Jude P. Morte / Jude P. Morte | September 18, 2006 00:00
Midpack ContenderWhen the all-new Suzuki Grand Vitara was introduced last year, many appreciated it for its all new styling, performance and interior features that were a significant upgrade from the stuffy, box-on-wheels look of the previous model. But in a market that includes the Mazda Tribute, the Kia Sportage, the Nissan X-Trail, the Mitsubishi Outlander, the Honda CR-V and the Hyundai Tucson, Suzuki's locally available four-wheeled top-end product may have trouble discerning itself. Whether or not the Grand Vitara can stand out in a crowded entry-level SUV (sport utility vehicle) market is the basis for this test drive.
Outside and in
The general exterior styling of the Grand Vitara lent to this writer (a P 1.27 million 2.0L 4x4) is great, despite the SUV's rear part looking too much like the rear section of the current model and 2001-2005 Toyota RAV4s. Take a look at the interior, however, and the Grand Vitara feels roomy. The reclining rear bench doesn't feel cramped and although the front bucket seats aren't exactly plush, they are supportive and comfortable. The audio entertainment is great (along with steering wheel-mounted controls), but needs an amplifier to highlight bass tones. The air conditioning is strong, but the dials for temperature and blower setting need to switch places to avoid confusion for the driver - this writer kept on fiddling with the temperature dial when what he was actually looking for was the blower control. Luggage capacity is smaller than its rivals at just 23.8 cubic feet, but fold down the Grand Vitara's second-row 40/60-split-folding bench and you get 67.3 cubic feet of total cargo capacity - an increase of 17.5 cubic feet over the previous model. While the rear door swings open to the right making curb access difficult, the door is easy to open and close and saves interior space by housing the spare tire on its back.
Along with added interior room, Suzuki spiffed up cabin look and feel. Attractive and well-positioned gauges, comfortable cloth seats, and brushed aluminum trim breaking an otherwise all-black interior are pleasing to the eye. It's not quite as grand as the SUV's name suggests, but it is fairly "homey" for an inexpensive SUV.
Get behind the wheel and you'll find out that the Grand Vitara's weight (2070 kg gross vehicle weight) severely hinders the SUV on acceleration from rest. The four-speed automatic transmission (a/t) doesn't help much, for the gearing is tall and tends to downshift at inopportune times (like close to crests on inclines and close to flat land on descent). As a result top speed (a tested 160 kph) and fuel consumption (a tested 8.33 kilometers per liter on four days of city driving) are somewhat paltry but respectable. The good news is that when the SUV has momentum, it uses all its 145 hp and 193 NM of torque to go fast on the highway, particularly on emergency lane changes.
An independent MacPherson strut front suspension and independent multilink rear suspension keep the Grand Vitara's nose from diving but allow its haunches maneuverability. The athleticism is great, but the SUV has a bumpy ride, which can get tiring after long periods. Steering is blunt and heavy, making the driver give a little extra effort to turn the wheel. Stopping power is consistent, but by the end of this writer's test drive, the brakes started to squeal during hard stops.
The Grand Vitara's four-wheel-drive system carries four modes (all in a dial under the temperature control) for nearly all types of situations. The 4H mode is for navigating the highways and byways of everyday driving. The 4H locking mode locks the center differential when conditions get slippery. The 4L Lock mode is for tackling seriously muddy, rocky hills. In this mode the differential is always locked and was reassuring when coming back down the muddy hills of Tanay (Rizal). The fourth mode is Neutral, which allows you to tow the vehicle on all four wheels without racking up mileage.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.0L 4x4 can hold its own on tarmac and dirt, and does have a bevy of creature comforts to offer those seeking an entry level SUV. All it needs to avoid being a midpack contender is better gear ratios (or a better-tuned a/t), a diet, better steering and suspension tuning, and distinctly Suzuki styling.