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Suzuki Grand Vitara back in SA

2008-09-03 14:11
Beyond the Eurocentric styling Suzuki’s Grand Vita

Beyond the Eurocentric styling Suzuki’s Grand Vitara rides on a ladder-frame reinforced monocoque chassis and features a low-range transfer case for those rural shortcuts.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Suzuki
Model Grand Vitara
Engine 2.4 inline four, 3.2 V6
Power 122kW @ 6 000r/min, 165kW @ 6 200r/min
Torque 225Nm @ 4 000r/min, 284Nm @ 3 500r/min
Transmission FIve-speed manual, Four-speed auto, Five-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 11.7-, 12-, 9.3 seconds
Top Speed 180km/h, 170km/h, 200km/h
Fuel Tank 66-litres
Fuel Consumption 8.9-, 9.9-, 10.5l/100km
Weight 1615-, 1630-, 1713kg
Boot Size 398-litres
Airbags Six
Tyres 225/65 R17 Bridgestone Dueler tyres
Front Suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Service Plan 6 years/90 000 km
Warranty 3 years/90 000 km
Price R269 900; R282 900; R323 900

Lance Branquinho


Suzuki has expanded its burgeoning local range with the introduction of Grand Vitara to the SUV segment.

Though Suzuki claims the original Vitara (launched back in 1988) was the first real compact SUV, Toyota’s RAV4 established the segment in the 1990s. Beyond the historical trivialities, the third generation Grand Vitara blends Eurocentric styling with traditional Suzuki all-terrain capability.

Locally the Grand Vitara range will comprise three models: a 2.4-litre in either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic guise, and a sole 3.2-litre, five-speed automatic V6.

Pretty aesthetics, tough mechanics

Simply by virtue of being a normal-sized SUV the Grand Vitara falls outside the traditional small car styling fold of Suzuki design. The styling is decidedly Eurocentric with a strong crossover feel to the design. Its presence is very urbane, without any of the typical Japanese oddness in light-cluster design or grille detailing.

The result is a smooth yet strongly proportioned design, no doubt aided by a proportionally long wheelbase constituting 2.65m of the overall 4.5m length resulting in short overhangs front and rear.

Beyond the neatly proportioned styling is a unique chassis that features a rugged integrated ladder frame monocoque. This ensures the best of both worlds and adds credence to Suzuki’s Vitara being an authentic all-terrain vehicle instead of an overwhelmingly urban-biased SUV. Suspension is typical contemporary MacPherson strut front, and rear multi-link set-up.

As mentioned, the range is powered by either a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder VVT assisted engine producing 122kW and 225Nm or a 3.2-litre V6, generating 165kW and 284Nm. Both engines are over-square designs and feature double-overhead camshaft valve-gear.

The four-cylinder transfers power either via a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic whilst the V6 makes due with five-speed auto shifting only. All transmissions feature three drive modes: high-range all-wheel drive with either locked or open centre differential and low-range all-wheel drive with a locked centre diff.

The transfer case can be electronically engaged on the move to select a locked centre differential for high-speed dirt road stability. In normal driving you still have the boon of open differential all-wheel drive security.

Vitara’s transfer case disables the ESP system when low-range (only selectable at standstill) is engaged for severe off-road applications, when you’re really keen on testing the 200mm ground clearance claim.

Decently equipped

Inside the Vitara is spacious and well-equipped with fit and finish generally of a high perceived quality. Although clean, the design is typically Japanese : derivative with unimaginative textures and shapes and ridiculous attempts at European style - witness the black wood trim on the V6 models.

Hardly a design masterpiece, the interior is a safe place to be though, with six airbags a standard configuration even on the entry level 2.4-litre Vitara models.

Equipment levels are generous, with entry level 2.4 manual models featuring keyless start, tinted windows, climate control, a six-disc CD shuttle infotainment system (MP3 compatible) and leather trimmed steering wheel. The V6 model adds leather upholstery, cruise control, sunroof and xenon headlights as well as hill decent control.

All models feature relatively capacious luggage stowage capacity at 398 litres. Suzuki must be commended on their decision to include full-sized spare wheels on all models too – something European SUV manufacturers inexplicably believe the local market can do without. Some removable wet stowage capability in the luggage would be nice though.

Capable on-road and off?

Stylish looking with a decent interior and low-range capability I was interested to see how the Grand Vitara design would translate as a tangible driving experience. We followed a Karoo to sea route that fused treacherous dirt-roads, exquisitely surfaced mountain passes and some controlled-environment coastal dune driving.

I sampled the V6 first and from the outset an ergonomic problem manifested itself; the front seat simply doesn’t adjust low enough. I simply could not find my optimum driving position, and although driving in a slightly elevated position can be desirable off-road, high-speed asphalt driving is a low-slung affair.

Beyond the seating issue the Vitara V6 exhibited an irritating habit of hunting for gears between 90-110km/h on the dirt road section of the drive; this was quelled when we shifted over to the locked centre differential high-range configuration via the push-button transfer case selector.

The predominantly monocoque chassis, which Suzuki has ingeniously reinforced with a ladder frame, is a seamless compromise, exhibiting none of the typical ladder-frame high-speed waywardness yet retaining all-terrain toughness.

Steering feel is excellent, almost uncanny for an SUV in the modern era of electronically assisted power steering. Body control, too, was ace thanks to the much sorted underpinnings. As an on-road cruiser the Grand Vitara is very convincing.

The off-road portion of the launch was a dune route near Vleesbaai, and with a slight tyre deflation and low-range engaged the automatic gearbox seemed much happier and the sand-driving capability was flawless.

The V6 may appear peaky on paper, perhaps lacking the torque output of similar capacity contemporaries, yet the low-range capability ensures you’re always in the toque band. With perpetual all-wheel drive drag we doubt you'll get close to Suzuki's claimed 10.5l/100km consumption figure though.

Bouncing through some of the middle mannetjies that had been churned out by the convoy, there was no soft SUV sympathy as the ladder-frame reinforced monocoque chassis soaks up punishment superbly.

It’s actually quite peculiar to hear the reassuring low-range differential ratio whine whilst traversing off-road terrain in something so civilised. The V6 models feature hill-decent control for those white-knuckled descents too.

The 2.4-litre models were hardly slowed down the convoy, perhaps working a bit harder than the V6s, yet the four-cylinder models were not shown up in the dune terrain.

The perfect SUV to down-size to?

Grand Vitara is set to compete in the extraordinarily tough compact SUV segment where on-road ability and image are key buying decisions; much more so than low-range off-road ability.

Only the naturally aspirated Foresters and Jeep Cherokee also sport low range in the compact SUV segment, and the Cherokee falls away as a competitor by virtue of its horrid interior and antiquated on-road handling.

Vitara provides a strong competitor for Forester though, especially on the basis of a wider choice of low-range mated engines, and more stylish looks.

If you like your SUVs unassumingly fashionable in the European design frame of mind with some useful off-road ability, the Grand Vitara is a very compelling alternative - especially if you want to trade down in the SUV market yet prefer to retain low-range capability.

Now all they need to do is get those front seats to adjust lower and move away from the synthetic Japanese interior styling heritage…


- 2.4 Manual R269 900
- 2.4 Automatic R282 900
- 3.2 V6 Automatic R323 900



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