|The grille has been updated for 2009, but Suzuki hasn't messed with the Grand Vitara's clean, handsome lines. (Photo: Canadian Auto Press)|
The original little Suzuki 4x4s used body-on-frame construction, live axles and leaf springs, all of which made them incredibly tough. The Grand Vitara uses an integrated ladder frame to retain much of that truck-like toughness (and 3,000-pound towing capability) while adding a big dollop of on-road refinement. Instead of live axles, the Grand Vitara incorporates a fully independent suspension, with MacPherson struts up front and multi-link geometry in the rear.
|The big news for 2009 is under the hood. The V6 has been bumped up to 3.2 litres and a 4-cylinder is now offered as the base engine. (Photo: Canadian Auto Press)|
For 2009 Suzuki has reintroduced a 4-cylinder engine for the Grand Vitara in the North American market, and reengineered the 6-cylinder engine. The 3.2-litre 24-valve V6, as fitted in our JXL-L test car, is bigger and more potent than the previous 2.7-litre unit, producing more power (up from 185 horsepower to 230) and more torque (up from 184 ft-lb to 213) while retaining slightly better fuel economy than the outgoing engine (rated economy for the 3.2-litre V6 is 12.5 L/100km city, 8.6 highway).
In terms of styling, there are a few cosmetic changes this year: new grille and wheel designs, and an updated centre stack. Behind the scenes, Suzuki engineers have worked to reduce levels of noise,
|The interior offers a high level of luxury for its price class. Changes for 2009 include an updated centre stack. (Photo: Canadian Auto Press)|
On the road the new V6 proved smooth and willing. It has ample power for city and highway driving, and hauls the Grand Vitara from standstill to 100km/h in just over nine seconds. The V6 is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, while the 4-cylinder Grand Vitara comes with either a five-speed manual transmission or 4-speed automatic. Unfortunately for those who want the power of the V6 with the utility of a manual transmission, this combination isn't available - the manual transmission is only available in the base JA trim with the 4-cylinder.
I found the GV's dashboard layout well done, and all the controls fell readily to hand in the expected locations; no surprises or annoyances here. The premium eight-speaker audio system in our tester had the usual AM/FM receiver, six-CD changer and plug-in for your MP3 player, plus XM satellite radio compatibility; it was plenty powerful enough to do justice to my favourite tunes. Overall, the interior of the Grand Vitara receives high marks for fit, finish and materials, and I liked the red control illumination in the centre stack.
"L" stands for leather. Our JLX-L test car was outfitted with comfortable perforated leather seating and heated front seats. (Photo: Canadian Auto Press)
On the safety front, all models get dual front airbags, front-seat mounted side airbags and side-curtain airbags. All models also get Suzuki's Electronic Stability Program (ESP) which manages the ABS brakes, traction control and stability control in unison to reduce front and rear wheel slip, optimizing the GV's traction, cornering and stability. The V6 models add hill hold and hill descent control to this array of electronic smarts.
Because the Grand Vitara is styled in a straightforward, utilitarian manner with square corners and relatively upright roof pillars, outward visibility is quite good except for the view directly behind, which looks through a fairly small, deeply-set rear window. The generally good visibility, combined with compact outside dimensions, make the Grand Vitara quite easy to live with and drive in city traffic. The only downside is again thanks to that back door - while it provides a place to hang the spare tire (and therefore maximize interior space) it is big, which means that you can't always open it in restricted spaces, and it opens on the wrong side of the vehicle, so when loading from the sidewalk you have to somehow get around the door.
|There's adequate cargo room behind the 60/40 split folding seats, and they flip all the way forward to create even more luggage space, but the rear door can get in the way of loading. (Photo: Canadian Auto Press)|
Driving around town the Grand Vitara's ride is relatively forgiving and not at all harsh, despite (or perhaps because of) its serious offroad potential. It swallows up the city's inevitable potholes and bumps with aplomb, steers with credible precision and manages to stay fairly flat when cornering, better than one might expect for such a relatively tall vehicle. At highway speeds it does show some choppiness over bumps and undulations, but nothing untoward or unsettling. Off-road, the Grand Vitara proved more than capable of navigating any trails I was willing to tackle in a borrowed vehicle, though the factory-equipped all-season, all-terrain tires had their limitations when it came to thick, viscous gumbo - I managed to get stuck briefly in a mud bog and was none too happy with the prospect of stepping out into the goo to place traction pads. Fortunately with 200 mm of ground clearance I was able to drive out instead by heading downhill over some rough terrain.
|Good looks, civilized road manners and real off-road capability. The Grand Vitara is an appealing package. (Photo: Canadian Auto Press)|
As a flexible family hauler the Grand Vitara provides a high level of luxury for its price class, reasonable room for up to five passengers and decent cargo space (691 litres / 24.4 cu ft with the second row seats in place, 1,951 L / 68.9 cu ft with the seats folded). It offers good looks, reasonable road manners and genuine medium-duty off-road capability, and it can be safely towed behind a motorhome. All this adds up to a pretty appealing package and explains why the Grand Vitara is such a brisk seller. It's a good, honest little sport utility vehicle.
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