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  • 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    Affordable off-road fun
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    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.

    2008 upgrades

    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.

    Versatile interior

    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

    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.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Suzuki
    Model: Grand Vitara 4WD
    Year: 2008
    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
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: No
    Comments: Base price does not include a $650 delivery charge.

  • 2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport

    Super value sport compact car
    By Nina Russin

    Suzuki SX4 Sport

    Suzuki SX4 Sport

    Sustainable cars come in small packages. The Suzuki SX4 Sport, based on the Suzuki Swift, is a compact car that costs under $15,000 for the base grade, and averages 28 miles-per-gallon. It isn’t especially luxurious: all grades come with cloth trim, a two-liter four-cylinder engine, and choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

    But standard equipment includes almost everything the first-time buyer needs: antilock brakes, side and side curtain airbags, air conditioning, power windows, locks and heated side mirrors, cruise control, and a MP3 compatible audio system.

    The upscale touring package adds standard electronic stability control, an upgraded 6-CD audio system and keyless start. iPod and Bluetooth connectivity are dealer-installed options, adding hands-free cell phone operation, and the ability to control iPod playlists through steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

    The SX4 doesn’t pollute much because it doesn’t burn much gas. It meets LEV2 BIN5 standards. And since it runs just fine on 87 octane fuel, it doesn’t burn too much cash at the gas pump. Suzuki’s standard 7-year 100,000 mile warranty is fully transferable, boosting the car’s resale appeal.

    Best of all, the SX4 Sport is fun to drive. Suzuki’s talent is in infusing its small cars with the nimble, spirited performance of its motorcycles. Engineers kept the SX4’s curb weight light, and made seventeen inch wheels standard, so it stays flat in the turns. With a wheelbase just over 98 inches, it’s nothing to park. Move a Hummer out of the way, and you can park two SX4 Sports in the same spot.

    A hundred miles on a quarter tank of gas

    A fuel meter in the SX4’s instrument panel displays real-time fuel economy numbers. Even on cold mornings, the engine heats up to operating temperature in about two minutes. After that, it’s not unusual for the car to average about thirty miles-per-gallon while cruising on city streets.

    While it doesn’t have the acceleration of a sports car, there’s enough power in the twenty-to- fifty range to make merging into highway traffic a non-issue. The four-speed automatic transmission hunts more than a five speed would, and there is some shift shock. The gate shifter on the center console makes it easier to change gears without taking one’s eyes off the road.

    Steering response is better than average at all speeds. One advantage of driving a smaller car is the ability to maneuver through traffic. The SX4 does it well, with good visibility to the sides and rear, and a suspension tuned for harder driving.

    I found the triangular windows in front annoying: they obstruct visibility, to the sides, and seem to serve no practical purpose. Perhaps they were a cost cutting measure in the manufacturing. Heated side mirrors included in the convenience package are handy on cold mornings: they clear the frost off the surfaces quickly. Intermittent wipers and a rear window defroster are standard equipment on all models.

    The SX4 Sport sits slightly lower than the Crossover, so it has a lower center of gravity. That in combination with the seventeen-inch wheels and low profile tires keeps the chassis flat. Electronic stability program is available as part of the touring option package: it uses braking and traction control to keep the front-wheel drive car from pushing in the corners, or skidding on slippery roads.

    Versatile interior

    I was surprised by how much head and shoulder room second-row passengers have in this relatively small car. Legroom is adequate if the front passengers are willing to move their seats forward. The standard cloth upholstery is attractive and practical. The driver’s seat has good lower lumbar support. A tilt steering wheel allows shorter drivers to maintain clear forward visibility.

    The gauges are well laid out and easy to read, with red backlighting at night. The standard audio system includes an AM/FM radio, CD player and MP3 plug-in. All models are pre-wired for XM satellite radio. The touring package includes an upgraded 360-watt, nine-speaker audio system. Steering wheel mounted audio controls come with the convenience package.

    All four doors have molded in bottle holders. There are two cupholders in front and one in the rear: all large enough to hold water bottles. One thing missing from the center console is a storage bin. There are a couple of small shelves in the center stack for stashing CDs and small electronic devices. The glovebox is large enough to hold the owner’s manual and some documents, but not much else. There are map pockets in the front doors.

    A twelve-volt power point in the center stack is handy for recharging cell phones.

    Spacious trunk

    The SX4 Sport’s trunk is surprisingly large and deep for a compact car. It isn’t big enough for a bicycle, but I was able to load large cartons inside with ease. Those who plan to carry bicycles regularly might be better served by the Crossover model.

    Standard safety

    Antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags are standard on all models. Front seatbelts with pretensioners are adjustable for drivers and passengers of different heights. There are three-point belts in three rear seating positions, but the car is too narrow for more than two to ride in the back seat comfortably.

    All Suzuki cars come with a great warranty: good for seven years or 100,000 miles and fully transferable. The warranty includes free roadside assistance cars and free loaner cars when the vehicle is being repaired.

    The pint-sized SX4 is on display at Suzuki dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: The SX4 offers value-conscious shoppers a lot for the money, with a high level of standard safety, comfort and convenience features. The two-liter four cylinder engine has plenty of power and low-end torque for average city driving: a sport-tuned suspension and standard seventeen-inch wheels provide good steering feedback at all speeds. Fuel economy is excellent, averaging about 28 miles-per-gallon for combined city and highway driving.

