What the Suzuki Grand Vitara isn’t ? besides a familiar household name – is another cute-ute.
Ever since Suzuki began exporting its agricultural four-wheel-drive LJ80 Samurai to Canada in 1980, the sport-bike maker earned a reputation among adoring mudders.
So engineers built the third-generation Grand Vitara like a Land Rover. A boxed ladder-type frame underpinned its unibody structure to doubly ensure its rock-hopping integrity.
The rear suspension was fully independent, a concession to modern times, but unlike the car-based crossovers such as the Honda CR-V, the little Suzuki spun its rear tires ? just like a real truck.
The all-new Grand Vitara, released in late 2005 as an ?06 model, jettisoned its Japanese styling cues and adopted a crease-and-fold design that incorporated Suzuki?s trademark clamshell hood. It would wear the same crisp bodywork for eight model years.
Compared to the previous model, the five-door-only Grand Vitara gained 28 cm in overall length and 15 cm in wheelbase and rear-seat legroom. Short overhangs and 20 cm of ground clearance made the GV trail-worthy.
The interior furnishings had leapfrogged ahead with first-rate materials and assembly. Unfortunately, the cabin space felt confining compared to the segment leaders.
The cargo door was a hinged portal that swung to the left, away from the curb. With the spare tire piggybacking on it, it precluded a hatchback. Still, there was one benefit: owners could open the rear door inside a low-ceiling garage with ease.
A 185-hp DOHC 2.7-L V6 was the sole powerplant, stuffed longitudinally instead of sideways. A five-speed manual transmission was standard issue, while a five-speed automatic was optional.
Somewhat unusually, the GV offered a serious full-time four-wheel-drive system with a locking centre differential. It had three selectable driving modes: ?4-high? for on-road driving, ?4-high locked? for slippery conditions and ?4-low locked? for low-speed trail climbing.
For its mid-cycle refresh in 2009, the Grand Vitara was given a light facelift and two new engines. A DOHC 2.4-L four-cylinder was the base motor, producing 166 hp and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, working through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The optional 3.2-L V6 made 230 horses ? 45 more than the old V6 ? and 213 lb.-ft. of twist, tied to a five-speed automatic.
Safety was enhanced with more airbags and standard traction control on all models. The V6 was dropped for 2011, leaving the four-banger to soldier on.
?We pulled our trailer all last summer and it was fine with the four-cylinder,? reader Kevin Steinberg wrote to reassure us.
Today, Suzuki is curtailing its Canadian automobile sales to concentrate on its motorcycle, ATV and marine products. The move is bound to erode the Grand Vitara?s residual value ? a boon to used-car shoppers.
ON THE ROAD
Even when motivated by its 230-hp V6, the Grand Vitara felt sluggish. Highway velocity came up in 8.4 seconds, attributed to the Suzuki?s porky curb weight ? only the larger GMC Terrain weighed more in the compact SUV class.
To yield a sub-10-second time with the four-cylinder required rowing the five-speed stick with vigour.
With its heavy and slow-witted steering, the GV was not particularly graceful in traffic. The ride was decent, but its truck DNA was revealed when the route got lumpy.
?Ride comfort is rough. The GV seems happier on gravel roads than asphalt city roads,? reads one owner?s post.
The Suzuki has no trouble leaving the beaten path and going where RAV4s can only dream about. But in a major magazine test of eight 2010 compact sport-utilities, the Suzuki finished seventh, undone by its lethargic character and cramped cabin.
Despite the updated engines, the Suzie quaffs fuel with the best of them, scarcely making 12 L/100 km in mixed driving.
WHAT OWNERS REPORTED
The Grand Vitara earned its diminutive fan club with its stout construction, genuine off-road credentials, useful towing capacity, good value proposition and relative exclusivity. Built in Japan, the GV has not garnered many mechanical complaints.
Chief among them were concerns over fast-wearing tires, attributed to poor wheel alignment and the truck?s own unflattering weight.
More serious were a few reports of failed head gaskets in the four-cylinder engine, which led to overheating and even cracked heads and blocks.
Other complaints described faulty blower fans and scratch-prone interior plastics.
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2009-13 Suzuki Grand Vitara
What?s Best: Genuine 4×4 off-roader, low-range gearing, can tow 3,000 lb.
What?s Worst: Confined space inside, tire-wear issues, lil? guzzler.
Typical GTA prices: 2009: $13,000, 2012: $20,000