2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara Expert Review:Autoblog
When driving a vehicle for review, we always keep a list of pros and cons. At just a glance we can see which list is longer and instantly know if it's a vehicle that we'd personally drive. At the end of the evaluation we throw in a few verbs, several random adjectives and some technical jargon to make us all sound knowledgeable and it's a review! Just kidding. A little, at least.
The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara Xsport that just left the Autoblog Garage didn't fit the mold. Our cons list outnumbered the pros, but we just can't give this one an automatic thumbs down.
The ride was unsettled by even slightly uneven pavement, which then caused the dash panel to creak and rattle. And the squeaky horn sounded more appropriate for one of Suzuki's econoboxes than a 4,600-pound SUV. And there's that funky side-opening rear cargo door. But from the pro list, we got a powerful V6, a fairly roomy interior and an impressive drivetrain warranty.
Our 2WD tester arrived wearing Quicksilver Metallic paint and cloth seats. The 2.7-liter V6 is standard, as are side curtain airbags, ABS, stability and traction control, fog lamps and 16-inch wheels. The Xsport trim level includes a few "comfort and convenience" options like a power sunroof, keyless entry and start, power windows and doors, audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel, a 6-disc AM/FM with six speakers and a subwoofer, and power mirrors. Total sticker price before shipping and handling was $22,349.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
The silver-toned exterior design made it on our pro list. The Vitara's straight lines, chunky bumpers, squared-off headlamps and rear-bumper-mounted spare tire took us back to a time when SUVs were masculine-looking machines made to take on the most intimidating terrain. While other SUVs like Mazda's CX7/9 go for sports car looks, Vitara keeps it real. And unlike Buick's glued-on chrome portholes-to-nowhere, Suzuki chose to make its vents black, plastic and, if not functional, at least actual holes.
The Suzuki's rear hatch, though, made it onto our con list. It's a hulk of a door (made heavier by that spare tire), that swings open left to right. Parallel park on a city street with cargo to load, and you will quickly despise the novelty. Park too closely to the car behind, and you'll be walking around the front of your car with every armful.
Luckily, though, filling the back of the Vitara with stuff isn't difficult. The floor-height doesn't require lifting bags above your waist, and unloading doesn't require a lot of bending over. A cargo cover attached to the back seat keeps big valuables out of view, while a shallow, covered divot in the cargo area is convenient for stashing items. Finding a light behind the rear seats isn't a surprise, but we'd prefer it came on automatically. It's no fun fumbling in the dark for that tiny switch. The rear seats also tilt up easily for moving even more of your junk, and in that position the Vitara passed our stroller test, even holding the Graco and groceries with a little room to spare.
Once inside, you're greeted by black and gray soft-touch plastics accented with brushed-aluminum-looking plastic trim. The black seat fabric felt more like athletic wear than upholstery, but will probably withstand years of abuse by adults and kids alike. Most of the interior, including the color-combination, fit-and-finish and spaciousness, got a pro-side listing. The driver's gauges in particular were appreciated with their white numerals on a black background in chrome-accented openings. They made for quick, easy reading on the road. At night, the red needle was as brightly lit as the numbers, but we also found negatives after the sun set. The driver's window switch on the driver's door is lit, but no others. Neither are any of the door lock switches or the cruise control switches on the steering wheel.
The Xsport-level Vitara gets an in-dash, 6-disc CD changer with six speakers and a subwoofer. We didn't appreciate being teased by the head unit advertising "XM" in large letters with a tiny "ready" disclaimer below. And the CD/AUX button did nothing but piss us off when 30 minutes of searching turned up no auxiliary port. That meant spending an entire week listening to advertising-intensive FM radio. Seriously, Suzuki. How much could it cost to include a 1/8" plug for the iPod? .50¢? $1? Make it $10 for your trouble and add .35¢ to my monthly payment. And we'd suggest an entry in the owner's manual on how to unplug that impotent little subwoofer. It's mounted right under the driver's seat and is more of a distraction than an enhancement.