    Dislikes: The triangular front window obstructs visibility to the front of the car, especially when cornering.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Suzuki
    Model: SX4 Sport FWD
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $14,770
    As tested: $16,370
    Horsepower: 143 Hp @ 5800 rpm
    Torque: 136 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: Not available
    Comments: Base price does not include a $625 destination/handling charge.

  • 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara X-Sport

    Suzuki’s flagship sport-utility vehicle combines great value and fuel economy.

    By Nina Russin

    2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    Rising fuel prices are good news for Suzuki: a manufacturer known for small, peppy vehicles that get great gas mileage. Last fall, Suzuki unveiled the new Grand Vitara compact sport-utility vehicle,  with a new six cylinder engine, five-speed automatic transmission and available four-wheel drive.

    This year, a new X-Sport package offers buyers many of the comfort and convenience features included in the luxury model at a friendlier price. It includes automatic transmission, a six-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 interface, XM satellite radio, keyless entry and start, power windows, doorlocks and heated side mirrors, roof rails, and privacy glass.

    The X-Sport lacks the leather seats, wood trim, sunroof and 17-inch wheels on the fully loaded model, but for $2000 less, that’s a sacrifice many buyers should be willing to make.


    The test car was the X-Sport model with five-passenger seating and four-wheel drive. The new 2.7-liter engine produces 185 horsepower and almost as much torque, making it ideal for merging into highway traffic and doing the quick lane-shifts often required in urban traffic.

    The five-speed automatic transmission comes with a gated shifter that allows the driver to downshift into two lower gears. It is buttery smooth and downshifts nicely to produce power when needed.

    It also enhances the engine’s fuel economy: the four-wheel drive version averages 19 miles-per-gallon around town and 23 on the highway. Steering is responsive at all speeds, and the fully-independent suspension provides a compliant ride.

    The available four-wheel drive system with a two-speed transfer case is capable of true off-road driving, which we tested last year in the mountains outside of Vancouver, Canada. However unlike some compact SUVs, the Grand Vitara feels solid at speed, with the ride and handling of a passenger car.

    Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability program, front, side and side curtain airbags.
    Redundant stereo and cruise controls on the steering wheel allow the driver to stay focused on the road.

    All five seating positions have supportive comfortable seats with enough hip and leg room for most adults. The standard cloth upholstery on the X-Sport is attractive and frankly, more practical for those of us who live in hot climates. The manual adjustments are easy to figure out and use. A standard tilt steering wheel makes it easier to enter and exit the driver’s seat.

    Plenty of cargo space fore and aft

    The center console includes two large cupholders , and a bin that can hold compact discs or small electronic devices. The lid of the bin is padded and slides forward to act as an armrest. There are two, 12/volt power outlets on either side of the gate shifter.

    The automatic temperature controls are easy to reach from either front seating position. Both front doors have standard map pockets with bottle holders. A lid on the rear of the armrest flips down to reveal two addition cupholders for the second-row passengers.

    The sixty-forty split rear seat has three-point seatbelt harnesses in all three seating positions. Both sections of the seat collapse and tumble forward. A lever on the seatback collapses the seat, while a loop at the base of the seat releases the latch that holds the bottom in place, allowing the seat to tumble. Both operations are simple and quick.

    The extended cargo area is easily large enough to hold a bike (possibly two) with the front wheels removed. There are four tie-down hooks on the cargo floor, and a there is a small storage bin under the floor as well. The jack for the spare is located in a panel to the left. There is a pocket in the rear door large enough to hold a first aid kit or more tools.

    The cargo area houses a third 12-volt power point, located on the right wall. The spare is mounted on the rear gate under a hard cover. The gate opens sideways, making it easy for people of all heights to use. A standard tonneau cover conceals the cargo area when the second row seats are in place. Standard roof rails come in handy for carrying large cargo when there are more than two passengers.

    Nimble yet solid performance

    The X-Sport‘s arrival coincided with an early blast of heat: daytime temperatures averaged in the low hundreds for the week. Despite the black cloth interior, the climate control system cooled the vehicle off quickly. The vents are easy to direct to cool off all of the passengers.

    The arrival of summer heat here always makes drivers more aggressive. I was grateful for the Grand Vitara’s quick steering response and nimble cornering, especially when driving through rush-hour traffic. Visibility is excellent all the way around the vehicle. There are no obvious blind spots.
    Suzuki has made its 7-year warranty even more attractive to buyers by extending it up to 100,000 miles, and including 24-hour roadside assistance. Buyers receive free courtesy cars while vehicles are being repaired: the warranty is fully transferable.

    Buyers who are looking for a compact sport-utility vehicle that’s tough enough for the trails and comfortable enough to commute in should think about the Suzuki Grand Vitara. It’s a refined, peppy vehicle with a lot of luxury and safety packed between its walls. At just under $23,000, the Grand Vitara X-Sport is a great value for people with active lifestyles.

    Likes: Excellent fuel economy and performance, both on and off-road. Comfortable, well equipped interior with a spacious, versatile interior. The second row seats are easy to collapse and tumble out of the way.

    Dislikes: Cheesy graphics on the spare tire cover make the car look cheap. The keyless ignition system uses the same ignition lock as the standard system. A start button would have made the system easier to use.

    Base price: $19,199
    Price as tested: $22,699*
    Horsepower: 185 @ 6000 r.p.m.
    Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 r.p.m.
    0 to 60: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: No  
    Towing: No
    Off-road: Yes
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Fuel economy: 19/23 m.p.g. city/highway