Car reviews - Suzuki - Grand Vitara - range
Design, stylish cabin echoes Swift, solid on-road poise and supple suspension, comfy front seats, tumble split-fold rear seats, two-stage open function for rear door, build quality
Room for improvement
Manual still a little agricultural in shift-quality, auto can hunt for the right gear, no side/curtain airbags, cruise control a $695 option, V6 needs to be stirred along to get the best out of it, annoying instantaneous fuel consumption readout
5 Sep 2005
THE marketing folk are optimistically calling Suzuki's new Grand Vitara the "off-road athlete".
Why? Because we're told that's what the designers set out to do when they started with a clean sheet of paper to replace the venerable GV of old.
That is also the feedback Suzuki says it received when they gave potential buyers a sneak peak of the new design several years ago.
Sacharine marketing jargon it may be but we can't help but feel for once the actual product description is apt.
The Grand Vitara not only offers improved utility and greater comfort levels both on and off-road but the whole package looks visually stimulating and poised for some serious off-road fun.
But let's stop the sales pitch right there. Let the facts speak for themselves.
The Grand Vitara is available as a three and five-door. The entry car is powered by a 78kW 1.6-litre four while buyers have a choice of a 103kW 2.0-litre four and 135kW 2.7-litre V6 in the five-door.
For the launch we were restricted to the V6 model, which Suzuki believes will be the volume seller. All the cars also boasted the optional alloy wheel package, which costs $1000 but lacks cruise control - another (rather steep) option.
With the larger car comes a fresh design that has a bold face with the now expected large "S" in the centre of the honeycomb grille.
Sleek, distinctive styling cues, like the wheel-arch blisters and clam-shell bonnet provide visual muscle while the sharp angular-styled D-pillars imparts a degree of individuality.
Standard equipment includes ABS, dual airbags, in-dash CD stereo with steering wheel controls, remote central locking, power windows/mirrors, fuel consumption readout and climate control air-conditioning.
Both front and rear seat occupants will find the cabin a comfy place to be.
Rear legroom is good and the backrest has a stepped recline mode. The seat cushion, however, is flat and unsupportive.
Most drivers will find the driving position agreeable and the cabin's overall ambience is a revelation after the old car.
The grippy three-spoke steering wheel is similar to the Swift and is height but not reach adjustable. The driver's seat cushion is height adjustable. The instruments, again in the same vein as the Swift, are modern, sexy looking and supremely legible.
Entry and exits are made easy by the fact that there are no huge door sills to clamber over as the doors actually run deep and cover the sills.
The compact V6 is a development of the old engine but remains a peaky and free-revving unit. The 135kW is delivered at a high 6000rpm and the 250Nm at 4500rpm.
What really impresses about the Grand Vitara is the complete absence of body flex when the going gets tough.
Suzuki calls its new chassis a "built-in ladder frame" - in essence a combined ladder frame with the strength of a monocoque body. Take our word for it, it is very strong.
However, that strength comes at a price as the wagon has been out to a long calorie-filled lunch and gained a few kilos.
It weighs up to 200kg more than the old car - the price you pay for the extra sturdy body and increased safety levels.
The extra weight does not seem to have harmed fuel consumption too much. Suzuki quotes a combined fuel consumption of 11.6L/100km for the auto V6 and 11.1L/100km for the five-speed manual.
We split our time between the five-speed auto and the five-speed manual V6 but for shear optimal driving, the manual remains the pick.
Combined with the silky V6, which revs freely to the 6600rpm redline, the manual gets the best out of the engine but there is little point in pushing the engine beyond 5000rpm.
By constrast, the five-speed auto is smooth but tends to hang on to upshifts too long and sometimes hunt for the appropriate gear.
The only downside to the five-speed manual was the ever-so-slight agricultural clunky changes but otherwise it was a smooth unit.
Unfortunately, the increased weight has dented the V6's outright performance.
The car never feels as spritely as the on-paper specifications suggest.
Despite the relatively compact dimensions, the wagon is longer, significantly wider than the old car and boasts plenty of storage areas.
The rear luggage area boasts a lidded bin to hide valuables and there are plenty of up-front storage areas. Interestingly, the wide-opening rear door has two in-built stopping points via the hydraulic strut.
At 4470mm long, 1810mm wide, 1695mm high and with a wheelbase of 2640mm, it is bigger in every dimension, except height, which is down just a smidge.
Ground clearance remains 200mm and the car's minimum front and rear overhangs means good approach and departure angles - 29 degrees and 27 degrees.
The base 1.6-litre gets a simple high-range four-wheel drive system while the four-mode 4x4 system is reserved for the 2.0-litre and the V6 five-door models. Both systems are full-time four-wheel drive.
The four-mode 4x4 is operated from a simple dashboard switch.
The 4High mode can be used for normal driving and provides superior traction and more neutral cornering. In this mode, drive is split 47/53 per cent front and rear.
The 4High Lock mode locks the centre differential for more traction through really slippery conditions like deep snow and mud.
The 4Low Lock engages the low ratio in the transfer case and locks the centre differential to give added low-speed traction for really tough going.
Suspension is via McPherson strut front and independent rear, providing an almost car-like ride quality with no pitching and a degree of suppleness that would not be out of place in a Subaru.
The disc/drum brake system also proved faultless and the all independent suspension affords good axle articulation, as we found through a rigorous set of off-road manoeuvres.
It is clear the new Grand Vitara is light-years away from the old car. The level of dynamic refinement, steering feel and suspension control has lifted it out of the also-rans.
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