Hauling a two-year-old in the Grand Vitara took little effort, though. Child-seat installation was simple and quick. The LATCH attachment points were easily found, and the center headrest was removed without a fight. Removal was even simpler. Getting the wiggly, impatient toddler into the seat was another issue. The rear door opening was shorter than some of the SUVs we've reviewed, and made getting a child into and out of a center-mounted safety seat a chore. My wife said if the vehicle were ours, she'd be tempted to install the seat in an outboard position. And for adults, there was enough headroom, legroom, hiproom, etc. to comfortably hold front and rear passengers, and the front and rear cup holders easily held a 1-liter water bottle.
Under the Grand Vitara's hood is that 185-hp, 2.7 liter V6 we mentioned earlier. It's at the top of the positives list, and singlehandedly erases several negatives. Press the fast pedal closer to the floor, and you can't even hear that annoying subwoofer any more. I've read other reviews that said the Vitara's engine is unresponsive and even sluggish. Either Suzuki listened to the complaints and made improvements or I'm just easily pleased. The car accelerated nicely with some lovely music coming from the little V6. The rush almost (almost) made me forget how much dinosaur juice I was burning. Most of the week was spent commuting in light city traffic and we burned 11.7 gallons of regular over 177 miles. That's an average of just over 15 mpg for the week. I've been accused of having a lead foot, but that's 2 mpg lower than the EPA city estimate and just within the "expected range" of 14 to 20 city.
But there are two other positives in this SUV's drivetrain. First, it's got an automatic transmission, not a manumatic or a sequential automatic. It's a true, old-school PRNDL, and that makes me happy. We've yet to meet a manumatic we enjoy using (dual clutch units notwithstanding). Good ones may exist, but at this price level, either simplify the automatic tranny or install a clutch. Thank you, Suzuki, for simplifying.
Here's one simplification we can't understand, though. While Honda's CRV, Toyota's Rav4, and Chevrolet's Equinox all get a full set of disc brakes, Suzuki puts disc on front, drums in back. Drum brakes? On a 2008 model vehicle, let alone a big, heavy one? Seriously?
The drivetrain's superb warranty is its third pro. Suzuki backs up its mechanicals for seven years or 100,000 miles with no deductible. Even better, the warranty is transferable, instantly boosting resale value.
In the end, the negatives did outweigh the positives for the 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara Xsport. Don't bother counting, some were just too personal and trivial to bother listing. But overall, we still like the Vitara and it's one of the major reasons the Japanese brand hit 100,000 sales in the U.S. last year. It's just an "honest" vehicle. From its boxy exterior to its functional hood vents, it's not trying to be something it's not. But a more fuel efficient engine, modern brakes and a plug for my Pod would go a long way toward making me buy one.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Compact SUV is capable off road, comfortable on road.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara has been thoroughly overhauled for 2009, with more advanced drivetrains, better brakes, new cosmetics, and added features. A new V6 engine is available in addition to the four-cylinder engine. It has not turned soft in the process, nor has Suzuki tried to put seven seats where five belong. The Grand Vitara is quite capable in rugged terrain and offers superior durability than the car-based crossovers.
Four-wheel drive enthusiasts use the term soft-roader for vehicles that have all-wheel drive but aren't really built for anything rougher than a graded dirt road. Built on a front-wheel-drive platform, these car-based crossovers include the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Nissan Rogue.
Suzuki's Grand Vitara is a tougher little bugger. It's built on a rear-wheel-drive platform and is available with four-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive, the former distinguished from the latter by its added low-range gearing. This allows the Grand Vitara to climb or descend steeper inclines and walk over rocky obstacles without boiling its drivetrain. It has a proper underbody layout, with steel suspension arms rather than aluminum, and attention to the engine compartment means the muddy river at the door bottoms won't faze it. For two-wheel drive owners it means a nearly indestructible runabout.
