SUZUKI’S Grand Vitara is a compact, attractive four-wheel-drive that has an advantage over its rivals in the fast-growing pack of all-wheel-drives that are so popular these days. While all vehicles in this class drive well on bitumen, it’s when you leave the road behind that the Grand Vitara can go where most of these ‘soft roaders’ cannot. Traction and off road capability are there thanks to the Suzuki’s transfer case and low range gearbox.
Where the all-wheel-drives are promoted as being ideal for light off-road work, or for travel through hard-packed sand or maybe some mud on a formed track, Suzuki drivers don’t have to restrict themselves to this. The Grand Vitara is a ‘proper’ four-wheel-drive, and engaging the second gear box will see the Vitara forging ahead where the pretenders have pulled up short.
None of these attributes make the Vitara a harsh or rough riding vehicle, of course, such is Suzuki’s attention to suspension set-up and wheel travel. In fact, driving the attractive green over silver off-roader around city streets and suburban roads was exactly the same as driving any other vehicle of a similar size – except that there was more visibility due to the high ‘command’ style driving position.
Driving on gravel roads was a breeze too provided that, in areas of bad corrugation, some common sense was observed and speed reduced a little to avoid a slight tendency for the vehicle to bump steer if pushed too hard on areas of continual corrugation.
Overall, there was ample pick-up from the gutsy 116kW V6 engine, and the five-speed manual transmission was precise and very smooth through all changes. The Suzuki’s clutch was extremely light in operation and there was a an easily identifiable friction point. If towing is on the agenda – and the Grand Vitara is rated to tow weights up to 1850kg – having an idea as to the point of clutch engagement is very handy, particularly when driving up a steep boat ramp.
While the styling hasn’t changed a great deal from previous models, the superb ride, feeling of rigidity while on rough surfaces, overall levels of comfort and almost total isolation from exterior road noise make this five-seater a surprisingly effective tourer given the fact that it’s still a compact four-wheel-drive.
There are some bonuses, too, that come with the Grand Vitara’s smaller size when compared to its larger cousins. In the city it’s nippy and easy to manoeuvre and a cinch to slip into a small parking space, and its compact size provides off-road benefits too. While ground clearance is a quite reasonable 200mm, the overall 2480mm wheel base means that ruts, washouts, and sharp gullies can be traversed with minimal fuss. Less length, less body overhang – it’s as simple as that.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a pleasure to drive. Controls are well placed, the dash layout has all dials within plain view, pedals are well spaced to suit every driver, and seating is comfortable. In the new model, fingertip controls for the audio system are now installed on the left side of the soft feel steering wheel and are easy to use.
Power-assisted mirrors and windows are part of the Grand Vitara package and add to the pleasure of being behind the wheel. The seats have plenty of adjustment and even the tallest driver will be comfy behind the Suzi’s wheel.
Useful interior touches include storage boxes under the front seats and another one set up in the floor of the rear luggage compartment, which has its own separate slide-out cover to keep the sun and prying eyes away from the rear luggage area’s contents. There’s another neat slide cover for the front console drink holders, so if you store valuables or change in there it’s all hidden from view.
Further desirable features include micron (pollen) air filtration throughout the air conditioning system, engine immobiliser, remote keyless entry, tinted windows all round, a roof rail, and foldable external mirrors.
Enhanced safety items include dual air bags, side impact beams and a strong ladder chassis, which of course provides the inherent rigidity and strength of the vehicle.
The Grand Vitara cruises effortlessly at even extended speed limits. The ever willing and busy V6 engine allows the Suzuki to lope down the MI in the 110km/h limit area with a mere 3000rpm showing on the tachometer, while cruising at 100km/h requires 2600rpm. The engine is quiet, as are the tyres and transmission – a nice change from some of the four by fours on the market today.
Speed limit highway cruising returned fuel consumption figures of between 9.5km and 10km per litre on a run down to the New England area in search of trout. The Suzuki did an excellent job of taking us to some out-of-the-way holes I wanted to check out.
Things I really liked about the Suzuki Grand Vitara were the very comfortable driving position, the engine’s responsiveness, the remote fuel filler control, very good halogen headlights and the excellent three stream per side windscreen washers.
As a compact four-wheel-drive the Suzuki Grand Vitara certainly gives you a lot of features for your money, and it’s a fun car to drive. Unlike some of those soft-roading pretenders, there’s nothing sedate about the Grand Vitara. It just loves to go hard.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is priced from approx. $_______
1) The new Grand Vitara has a lot to recommend it.
2) A slide-out cover in the rear compartment provides protection from the sun and conceals items stored there. Note the in-floor storage area lid as well.
3) The Grand Vitara in trout country. The car’s excellent ground clearance was handy to reach some of the more isolated areas of the stream.
4) Fingertip radio/CD controls are now a feature of the Suzuki Grand Vitara.Reads: 2035