2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara
2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara Expert Review:Autoblog
Suffice it to say that Suzuki has never stunned North American consumers with beautiful automotive designs. In point of fact, reviewing their history reveals a certain manic quality, little of it pretty. Oddball propositions like the toy-like X-90 and character-free Esteem have given way to the likes of Suzuki's ill-proportioned Aerio and milquetoast non-statements on the order of the Verona and Forenza. But there are tangible signs that the automaker is finally finding the plot– the inexpensive Italdesign-penned Reno and the tweener SX4 crossover are both attractive propositions. But the offering most likely to become the company's poster child is the all-new-for 2006 Grand Vitara.
A direct replacement for its tired, boxy predecessor that reigned from 1999-2004, the new Grand Vitara is infinitely more compelling with even just a cursory glance. By comparison, yuppies ought to be clamoring for the reborn GV like it's next year's Ikea catalog. Simply put, it's a looker. The strong lines of its clamshell-style hood set the tone, creating a defining ridge across the top of the rectilinear grille, lending the clear-lensed headlamps a bit of edge. The former element is of the blacked-out cross-hatch variety, with a thin, u-shaped chrome lip adding definition and a bit of class. Even when viewed from the dead-on, the GV's meaty fender flares lend it a properly butch stance, particularly as they mold so nicely into the bumper, itself augmented by a pair of blisters housing auxiliary driving lamps. Complaints? Well, the chrome 'S' badge on the nose is a bit outsized, coming across like a Superman logo reinterpreted by an anime artist. But it's hard to blame Suzuki's designers for wanting to get the message out that they're finally in the business of making attractively styled vehicles.
Move along the Suzuki's profile, and pleasant details abound. The aggressive headlamps curve around to the side ever-so-slightly, neatly incorporating a turn signal slash. Moving rearward, the flares once again take center stage, rising to nearly meet the hood crease in the front. Arguably the GV's nicest detail, the small, well-rendered side vents at the trailing edge of the hood line add character to the profile while reinforcing the visual heft of the hood itself.
On the passenger side, the rear fender's arc is actually broken up by the round filler neck access door, but it's almost as if Suzuki's showing a bit of swagger in its assembly techniques, as the tricky flap on our tester fit perfectly, with nary a line interrupted. Meaty door pulls prove easy to grab, and house small oval rubberized buttons at thumb's reach (more on these in a future installment). The 17" wheels on our top-rung Luxury-spec tester are of the five-spoke variety, but feature strong detailing that combine with the flares to give the Grand Vitara a pugnacious, confident stance. Premium and Luxury trim level models gain a pair of close-cropped roof rails (but X-Games enthusiasts will need to order accessories in order to make use of them) and the stubby, rakish antenna can get in the way of mounting longer objects, something we learned firsthand. From the rack's rearward mounting point, the D-pillar and its attendant windowline plunge downward to meet the tail lamp, which is surprisingly prominent from the side. The effect lent our clear beige metallic GV a harmonious transition to the rear, though the thickness of the pillar looks to impair rearward visibility.
Out back, the tail end is dominated by the exterior full-sized spare carrier, which is scalloped to reduce visual heft. As it is mounted close to the body directly on the rear door, it nicely avoids the 'tacked-on' afterthought look, and in fact reinforces the off-road roots of the Suzuki. That said, its attractive aesthetics will likely come as cold comfort to owners who unwittingly back into things. It isn't that the spare intrudes upon rearward vision greatly, it's just that it stands proud of the rear bumper by a good many inches, unwittingly making it the SUV's first line of defense when up against taller objects. A great many slow-speed 'rear-into-pole' tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have proven in graphic fashion that such arrangements have a nasty habit of creating high repair bills, because the carriers push into the rear door, buckling sheetmetal and shattering the rear glass long before the bumper gets the chance to do its thing.
Equally troublesome is that the cargo door relies on an off-side hinge, betraying the Grand Vitara's Japanese roots. This setup is likely to cause problems for city-dwellers who parallel park frequently. With the hinge on the 'wrong' side, the door swings open against the curb, blocking access while requiring a good bit of space behind. Better solutions exist, and Suzuki ought to find one. And while we're at it, while not being one for the 'exhaust by Folgers' school of design, the tailpipe is decidedly too timid given the rest of the GV's visuals. At least the taillamps are nicely done.
In sum, Suzuki's new Grand Vitara boasts class-leading style every bit the equal of offerings like the Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox. It's hard to make a compact SUV look tough without devolving into a self-conscious parody writ small, but Suzuki has managed just that. A few practical details perturb, particularly around the rear of the vehicle, but it's a tremendous accomplishment for the brand regardless... one that can more than hold its head high in mixed company.