However, just because the Grand Vitara can take some abuse doesn't mean the occupants have to. With fully independent suspension, able engines and a clean cabin, the Grand Vitara does not have the rough-and-tumble ride quality and cabin surroundings the term four-wheel drive often conjures up. It is quite happy on the pavement and doesn't ask any compromises.
The 2009 Grand Vitara is offered in 11 permutations, with nearly every imaginable combination available. All models are rated to tow a small trailer, and many can be flat-towed behind a motorhome.
The Grand Vitara ($18,499) comes standard with a 166-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive, with five-speed manual standard and four-speed automatic optional ($1100). Standard features include cloth upholstery, automatic air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, power steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, outside temperature display, map lights, vanity mirrors and visor extensions, 60/40 split-fold reclining rear seats, automatic headlamps, P225/70R16 tires on steel wheels. Options on the include Bluetooth connectivity, and auxiliary audio input jack.
Premium ($18,899) adds a cargo cover, privacy glass behind the front doors, hard spare tire cover, more paint choices. Premium 4WD ($20,349) also gets heated outside mirrors and offers optional alloy wheels.
XSport ($21,749) and XSport 4WD ($23,399) add SmartPass keyless entry/start, 6CD changer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps, sunroof, roof rails and 16-inch aluminum wheels including the uncovered spare.
XSport V6 ($22,999) and XSport V6 4WD ($24,749) feature a 230-hp 3.2-liter V6 with a five-speed automatic and come with Hill Hold and Hill Descent Control and 17-inch aluminum wheels. An optional appearance package adds side steps and textured fender flares. A rear-view camera display on the inside mirror is available ($699).
Luxury upgrade with leather upholstery and synthetic leather door trim, heated front seats, premium audio systems, dark-silver wood print trim, 18-inch aluminum wheels on V6, full hard spare tire cover. The rear view camera and auxiliary audio input jack are the only options. They come in four models: Luxury ($23,249), Luxury 4WD ($26,299), Luxury V6 ($24,549) and Luxury V6 4WD ($26,299).
Safety equipment that comes standard includes dual-stage frontal airbags, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags front and rear. Active safety features to help you avoid accidents include electronic stability control (ESP) incorporating traction control, and antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist.
Since it's a compact SUV, the Suzuki Grand Vitara isn't all that grand in scale, but it's more space efficient than a lot of utility and crossover vehicles. Short overhangs, fairly straight and vertical sides and cargo door, and excellent outward visibility designed for trail use are equally welcome in urban environs.
The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara is an inch longer than its predecessor.
Head-on, the Grand Vitara's styling is reminiscent of a Saab, with horizontal headlamp elements that appear inset and protected, clean lines and a wraparound clamshell hood that has no bodywork seams on top where they could be seen by occupants. The line that forms the hood opening sweeps upward and carries all the way to the back door, creating a smooth character line.
Although the top window line slopes downward in opposition to the character line, neither is aggressive and the back-seat side windows are still quite large, as opposed to the tiny angular glass on some similar vehicles. Wheels are simple spoked arrangements that don't pack in snow or mud, fender flares keep them trimmed without adding excessive width, and privacy glass is used on upper trim levels.
From a lower vantage point you will also notice that approach and departure angles, which indicate how steep an object or incline you can tackle without body contact, are both very good. Perhaps even more important, departure angle is almost the same as approach, so if you get the front over there's a good chance the back will go over clean as well. Urban dwellers with high curbs will appreciate this because of U-turn ability.
An Appearance package that adds side steps and textured fender flares is offered for XSport models, but we submit since the Grand Vitara doesn't tower over you that no step is needed, and that a few rock scrapes or hunks of mud will far better provide the appearance that you use your 4WD.
