2008 Suzuki Grand VitaraPosted on March 25th, 2008
Affordable off-road fun
By Nina Russin
Compact sport-utility vehicles are easy to find. Compact SUVs with full-time four-wheel drive are not. Finding one priced under $20,000 is even tougher, since the four-wheel drive mechanism adds several thousand dollars to the starting price.
Unlike its all-wheel drive competitors, the Suzuki Grand Vitara has a four-mode four-wheel drive system with a two-speed transfer case, so the driver can use extremely low gears to navigate uneven trails. It also has a neutral mode for flat towing behind a recreational vehicle.
Priced at $19,349, the Grand Vitara is a well-equipped five passenger vehicle with standard antilock brakes, side curtain airbags, electronic stability program and a full-sized spare. The 2.7-liter V6 engine paired up with a five-speed manual transmission has plenty of power to perform well in urban traffic or on the open road.
The Grand Vitara is light as sport-utility vehicles go, making for a favorable power-to-weight ratio and good fuel economy. The low-compression engine runs just fine on 87 octane gas, and the seventeen gallon tank gives the Grand Vitara plenty of range between fill-ups.
Towing capacity is 3000 pounds: not enough to meet our ALV minimum standards, but capable of pulling a small trailer. Roof rails are standard equipment on all trim levels.
The current models debuted in 2006 for the 2007 model year. This year, Suzuki adds a remote fuel door release, a new climate control head unit and better sound deadening materials to reduce noise intrusion to the interior. In addition to the base model I drove, there are two upscale grades: the XSport and Luxury starting at $22,349 and $23,749 respectively.
Robust body structure is also pedestrian friendly
The Grand Vitara is a anybody vehicle with integrated ladder frame, giving it enough torsional rigidity to handle the jostling it will take off road. The four-wheel drive model has just under eight inches of ground clearance. Short front and rear overhangs give the Grand Vitara ample approach and departure angles: the truck can climb and descend steep grades without hitting the bumpers.
The four-mode four-wheel drive system includes an all-wheel drive setting that powers the rear axle for better fuel economy on paved roads. It transfers power to the front wheels as necessary to maintain traction in wet weather.
There are two off-road settings that utilize high and low-range gears, depending on the difficulty of the trail. Both engage the locking center differential to optimize traction at all four wheels.
The neutral setting keeps mileage off the odometer if the owner flat tows the car behind a recreational vehicle. The full-sized spare is mounted on the tailgate where it’s easy to get to, and protected by a hard tire case.
If there’s an accident involving a pedestrian, the Grand Vitara’s hood will absorb some of the impact to protect against head injuries. The front end and bumper are also designed to reduce the risk of leg injuries.
The base model has most of the creature comforts buyers with active lifestyles look for. The test car is the Grand Vitara with no options. It comes with automatic climate control with filtration, an AM/FM/CD audio system that is pre-wired for XM, redundant steering wheel controls for cruise and audio functions, heated side mirrors, and plenty of cubbies around the passengers for storage. iPod owners can add an optional interface that displays playlists and songs on the instrument panel.
I found the manual seat adjustments to be adequate for maintaining a safe distance from the steering wheel, and adjusting the height so I could see well all the way around the car. A tilt steering wheel is standard.
There is enough hip and leg room for second row passengers to ride comfortably, though two will be more comfortable than three. Larger passengers may have a hard time getting into the back row, since the wheel arches intrude into the door openings.
Cupholders in the floor console and in back of the center console will hold large water bottles. All four doors have map pockets: the front doors also have molded bottle holders.
Both rows of passengers have overhead reading lamps.
There are two, twelve-volt power points up front, located to the right and left of the shift lever. The control knob for the four-mode four-wheel drive is at the base of the center stack. There is a button to disengage the electronic stability program during off-road driving, so the driver can spin the tires to break free of the occasional rut.
A bin in the center console will hold a stack of compact discs, a PDA or other small electronic devices. An overhead bin between the front reading lamps is holds a garage door opener or sunglasses. The glove box is big enough to hold a few items beyond the owner’s manual and registration papers.
Generous cargo area
I was able to fit a couple of large cartons in the cargo area with the second-row seats in place. There is also a small storage area behind the cargo floor. The tailgate is hinged to the side since the rear tire is mounted in back. As a smaller person, I liked the fact that I didn’t have to reach up to open or close the tailgate. The rear hatch is wide enough to make loading and unloading the back area easy.
The second-row seats fold forward to create a flat load floor. There are two release latches on either side of the second row seats. A lever on the top of the seatback folds it flat. A second fabric loop releases the seat bottom so it can fold forward. With the second-row seats folded out of the way, the Grand Vitara can easily hold a bicycle with the front wheel removed.
A viable car for urban commuters
Its small footprint makes the Grand Vitara a viable car for drivers who have to commute through urban traffic. The power rack-and-pinion steering makes the car easy to maneuver, and four-wheel independent suspension gives it a compliant ride. Despite the large D pillar, I found visibility around the car to be pretty good. A standard rear wiper keeps the glass clean in rainy or snowy weather.
The five-speed manual gearbox has a long-throw shifter which is typical of trucks. If I were to use the car on a daily basis, I would probably upgrade to the five-speed automatic transmission. The clutch isn’t particularly stiff, but it’s still a nuisance in thick traffic.
The standard front disc and rear drum brakes work fine in the dry weather of the southwest, but I’d prefer all-wheel discs were I living in an area with a lot of rain or snow. Drums tend to fill up with water in the rain. They don’t stop as evenly as discs, and when rust ridges build up inside the drums, they can be difficult to remove come time to replace the brake shoes.
Standard safety features on the Grand Vitara include front, side and side curtain airbags with rollover sensing, antilock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability program. All five seating positions are fitted with three-point seatbelts and headrests. As of 2008, all models come with a standard tire pressure monitoring system.
The Suzuki warranty is one of the best in the industry: it covers the car for seven years or up to 100,000 miles and is fully transferable. The Suzuki Grand Vitara is currently available for test drives at dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A versatile compact sport-utility vehicle with four-mode four-wheel drive, favorable fuel economy and a price within reach of many buyers. It’s small footprint makes the Grand Vitara a viable urban commuter, while the two-speed transfer case gives it true off-road capability.
Dislikes: Automatic transmission is an option on the base model. The rear wheel arches intrude into the rear door openings, making it harder for second-row passengers to enter and exit the car.
Model: Grand Vitara 4WD
Base price: $19,349
As tested: $21,019
Horsepower: 185 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Not available
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Comments: Base price does not include a $650 delivery charge.
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