REVIEW DATE: 09 Oct 2008
Suzuki's Grand Vitara is one of the few compact 4x4s that's up to the demands of proper off-roading. Now it's been improved and has a much more class-competitive 2.4-litre petrol engine. Jonathan Crouch reports
Take most compact 4x4s off road and they'll either be shedding body parts or will just whimper quietly and get stuck fast. The Suzuki Grand Vitara is different, being ruggedly built and equipped with a proper low range gearbox. The addition of a far better 2.4-litre petrol engine and standard ESP stability control mean that it makes sense on road too with budget prices and plenty of rugged practicality. It's a real rough diamond.
Other makers may argue but Suzuki contends that its Vitara/Grand Vitara line-up offered the British market its very first compact 4x4. The range has been around on these shores in one form or another for over twenty years and well over 160,000 have been sold here. The current generation version has been well received, the one caveat being the performance of the 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine it was launched with.
Suzuki makes much, understandably, of the car's off road ability but the truth is that the majority of buyers in this sector just don't care. For their predominately tarmac use, the petrol Grand Vitara's relative lack of pulling power meant either fronting up for the pricier diesel version or buying something else, preferably something that, unlike the Suzuki, offered as standard the kind of ESP stability control that all high-sided 4x4s should have. Hence the introduction of a 165bhp 2.4-litre petrol engine to sit above the 2.0-litre unit, the adoption of standard ESP across the range and a welcome package of visual tweaks and equipment upgrades.
The Grand Vitara is far more capable in the rough than a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V and it's not difficult to see why. The four-wheel drive system is geared towards off-road rather than wet road traction and ground clearance is far better. The flipside of this is that the steering and chassis never feel so responsive on road, but for some this will be a more than acceptable trade off.
"If you put a value on ability rather than mere attitude, the Grand Vitara, now more than ever, deserves a place on your shopping list.."
Recognising the life saving potential of electronic stability systems, Suzuki has developed an ESP stability control system borrowed from Daimler AG and fitted it as standard on 2.4-litre models. This particular set-up uses selective wheel braking and controls engine output as necessary to stabilise the vehicle if it detects understeer or oversteer situations which could possibly result in total loss of control.
Further safety measures have also been upgraded, most notably with the introduction of ventilated rear disc brakes and extra shock-absorbing elements around the bonnet, wings and front bumper to reduce the risk of injury to pedestrians - a quality that had already earned Grand Vitara a very respectable three-star rating in independent Euro NCAP crash testing.
Both the exterior and interior have been given a mild facelift. On the outside there is a revised front end treatment and restyled door mirrors with integrated turn indicators, while inside the cabin, chrome and wood-effect inlays are intended to add extra touches of quality. There have also been improvements to the design and operation of some of the dashboard controls, including a redesigned multi-information display and revised air conditioning control panel.The neat, minimal front end styling remains very appealing, while the sculpted wheelarches and clever use of curves and angles in the car's glasshouse gives it a very contemporary look.
A quartet of engines are available to UK buyers, kicking off with a 105bhp 1.6-litre offered in three-door guise and running on to the old 140bhp 2.0-litre 16v petrol unit if you go for a 5-door model. I'd be tempted to save up a little more and spring for one of the more modern powerplants on offer. The petrol-engined 2.4-litre version is offered with both three and five-doors and features a balancer shaft for greater refinement. Arguably still the pick of the range is the 130PS diesel, also offered in both three and five-door bodystyles, which uses a Renault-sourced 1.9-litre turbodiesel. Mated to a five speed manual gearbox as standard, those who tire of changing gear themselves can pay a little extra and land themselves a four-speed automatic 'box.
Grand Vitara buyers get a decent quota of kit. Expect to find electric front windows, climate control air-conditioning, front, side and curtain airbags, ABS with EBD and a CD stereo. There's also heated and folding electric door mirrors, alloy wheels and front fog lamps. Front, side and curtain airbags protect front seat occupants while those in the rear benefit from curtain bags too. The 2.4-litre model has a high standard specification including an in-dash 6CD player with MP3 compatibility, rear privacy glass and 17-inch wheels. Five-door models additionally feature leather seats with front seat heating; High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, cruise control, 18-inch wheels and electrically-operated glass sun-roof as standard.
Pricing starts at under £14,000 for the base 1.6-litre SZ three-door, with the five-door variants (which only comes with the two larger engines) priced from around £17,000. If you were thinking of a Toyota RAV4 but were put off by prices that start the wrong side of £20k, give the Suzuki a try. You might well be very pleasantly surprised. Suzuki's pricing makes this Vitara look good value against rivals like Toyota's RAV4 for which you'll probably need a budget of over £20,000. If that sounds tempting, then give the Grand Vitara a try.You might well be very pleasantly surprised.
It's equally cheap to run - at least in diesel form. With a combined economy figure of over 38mpg, the Grand Vitara 1.9 DDis isn't going to attract the ire of anti-SUV fundamentalists. Or rather it shouldn't. A carbon dioxide emissions figure of 183g/km isn't the end of the world (sorry) and the very low upfront price and perceived benefit of the diesel engine should prop up residuals very nicely. In developing the 2.4-litre petrol engine, Suzuki has managed to keep emissions at the same level as the older 2.0-litre unit (205-208g/km), though these were nothing to write home about.
All Suzuki models are covered by Suzuki Shield, a three year/60,000 mile warranty and also by Suzuki Assistance which provides 24-hour UK and European roadside assistance, recovery and associated services for 36 months. Factor in a 12 year anti-perforation warranty and you've got belt and braces protection on the Grand Vitara. Figure on Group 14 insurance and you should get a handle on what sort of premiums you'll be paying.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara's inbuilt authenticity has traditionally allowed it to override many of its shortcomings. In the past, these have included rather clumsy handling, petrol engines that were a little rough-edged and some rather cheap interior finishes. All these areas have been looked at in this revised range and though this car is still hardly cutting edge on tarmac, it's now a lot harder to dismiss on that score.
Plus of course, this remains the only truly compact 4x4 that can cut the mustard off road. Long after cars like the Honda CR-V or Nissan X-TRAIL have waved the white flag, the Suzuki, equipped with its low range gearbox, will still be going strong. The issue at stake here is what store UK buyers place in genuine ability like this when most will just want a 4x4 because it makes them feel safer when it's raining.
The 1.9-litre diesel in five-door form remains the best buy of the lot, combining the sweetest engine with the most practical body. If you do put a value on ability rather than mere attitude, the Grand Vitara, now more than ever, deserves a place on your shopping list.
The results below show the top GRAND VITARA deals on buyacar
|Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 SZ4 3dr Auto estate|
|Price £15,861||Save £2,524|
|Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.6 SZ4 3dr estate|
|Price £14,448||Save £2,222|
|Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 SZ5 5dr Auto estate|
|Price £18,571||Save £4,054|
|Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.6 SZ3 3dr estate|
|Price £13,891||Save £2,089|
|Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.9 DDiS SZ5 5dr diesel estate|
|Price £20,231||Save £3,634|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT GRAND VITARA DEALS|
|For GRAND VITARA RANGE|
|OVERALL||6.7 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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