From the rear the Grand Vitara takes styling cues from its big brother, the Suzuki XL7, and squares it off to promote more cargo area, easier loading, and less snow-scraping off the rear glass. The Grand Vitara slightly resembles the Toyota RAV4 but comes across as more purpose-styled. Placing the rear tire low on the cargo door doesn't interfere with rear visibility, frees space inside and means you won't have to lie on the muddy, wet or snow-covered ground to reach the spare nor load the dead dirty tire in the cargo area.
In back, the license plate holder that hangs down will be the first thing scraped on trail adventures but it is expendable and won't keep you from driving home.
The Grand Vitara is not based on a front-wheel-drive car like most small SUVs, and has a hybrid unibody with a ladder frame like a truck underneath it. This adds a bit of weight but the payoffs in strength are worth it for serious use; we parked one on two opposite wheels with the remaining two hanging in mid-air and could still open and close the doors and cargo door with normal effort.
The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara cabin puts to rest any notion that small equals penalty box. There is nothing ground-breaking in style or features but the logic and execution are first-rate, the materials fully appropriate and cheap to neither eye nor touch.
It's as easy to get in and out of the Grand Vitara as it is with most big cars and many drivers will appreciate that they can almost slide in rather than sit down and later have to climb out. Seats are nicely shaped to allow freedom of movement and supportive enough to empty the fuel tank. While appearance and materials vary by model, the entry-level model offers the same layout, usability, and safety features of the top-line model. Interior materials are upgraded as the price increases, and the Limited comes with leather seats. Regardless of fabric, the center and door armrests are nicely padded.
A three-spoke tilt wheel offers illuminated redundant controls on all but the base model and frames the three-pod instruments; tachometer, speed, and temperature/fuel/gear display on every model. Often-used operating controls are stalk mounted and easy to use. The shifter, gated on automatics, and handbrake are both well-placed.
Outboard dash vents are omni-directional, with conventional horizontal vents at the top of the central dash area. The audio system and climate control run down the panel, and the only potential issue is display visibility with polarized sunglasses. Door pockets, center console storage and a smaller one overhead, glovebox, and smaller bins handle miscellany.
Rear-seat passengers will find more than adequate leg and headroom, even with a sunroof, although some car-based truck-lets have a bit more room. Sheer width dictates that three-across should be youngsters or petite people but the fairly flat cushion and three full-size headrests equalize comfort among them. The rear seat splits with the narrow side behind the driver, and both sides recline independently.
The cargo load floor is not very high thanks to the rear suspension and with the tire outside there is a sizable open bin underneath it. Volume is decent given the compact exterior dimensions and shaped more upright than laid out flat. Various nets and clips help secure items, and the rear seats fold easily to increase volume by a factor of 2.8.
The back door swings open to the right, so you will have to step around it when loading and unloading curbside at the airport or in the big city. (This is in deference to the more crowded Japanese home market.) However, you will never scrape it on a low ceiling as you might a hatch nor have to jump up to reach the pull strap. Adding a piece of non-skid material, clear cover, or scuff plate to the top of the bumper would protect the paint from loading scars.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara offers two engines, a brand-new, unique-to-Suzuki, built-in-Japan 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 3.2-liter V6. Both engines are all-aluminum and included in the zero-deductible, transferable 7 year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Fuel mileage varies from 19/26 mpg EPA City/Highway for the four-cylinder 2WD manual to 17/23 mpg for a V6 automatic 4WD.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder is quite competitive and goes about its business smoothly with minimal fuss, delivering 166 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. You will floor it for uphill on-ramps and sand dunes, and it will happily deliver everything it has without sounding stressed, strained, or underpowered. Either transmission works well with it, and you'll get the best out of it with the manual.
The 3.2-liter V6 engine, also built in Japan, is a derivative of the high-feature V6 used as a 3.6-liter in the Suzuki XL7 and Cadillac CTS and the 2.8-liter turbo used in the Saab 9-3. The 3.2-liter version is designed for longitudinal use, as in the Grand Vitara and other trucks, as opposed to a transverse layout where the engine sits sideways, usually over the front drive wheels. The 3.2-liter delivers 230 hp at 6200 rpm, the same as the 3.2-liter, 400-pound heavier Land Rover LR2, and 213 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm through a five-speed automatic gearbox.
