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Car reviews - Suzuki - Grand Vitara - V6 wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth V6, off-road ability
Room for improvement
Tyres (in urban use), poor sound system

26 Feb 2001

SUZUKI'S Vitara spawned a new breed of light four-wheel drive fun vehicles and drew in a new generation of 4WD buyers to drive them.

Today the sector is booming with many makers offering varying degrees of competition.

But few offer Suzuki's two or four-wheel drive, low range and separate chassis go-absolutely-anywhere flexibility in one package.

In recreating the icon for the late 1990s, Suzuki's designers maintained the chunky exterior visuals but played down some of the agricultural off-roader cues such as the slot in the fenders over the front wheels.

Passive safety has improved although the Grand Vitara still lists anti-lock brakes and dual airbags as extra-cost options. Air-conditioning is standard.

For a small margin over the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Grand Vitara, the V6 is good value.

It offers welcome power and torque but, more noticeably, smooth, efficient delivery with low levels of noise, vibration and harshness.

Mated to the agreeable four-speed automatic gearbox, the Vitara hauls away from standstill and revs willingly towards the 6500rpm red line.

It is never strained, does not get thrashy and provides enough grunt for quick overtaking. Although the V6 is a keen spinner, there is enough torque low down for off-road work.

The Vitara offers a full set of low ratios for roughing it while standard city-slicking mode is rear-drive only - although you can shift-on-the-fly into four-wheel drive high range if the going suddenly gets slippery.

Yet herein lies the Vitara's greatest weakness.

On its Bridgestone Desert Dueller H/T 235/60 R16 tyres as tested, the Vitara locked up its front wheels with only medium braking effort on a newly damp surface. With no anti-lock, the front end speared resolutely forward, locked solid at speeds as low as 40km/h.

Mind you, this problem is not exclusive to the Grand Vitara - the same applies to any off-roader wearing off-road rubber on wet, sealed road surfaces.

In four-wheel drive high range, front-end lock-up was less pronounced but tailgaters would do well to opt for more roadworthy wet weather rubber or specify anti-lock brakes to avoid an early trip to the panel-beaters.

The Bridgestones squealed during tight cornering but around town offered a comfortable ride with little reflected noise.

Suspension settings are supple, although control off-road is acceptable. With a short wheelbase compared with its rivals, Vitara suffers from mild pitching.

Steering effort is light, possibly a little over-assisted, but the chunky wheel is good to grip.

A new dash may be an improvement on the old rather cluttered effort but cost savings appear to have dictated mid-1980s style ventilation slider controls instead of easy-to-operate twist knobs. At least the plastics are of good quality and fit well.

Annoyingly, at night the illuminated dash is reflected far too brightly in the flat glass of the driver's door window.

The seats are soft, covered in plush pile 1980s-style cloth material, but less impressive is the lack of a height adjuster for the driver's seats.

As a result, the driver sits too low but headroom is impressive and step-in height commendably low.

Emphasising the slightly claustrophobic feel of the interior is the way the seats are mounted close to the doors - as in the first-generation Vitara.

The standard fit Clarion radio with satellite key control is one of the worst to operate we have come across recently. It is almost impossible to use safely while on the move.

In the rear, space is at a premium, compared with say Freelander or Honda CR-V, but two adults can sit in reasonable comfort for three it's a squeeze. The centre rear passenger makes do with a lap belt only.

Boot space is better than the old Vitara V6 but not overly spacious and has no standard luggage cover. A couple of storage cubbies moulded into the side of the load bay are useful.

But the Grand Vitara V6 is a nice small 4WD to live with. The smoothness and the quiet punch of the V6 make it feel like a larger 4WD on the open road, contributing to an almost luxurious feel. The solid ladder frame construction and the genuine off-road abilities make it a more versatile vehicle than similar-size four-wheel drives that are actually incapable of venturing far off the bitumen. For those needing more than just a small wagon, the Grand Vitara V6 is the pick of the crop.

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