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Car reviews - Suzuki - Grand Vitara - 3-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Off-road ability, solidity
Room for improvement
Airbags optional, suspension pitch

27 Jun 2001

SUZUKI'S credibility as a manufacturer of small four-wheel drives has underpinned its market presence in Australia and can be traced right back to the diminutive LJ80 two-stroke off-roader that was sold through the 1970s.

The company's 4WDs have come a long way since then, but the emphasis has never really shifted away from the small end of the market.

But the model spread has broadened, with the smaller end of the market attended to by the cheeky 1.3-litre Jimny, the Sierra utility and the two-door Vitara soft top and hard top models.

The flagship today is the Grand Vitara, a grown-up Vitara with a little more bulk and girth, and looking not at all unlike a scaled-down Nissan Patrol. It's not at all Patrol in dimensions though - more like the size of a Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage or Pajero iO.

The Grand Vitara's debut was in four-door form, powered either by Suzuki's alloy four-cylinder 2.0-litre, or by a new 2.5-litre V6. In V6 form, the biggest Suzuki 4WD did indeed drive very much like a smaller version of the heavy-duty off-roaders.

Now, the Japanese company has a two-door version (the company often refers to it as a three-door, as in hatchback), using just the 2.0-litre engine and aimed at broadening the range even more bewilderingly than it was.

Priced identically to the JLX Vitara hard top model, the Grand Vitara two-door comes with the four-door version's refinements and is well fitted out with air-conditioning, remote central locking, alloy wheels, electric windows and mirrors, and a single-disc CD player as standard. The only missing item of note (and noted in bold type) is the dual front airbag option. The anti-lock braking that is optionally available on four-door Grand Vitaras is not listed.

The 2.0-litre engine can be had with either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission and punches out a respectable serve of power and torque for its capacity. It produces 94kW at 6000rpm, along with 174Nm of torque at 2900rpm.

From the outside, the car down plays the macho look flaunted by the four-door, lacking the heavy-duty side mouldings and roof rails and using slightly less aggressive alloy wheels. To some, it possibly looks better because the four-door has been described as slightly overcooked - although not by this writer.

The interior, obviously tighter with the shorter wheelbase, still seats four people although there's a shortage of rear-seat legroom. The driver and front seat passenger have little to complain about though with plenty of fore-after travel available to establish a perfectly comfortable position. And the two-seater rear compartment, despite the shorter wheelbase, is not entirely disastrous provided the passenger in front is prepared to move forward just a little. Access is helped by the fact that the front seats slide forward as they fold - although they don't return to their original position.

The cabin is well presented, too, with (provided there's no passenger airbag) twin glove boxes at the front as well as long but slightly narrow door pockets and a number of open trays in addition to four cup-holders distributed from front to rear.

With the two-door's lighter weight (about 100kg less than the four-cylinder four-door Grand Vitara) it would be reasonable to expect a lift in performance compared to the four-door. Strangely the Grand Vitara doesn't feel all that lively - less so, for example, than a RAV4 which has very similar power/weight ratios.

So on the road the two-door Grand Vitara feels a little more reluctant than expected although to be fair the test car an automatic and it never failed to cope well in traffic. On the open road, the car moves along very quietly for a small 4WD, aided by the dual-mode auto's ready kickdown.

The power steering feels a little overdone, requiring less effort than most people would require. This is fine for parking but makes the vehicle feel less stable at speed. That said, the Suzuki steers well enough for a 4WD - the driver just needs to remember this is not your nimble, small front-drive sedan in the way it tackles a tight corner, and in the way it responds to braking on wet road surfaces.

The ride, as expected, shows more evidence of fore-aft pitch than the longer wheelbase version - which is no paragon of virtue in this respect either - but at least it's not harsh.

Suzuki is of course underpinning everything it says about the Grand Vitara with the fact that unlike the pseudo off-roaders offered by much of its competition - Honda CRV and HRV, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester - this is one four-wheel drive able to take you bush, and back, with as much aplomb as a patrol or LandCruiser.

It has a proper transfer box giving high and low ratios and has the ground clearance and rugged ladder-frame chassis needed for heavy duty bush work. handy is the fact that four-wheel drive high range can be selected on the fly at speeds up to 100km/h. The driver just needs to be aware that this is no full-time four- wheel drive system and may only be used when the road surfaces are genuinely slippery.

The bottom line is that it's this utilitarian aspect of the two- door Grand Vitara that some potential customers will appreciate as much as others will despise.

No, it's not as refined on the road as a RAV4, but then again, there's no question which is the better vehicle to be in if conditions happen to get really rough.

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