Smoothness and refinement characterize the V6 and the added oomph shows up more at highway speeds than around town or around the rocks. The fuel economy rating hit is relatively small because the V6 gets an extra gear in its automatic, but if you make a habit of using the extra 64 horsepower you will pay in mileage.
Two-wheel drive Grand Vitaras drive the rear wheels, a long-time staple of trucks and taxis and other working vehicles, and a favorite of enthusiasts for driving dynamics. 166 ponies do not make a hot-rod, but the Grand Vitara's ideal 50/50 weight distribution deliver good on-road handling and response and, with the traction control switched off, a heck of a lot of fun drifting around an off-highway vehicle park or snowy field.
With all-independent suspension the Grand Vitara gives up little in ride comfort to most car-based crossovers; in many cases where the crossovers use very low-profile tires the Suzuki rides better because the tires absorb more of the sharp impacts. The Grand Vitara quietly rolls down the highway, the steering and brakes working exactly as you expect with little effort. It might not be the ideal commuter car everywhere, but for rural Minnesota, New Mexico or Alaska, it makes a compelling argument with its decent fuel economy, non-punishing ride and solid build.
Two four-wheel drive systems are available, the single-mode system on Premium trim and a four-mode system on XSport and Luxury models. Both have low-range gearing to get you through slow-speed situations like steep ascents and high-load situations like deep sand and mud. The four-mode system has a setting for four-wheel drive on pavement, as you'd use in winter weather or extreme rain, and it normally drives both axles evenly but can deliver full power to either front or rear axle if needed. Both systems are controlled by a dash-mounted switch. A traction control component helps in very low friction surfaces, and proper axle gearing and torque converter setup ensure maximum use of available power.
While the Grand Vitara is more capable off the highway than most cute-utes and high wagons, it does not compete with the likes of Jeep's Wrangler or Hummer's H3, both heavier, more expensive, more severe-duty machines that extract a penalty in ride comfort and fuel economy. However, a Grand Vitara will handle small rocks, off-camber climbs, and water crossings deep enough that opening a door would flood the floor and the exhaust burbles like one of Suzuki's outboard motors; if you look under hood you'll find the engine air intake is located well up high and the area is quite serviceable by modern vehicle standards.
Tow rating for the Grand Vitara is 3,000 pounds, sufficient for a pair of personal watercraft, dirt bikes or small pop-up trailer, but a little shy for a bass boat. Grand Vitara 4-mode models may be pulled on all four wheels, as a dinghy behind a motorhome, following instructions in the owner's manual and proper fitting of an airbag-compliant tow bar.
The Grand Vitara is a solid choice, both figuratively and literally, in compact SUVs. Suzuki has eschewed making the Grand Vitara a station wagon in favor of keeping the components and durability required for off-highway use. And it has done so while making it more efficient, comfortable for daily use, and sporting a good degree of features, finish, and value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G. R. Whale filed this report from the Texas Hill Country.
Suzuki Grand Vitara 2WD ($18,499), automatic ($19,599); Premium 2WD ($18,899), automatic ($19,999), 4WD manual ($20,349), automatic ($21,449); XSport 2.4 2WD ($21,749), 4WD ($23,399); XSport 3.2 V6 2WD ($22,999), 4WD ($24,749); Luxury 2.4 ($23,249), 4WD ($24,899); Luxury 3.2 V6 ($24,549), 4WD ($26,299).
Options As Tested
Suzuki Grand Vitara XSport 4WD 2.4 ($23,399).
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
More on the Grand Vitara
Whether you're a buyer or owner of the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara we've got you covered.
FIND A GREAT USED CAR
Great Auto Loan Rates
Low Rates on New and Used AutosPowered By Apply In One Easy Step »