Stay tuned, as we find out whether the interior and the driving experience are similarly best-in-class over the next two Autoblog Garage installments.
Fish around in your pants for the Suzuki's fob, punch the unlock button, pull the handle, and clamber inside. Or, rather, you might've, were there actually a need to engage in a bit of pocket-lint spelunking. Not so with the new Grand Vitara. In an unusual move for its class, Suzuki has fitted their compact SUV with a type of keyless entry and start. Oh, there's a fob (a big, chunky one, at that), but you won't need to lay hands on it every time you want to get in or out of the vehicle... that's what those rubberized oval buttons on the two front doors and rear cargo access door are for. Approach the vehicle with the fob somewhere on your person, and the 'Zuki detects its presence, allowing you to open the door (one push on the handle button for your door, two nudges for everyone). It's a system that works well, particularly as keyring-resident box still works as normal. Hidden within is a key for valets and less-than-trustworthy types.
[Click through to the jump for further interior impressions and more than a dozen photos!)
Clamber into the driver's seat, and you're surrounded with a paint-by-numbers small SUV dashboard. On our leather-lined Luxury-spec tester, a meaty, hide-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel makes no apologies for being a Suzuki, with an oversized badge on the steering wheel boss. In front of the driver is a silver-ringed, three-gauge binnacle, 130 mph steering wheel to the center, flanked on the left side by a rev counter, and on the right by a gauge face housing telltales for gas, oil pressure, and a PRNDL readout.
The dashboard is fairly traditional in execution, with ours arriving in a muted tan with some matte-finish brightwork around the 'eyeball' vents and slathered on pair of sizeable vertical endcaps abutting the center console. The dash itself is nicely grained and keeps reflections to a minimum, but somehow looks soft-touch when in fact it isn't. Faux dark wood is kept to a minimum, with bits on the doors and surround the five-speed automatic gearshift selector. Although we can't profess to be fans of fake plastic trees, at least there isn't a forest of the stuff.
A waterfall center-stack houses the usual suspects – HVAC supervision, stereo controls. But hang on a sec-- what's a hardcore item like a driveline selector doing in a cute ute? Well, lo[w range] and behold, the Grand Vitara aspires to off-road credibility, with knob affording low and high range selection, something not likely to be found in competitors like Toyota's RAV4, or even the Chevrolet Equinox, with which the GV shares a limited amount of hardware. Perhaps the only direct competitor in the segment to offer anything other than slip-n-grip all-wheel-drive is Jeep's aging Liberty.
Running top-to-bottom, there's a multi-function display that houses a clock, outside temperature gauge, and an on-the-fly mpg readout of dubious merit. Drop your gaze, and beyond the air vents and the hazard button is a well-integrated six-disc MP3/WMA-compatible changer with XM satellite radio. Its faceplate design is mercifully rational, with just 18 buttons. Hidden throughout the interior are seven speakers, including a pair of tweeters and a subwoofer (lower models must make do with a four-speaker, single-disc setup). For a factory system on a lower-priced SUV, it's a nice piece, though FM reception could be a bit stronger.
Directly below the stereo is the automatic climate control supervision, a two knob affair with an array of buttons fanned out between them. For the most part, the system works well, but we'd have preferred a less style-conscious third knob for directing airflow and an integrated temperature readout. The center console shifter is of the graduated-gate variety, sharing space with a pair of 12-volt outlets and the heated seat activators. A pair of cupholders do their thing adjacent to a smallish armrest with integrated storage, rounding out the center console. Looking for the power moonroof controls? They're sensibly spotted overhead, next to the Homelink buttons.
Ergonomic pitfalls border on the nonexistent in the Grand Vitara, but a few notable omissions do annoy – the power window and lock switches are well-placed, but not all of them are backlit at night. More troublesome is the fact that none of the steering wheel's cruise-control or redundant audio switches are illuminated in the dark, a seriously irritating oversight. Visibility is good all around, with the only caveat that the d-pillars are a shade chunky.
The front seats on our top-rung tester proved quite comfortable even over longer distances, but the cowhide-wrapped chairs didn't offer much in the way of lateral support, discouraging enthusiastic driving over twisty roads. The back row's squabs are even less defined, presumably to more easily accommodate baby seats. This, combined with the lack of a center-position armrest means that back seat passengers are prone to sliding about uncomfortably. At least there's class-competitive room back there (though it's a bit tight in the hips), and all three perches have adjustable headrests. As they must be raised in order to keep from jutting into a passenger's back, this bothered some occupants, but we think the design promotes proper use of head restraints.
