As any of the now-struggling auto makers can attest, changing perceptions about a brand is an extremely hard proposition. Likewise, despite lingering image issues to the contrary, Suzuki’s original compact SUV “Sidekick” is long gone and in its place is the Grand Vitara. And while it is not completely capable of tossing off previous criticisms, it may be the best small SUV on the market.
Like many of the Suzuki models, the Grand Vitara did not sell particularly well when first introduced to America. The main issues revolved around the engine, which was noisy, underpowered and inefficient. Quite a combination. The current generation Grand Vitara has been around since 2006 and for 2009 comes with either a 4-cylinder engine that produces 166 hp or V6 that cranks out 230 horses, 45 more than the old V6. The fuel economy difference between the two engines in 2WD is negligible: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway for the 4-cylinder and 18/24 for the V6, making the V6 an even more attractive option. In any case, fuel economy is now almost identical to the Honda CR-V. Both engines use the same 5-speed manual or automatic. In addition to the rear-drive models, Suzuki offers two 4wd systems. The first is a single-mode system without low-range gearing. The other, called Four-Mode by Suzuki, is a full-time 4wd system with a 2-speed transfer case. In 4 High, power goes to the front wheels only as needed, helping improve the Grand Vitara’s fuel economy.
In comparison to the Honda CR-V, which is the best-seller in this class, the Suzuki feels much more like a “real” SUV. This is in no small measure due to the use of a rugged unit-body chassis that is reinforced by a ladder-style frame. The company says this enhances the vehicle’s off-road and towing abilities. All Grand Vitara models are fitted with stability control and side-curtain airbags (with rollover sensors) as standard equipment, along with rear disc brakes. Inside, the Grand Vitara has seating for five and comes in three trim levels: base, XSport and Luxury. Even the base model comes with a nice mix of features including automatic climate control, full power accessories and side and side curtain airbags. The XSport has a few additional items including keyless startup, while the top-line Luxury has leather seating. Starting price for the Grand Vitara is $18,499, over $2000 less than the entry price for a Honda CR-V.
While the amount of time a Suzuki owner will actually spend on anything but pavement is remote, in addition to all of the aforementioned improvements to accommodate the usual trials of urban motoring, unlike its competitors, the Grand Vitara is up for the occasional run out in the dirt.