What do you get when you have a crossover that doesn't want to actually be a crossover? Well, the Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Suzuki's compact SUV doesn't subscribe to the typical crossover SUV credo of a sedan's framework wearing an SUV's body. Instead the Grand Vitara fuses an SUV's rigid ladderframe chassis into the body, doing away with bolt-by-bolt, body-on-frame construction. Hence, it's more rigid and robust, and can take more than what crossovers can in terms of on and off road punishment.
Pop the hood and a new 2.4 liter inline four engine greets you. Compared to the rest of the front wheel drive CUV crowd, the engine is mounted longitudinally, directing 165 PS of power and 225 Newtons torque to the rear wheels like a traditional SUV.
On the outside, Suzuki chose to go for a stronger look, as opposed to the more rounded, softer looking crossovers. The front exudes the just right aggression of larger, more powerful SUVs while distinct creases and lines define the GV, finished off by a tailgate-mount spare wheel and tire; again, just like a true SUV.
Inside, the front seats hug the body very well, while the dash has a clean, logical look. All controls are well placed and laid out, though the steering wheel could use a bit more of diameter and thickness for better feel. The back seat can accommodate three, and features a 60:40 split with fold flat capability for better space. The tailgate swings to the right, opening up 691 liters of space with the rear seats up and the tonneau cover off.
On the equipment side, the GV has a full complement of kit. Standard power features include all windows, side mirrors, steering and locks. There's a fully automatic climate control system to keep things comfortable inside, while a decent AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system takes care of in car entertainment. The speakers don't sound as full as expected in this price range though.
As a driving proposition, the GV accelerates from a standstill to 100 km/h in around 12 seconds, and delivering decent fuel economy in city driving at 7.5 kilometers to a liter. Like the Swift, the GV traces twisty roads with ease and confidence, though the suspension set up is rather stiff for city streets. The brakes are quite powerful too, easily stopping the 1.6 tonne GV in both wet and dry conditions.
Tried on by itself, the Grand Vitara seems like a great vehicle to drive and own. Driven with the full-fledged crossovers, however, and quite a few things become apparent. The mechanicals feel a generation behind the Grand Vitara's peers in terms of refinement, and can be felt through the gearbox's operation and heard through the engine's whirring at revs.
Inside, there's no question about how perfectly the pieces fit together, as the interior fitment is reminiscent of a well-made Tamiya model kit; no seams, no excesses, and feels solidly built. However, plastics and composite materials feel brittle and lack the impact absorbent nature of modern automotive interiors. The switchgear and texturing (especially the steering wheel) also leave quite a bit to be desired.
Overall, at PhP 1.27M, the GV is a decent blend of real SUV toughness with crossover practicality, but will have an uphill struggle to keep up with its more modern peers in such a competitive class.