The cargo area is accessed by an off-side hinged door; an inconvenient reminder of the GV's oriental origins that prevents easy loading while parallel parked. Further, the externally mounted spare issues a horrible fiberglass death rattle every time the cargo door is slammed shut – a few additional rubber seals would probably help quell the nastiness a great deal. Unlike some of the smaller entries in its class, there's still room for groceries and/or a few suitcases when the second row is occupied, and the rear seats split/fold/tumble 60/40 to accommodate larger loads, though they do so in a less-than-compact fashion, eating away at valuable space. At least there's a hidden well suitable for valuables and flat objects hidden under our tester's rubber mat.
On the safety front, dual-stage front airbags are standard-fit, with a weight-sensor in the passenger seat. Impressively, full-length side curtains come on even the least-expensive 2WD Grand Vitara, as does electronic stability control with traction control.
All-in, our Luxury Package Grand Vitara appears to be a pretty compelling piece. But until we turn a wheel in anger, we won't be able to render a verdict on Suzuki's latest and greatest. Stay tuned for Day 5.
(Missed out on the Grand Vitara's first installment? Check out Day 1-2 here)
New Car Test Drive
Genuine off-roader delivers great value.
Nowadays there are many choices among small SUVs. Most owners have no desire to ever go off-road. No problem, the front-drive Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV4s of the world do just fine. Some occasionally want to wander onto dirt roads, nothing serious mind you. An automatic four-wheel-drive system works fine, and there's the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage for them.
Then there are those who really dig an SUV for what it was originally intended. They want to get down and dirty and go where low gear and a locked differential is a necessity, not a luxury. Their choices are limited to Jeeps and a few others.
The all-new 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara has just expanded this latter category.
Unlike the previous Grand Vitara, this is no small toy-like off-roader. Finally befitting of its grand name, the 2006 Grand Vitara is a grownup, five-seat, V6-powered SUV with enough sophistication that it's just as much at home on the highway as it is way off the highway.
Technically, the 2006 Grand Vitara comes in just one trim level, but several variants are available, featuring two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, automatic or manual transmissions, cloth or leather, and other features. All are well equipped.
The 2.7-liter V6 engine comes standard on all models. Also standard: automatic climate control with a micron air-filtration system, cruise control, digital clock with outside temperature and fuel consumption indicators, power door locks with a remote key, power mirrors and power windows. The standard sound system features an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA unit that is XM Satellite Radio-ready and features steering-wheel-mounted controls.
The base Grand Vitara 2WD ($18,999) uses rear-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission. (All prices are manufactured suggested retail and do not include the destination charge.) A five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission is optional ($1,000).
The base Grand Vitara 4WD model ($20,199) uses a full-time single-mode four-wheel-drive system.
A Premium Package ($900) includes alloy wheels, privacy glass and six-disc in-dash CD changer.
The XSport ($21,099) includes the Premium Package along with the five-speed automatic and a SmartPass keyless entry and start system. The XSport 4WD model ($22,499) features a full-time four-mode four-wheel-drive system.
The Luxury model ($22,999) adds leather seating surfaces, woodgrain trim, electric sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, a HomeLink wireless control system and some other minor upgrades. The 4WD Luxury model ($24,399) features the full-time four-mode system.
Textured fender flares are available as a dealer-installed accessory (about $400).
Safety features that come standard on all models include an Electronic Stability Program with traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. That's an impressive array of active safety features, which work together to reduce the chance of skidding and help drivers avoid accidents. Passive safety features include six airbags: advanced dual-stage front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection for driver and front passenger, and front and rear side-curtain airbags for head protection for the four passengers in the outboard seats.
The all-new 2006 Grand Vitara is bigger all around than the previous-generation (pre-2006) models. In fact, it has gone from being the second smallest (just ahead of the Jeep Wrangler) to among the largest of the compact SUVs, which has become a highly competitive segment.
Based off a striking concept shown a year ago, the Grand Vitara has a pleasant modern look that effectively combines the style of an off-road vehicle with that of a sedan.
It has large fender flares covering wheels that are located near the four corners for a good stance. The headlights blend nicely into the top edge of the front bumper, grille surround and front edge of the full width hood. From the side there is a gentle curve that runs back as a wedge shape along the lower edge of the windows to blend in nicely with the rear tail light cluster that then leads the eye down to the low, rear bumper.
