the outgoing LEV-II V-6 engine.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The interior upgrades to the Grand Vitara are immediately apparent, and everything from the plastics to the electroluminescent gauges has a higher quality look and feel to it. Folding 60/40 rear seats provide optional cargo room of up to 68.9 cubic feet. All of the controls are intuitively designed, and while the giant, round ESP and Hill Descent buttons stand out as an odd choice, but you’ll certainly never forget where they're placed.
The Grand Vitara doesn’t exactly shout “look at me,” but then again, few vehicles in this segment do. It’s very much an evolution of the outgoing Grand Vitara
, with an angular front-end and flat-sided body that conspire to disguise the four-wheel drive model’s nearly eight-inch ground clearance. Wheels of up to 18-inches are available with various trim packages.
Market Segment and Pricing
With the recent downturn in large truck and SUV sales, the compact SUV market has become somewhat of a minor warzone. Pricing for the Grand Vitara has not yet been finalized, but expect to see it start right around the current model’s $19,499 price point. This puts the Grand Vitara in competition with the $19,995 Subaru Forester
, $20,100 Ford Escape
, $21,500 Toyota RAV4, $21,095 Honda CR-V and $22,215 Jeep Liberty Sport
What We Think
A lot of compact SUVs come across as overly soft – good for running errands around town but flawed when the road turns from asphalt to dirt, gravel or rock. But one drive in the rough stuff will prove that the Grand Vitara is different. It tackles any obstacles in its way with relative ease, only feeling limited by its ground clearance. Best of all, thanks to an improved interior it’s just as good at the around town stuff as the competition.