Still going strong
Traditional utility vehicles are becoming a less common sight on the road as both consumers and automakers opt for sleeker crossovers. As consumers demand more car-like attributes in small SUVs, the compact crossover is in a position to overtake small ladder frame SUVs.
But there's still one brand that continues to sell the tried and proven body-on-frame design: Suzuki. First launched in the market way back in 2006, the decade-old third-generation Grand Vitara is one of the company's longest-running models still on sale. Even though it has undergone several cosmetic updates and powertrain changes, the Grand Vitara still incorporates a no nonsense approach when it came to looks, interior, and powertrain.
Sure it’s not as sleek and aggressive compared to today’s newcomers and new-generation contenders, but Suzuki opted for the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra. The ten-year old design still looks fresh and makes it standout more from the competition. The distinct wedge-shaped front has always been one of my favorite parts of the Grand Vitara as the automaker found a way to incorporate styling cues from the much-revered first-generation model. The tailgate-mounted spare wheel, on the other hand, further denotes the Grand Vitara's SUV roots.
This being the Special Edition variant, it gets some nice exclusive add-ons which spruces up the exterior. The 18-inch dark silver alloy wheels and dark chrome front grill were particularly nice as it gave the SUV a more purposeful look. It even has silver roof rails which give it extra flair.
It's a different story however when one climbs inside the Grand Vitara. It has a straightforward cabin design which adds to the SUV's practicality, but aesthetically-speaking, the Grand Vitara's interior is outdated. Its age aside, the interior is well screwed together and its ergonomics are best described as familiar with all of the buttons and dials placed exactly where you expect them to be. The leather-wrapped steering wheel was also easy to the touch but a bit more girth would do nicely on long drives.
Neat touches of champagne silver accents on the center console, door handles, steering wheel, gauge cluster, aircon vents and gear lever remind occupants that this is the range-topping Grand Vitara. It helps to improve the cabin's ambiance as it provides a bit of color to the cabin's predominantly dark-themed interior.
It has decent seats, though a bit more padding on the seat cushions could do wonders on long road trips. The steering wheel is only tilt-adjustable but the configurable driver's seat means there's plenty of adjustments for tall and short drivers. Features like a multifunction steering wheel, automatic door locks, power windows and side mirrors, and automatic climate control come as standard on the Grand Vitara.
In today's modern world, where touchscreen systems reign supreme, the Grand Vitara has a more conventional 2-DIN integrated audio system. For audiophiles that are content to live with the Aux cord and CD player (this can hold 6 discs), this is still a good audio system. Personally, Suzuki should have opted to install a new touchscreen system with USB connectivity to keep up with newer contenders.
Providing power is still the 2.4-liter J24B inline-four which drives the rear wheels. It may be a dated engine, but it still produces adequate power with 168 PS at 6,000 rpm along with 227 Nm of torque at 3,800 rpm. Changing cogs is done by a 4-speed automatic that comes with an A/T power switch. This makes the transmission more responsive and holds the gear longer.
It's not the most high-tech engine in the segment, but it does have variable valve timing (VVT) and multi-point fuel injection (MPI) which is on par with most engines in the market. Off the line the engine was quite torquey. With plenty of pulling power down below, overtaking in slow speeds was not a problem on the Grand Vitara.
Out on the highway, however, the motor started to show its age. First introduced back in 2009 as part of the facelift, the carried-over motor lacked mid-range grunt. This was mended by the 4-speed automatic gearbox which was always to ready to drop a gear in case one wanted to overtake or quickly pick up speed.
The Grand Vitara also had decent handling. With a ladder frame chassis fused onto the bodywork, the Grand Vitara has crossover-like handling and better stability than traditional body-on-frame vehicles.
When tackling corners or mountain roads, the Grand Vitara performed well and did not feel wayward. It was only along rough patches of road that the Grand Vitara remind drivers that it still has a ladder frame chassis. Ride quality was slightly on the stiff side but bearable nonetheless.
Fuel economy for this type of vehicle is typical. In the city, it can average between 7.5 – 8.5 km/l. Heavier traffic conditions will yield about 5.0 – 6.0 km/l of fuel. Out on the highway, the Grand Vitara will easily average 14.5 km/l.
While the Grand Vitara is a nice throwback to the compact utes of yesteryear, it does lack some modern road manners. First off, the hydraulic-assisted power steering system feels a generation behind as I can feel it vibrating through the steering wheel when I'm pulling away. Better engine sound deadening can also be done on the SUV as it gets a bit noisy at high speeds. And like every Suzuki that I got to drive, the Grand Vitara also lets out a noticeable shift shock when one shifts from Drive to Neutral.
All in all, it's not the most technologically-advanced SUV in the market. It even has relatively simple features and decent ride quality. So why is it still a contender in the compact SUV/crossover scene? For me, it's an honest car. The Grand Vitara does not come off as a vehicle that packs the latest gizmos or delivers a lofty ride. It excels in usability and practicality. It's a vehicle that can be used everyday to ferry city folk or active lifestyle individuals.
At PhP 1,210,000, this top-of-the-range special edition somehow proved once again that dated technology does not necessarily mean old and inferior. Instead, it was able to prove its worth after many years in the market.
For buyers that want simplicity and usability, the Grand Vitara is still something to look out.