The tailgate opens from the side and has a full-width window. The spare tire is mounted on the tailgate under a body color-matched plastic cover, which obstructs rearward visibility for the driver somewhat.
Unlike some small SUVs, the Grand Vitara is not based off a sedan platform. Instead, it has a unibody construction (as found on a sedan) with a built-in ladder frame (as found on a truck).
The 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara is roomy and comfortable. Suzuki claims it has class-leading interior space and we believe it as there is a decent amount of space inside for passengers and cargo. Our first impressions of the Grand Vitara's interior were positive as the quality of materials was better than expected.
The dashboard has character with a large center stack containing well-integrated sound system controls that are just to the right of the steering wheel. The large buttons for controlling the all-wheel-drive system and climate controls also fall easily to hand and the labeling is comprehensible. The instruments are located in three large deep pods in front of the steering wheel. All models include redundant audio controls as well as cruise control buttons on the steering wheel; learning to use them can reduce distraction while driving.
Rear-seat passengers will find plenty of legroom and a decent amount of headroom, although slightly less than in some competitors. The rear seat splits 60/40 for carrying different load combinations. The rear cargo floor is lower than in many SUVs so there is a reasonable amount of storage space even when the rear seat is in use, but the distance from the rear seat back to the tailgate is relatively shallow.
On the highway, the Grand Vitara handles as grandly as a car-based SUV. That's to say it has a smooth ride. It may not be as smooth as a Ford Escape or Honda CR-V, but it's comfortable enough and easy to drive. The Grand Vitara absorbs potholes well. Thanks to a low center of gravity, the handling seems better than most SUVs. The steering is fine, not like that of a sports car but not sloppy or over-assisted. We tried 2WD and 4WD models on the highway and found no discernable difference in ride or handling.
Performance from the V6 engine is good, if not scintillating. It's responsive and easy around town. It's enough to tow up to 3000 pounds, which is a more than reasonable for a compact SUV. The Grand Vitara itself takes kindly to being towed, which is important for RV owners; a Neutral setting on models with the AWD four-mode system disconnects the entire drivetrain; this lessens wear and tear on the drivetrain and avoids putting non-driven miles on the odometer.
Two all-wheel-drive systems are offered in the Grand Vitara. The full-time single-mode four-wheel drive, available in the base and Premium Package models, has a transfer case with a differential for full-time operation in 4H mode. The full-time four-mode four-wheel drive offered with the XSport and Luxury Packages has a transfer case with a locking differential and a low range. The operating modes are: 4H, 4H locked, 4L locked, and Neutral for flat-towing behind an RV. The transfer case ratio is 1.97:1.
We drove off highway in a Grand Vitara with the Luxury package, which includes the four-mode 4WD system, and it proved to be a stellar performer. It rode smoothly while traversing a graded dirt road, taking ruts in stride. Nothing surprising there, as a car could have tackled the dirt road.
But then we headed off the graded track to an uphill section strewn with boulders that was nothing much more than a dry streambed. No way could any vehicle without a low gear tackle this. We tried it in 4H but within yards a boulder stopped our forward movement. After gingerly backing down, we shifted the automatic transmission into neutral and turned and pushed the knob to engage Low gear. Gently easing the gas pedal we inched up the steep mountain trail, crawling from rock to rock as we tried hard to avoid hitting the undercarriage. We weren't entirely successful, as we did misjudge one maneuver and left a small ding in the passenger side doorsill. One driver said this exercise, directed by Suzuki, was too much. Maybe it was too much for that driver, but it certainly wasn't too much for the Grand Vitara. We thought it proved that this SUV has true off-road capabilities with good ground clearance, approach, departure and break-over angles as well as short front and rear overhangs. Good off-road maneuvering might not be a trait required by most SUV buyers nowadays, but surely it is still desired by some.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a solid choice among compact SUVs. It's particularly suitable for someone who wants some off-road capability or needs a vehicle to hook up behind a 36-foot motor home. It's smooth enough to take you to dinner at the fancy restaurant down town. Yet it's rugged enough to include a low gear and locking differential for tackling rugged trails and unimproved roads.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from somewhere north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Suzuki Grand Vitara 2WD Manual ($18,999); 2WD Automatic ($19,999); XSport 2WD Automatic ($21,099); Luxury 2WD Automatic ($22,999); 4WD Manual ($20,199); 4WD Automatic ($21,199); XSport 4WD Automatic ($22,499); Luxury 4WD Automatic ($24,399).
Options As Tested
Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury 4WD automatic ($24,399).
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