Attention Auto Manufacturers: If you cannot build an SUV that as a bare minimum beats the quality, fit and finish – and with the same safety and standard features of the Suzuki Grand Vitara – then you’re not doing it right! THIS is the new benchmark all other small and midsize SUV’s have to be judged against. I’ve driven quite a few SUV’s over the past couple of years, but the Grand Vitara really does stand out like no other.
My last experience with Suzuki cars was way back in 1987 when I had the little Forsa 3-door hatchback. It wasn’t the best looking vehicle in the world, but it was a great little car that was well put together. At the time I was a driving instructor and we were told to get the Suzuki because it was built in Japan and could easily survive the abuse we were going to throw at it. After 6 months and 160 different driving students, it was just as good as the first day I picked it up at the dealership. One of my friends liked it so much, he went out and bought one too. Fast forward 19 years and Suzuki hand me the keys to the all-new 2006 Grand Vitara. On getting into the Suzuki for the first time I noticed the quality of materials was extremely good, I’d expected it to be reasonably high quality, but it really was a very pleasant surprise – it felt almost luxurious.
There are 4 levels of Grand Vitara’s available in Canada and 8 variations in the U.S. Starting prices in Canada are $24,995 and the U.S. prices range from $19,199 – $24,599 with completely different variations, none as fully loaded as those in Canada. This review is based on the Canadian vehicles. For U.S. prices and options visit: http://www.suzukiauto.com
The Canadian models are – JA (base model $24,995), JX ($26,495), JLX 4WD ($28,995) and JLX Leather ($29,995). Keyless Entry, Power Windows and Door Locks are standard. The instrument panel includes a tachometer, clock, outside temperature gauge and an instant fuel consumption gauge.
Look at what they’ve put into this vehicle as standard features – 5-speed Automatic (5-Speed Manual on the JA and JX with Auto as an option), Automatic Climate Control, Smartpass Keyless entry (not on the JA) – you don’t need the key to start the engine, just have the FOB on your pocket. Steering wheel audio controls and a CD player with MP3 – a 6-disc in-dash changer is in the JLX models.
More standard features include ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), Brake Assist, ESP (Electronic Stability Program) with Traction Control, and full-time All-Wheel Drive. Other safety features include Side-Impact Beams, Front Air Bags, Side Air Bags and Side-Curtain Airbags are also standard.
The cloth seat material is very attractive and dare I say it – sporty . The shape of the seats is quite comfortable, and because of the material used, they offer lots of grip in the twisties. I think a lumbar adjustment would have made the seats absolutely perfect. There is a height-adjustment, but I found it cumbersome and difficult to get in a good position quickly and easily. A simple rotary crank would be a better way to adjust the seat height.
Entry and exit is very good with the doors swinging wide for easy access. There’s just a little stretch up to sit in the truck, but certainly not enough to require side steps or tube rails to aid in getting in and out. Once inside there’s plenty of hip, shoulder and headroom – noticeably more than our last SUV Road Test – the Saturn Vue. Suzuki claim there’s plenty of room for 4 people inside, so they obviously don’t expect three people in the back for extended periods of time. The rear seat can be split 70/30, and the back can be tumbled forward should even more cargo room be necessary. A real nice bonus is the rear seat-back offers considerable latitude from completely upright to a recline that borders on Lazy Boy angles. With loads of foot, knee and leg-room, it’s almost limousine-like back there.
I really like the rear door on the Suzuki. The spare tire is attached to the outside, and therefore frees up a lot of cargo space inside the vehicle. Because there’s no spare inside the vehicle, the load floor is much lower and therefore makes the storage area bigger than the Saturn Vue by an impressive 3 cubic feet. Also the hard cargo cover keeps prying eyes off your stuff.
With a 2.7 litre V6 and 185 hp, the Grand Vitara is a little shy of oomph. With the Saturn Vue having 250 hp, and the new Toyota RAV4 having an available 269 hp, it’s not quite up to par with those two SUV’s. It is however, much cheaper than either of those, and is comparable with other small SUV’s in it’s class, such as the Pontiac Torrent/Chevy Equinox (185 hp), the Honda CRV (160) and the Hyundai Tucson V6 with 173 hp. When one or two people are in the Grand Vitara, it’s perfectly fine for power, it’s just when you add the 3rd person, or lots of cargo that it starts to wheeze a little. It wasn’t sluggish, just sounded like the engine had to work a little harder to get going, but once up to speed it was no trouble at all in overtaking or just cruising at 60-mph. The Grand Vitara’s got a towing capacity of 3,000 lbs., which is on par with similar small SUV’s.
On the highway it was perfectly fine while cruising at 80mph [130km/hr]. It was quiet and took some nasty road imperfections and patches in its stride with no shuddering vibrations sent through to the passengers – something that surprised me considering it’s relatively short 103.9 inch wheelbase – and the fact that it’s a truck and not a luxury car. The steering and suspension are nice and tight, giving you a feeling of substance and quality in the Grand Vitara, it always felt solid and planted.
As previously mentioned, the Grand Vitara is loaded with all kinds of state-of-the-art toys that you wouldn’t expect from a vehicle of this caliber. In the JLX there’s a no-key FOB – You just have to have it on your person or have it somewhere in the vehicle, and you can start it. It isn’t quite as sophisticated as the Acura version, because the Suzuki doesn’t unlock the door as you approach it – you need the FOB to lock and unlock the door. Also, when you lock the vehicle the side lights flash, but there’s no beep from the horn to confirm you’ve locked the vehicle – very strange that something standard in the majority of new vehicles, is so glaringly missing in the Grand Vitara.
One downside to this arrangement was found quite by accident one evening. My wife went out and started the car as I locked the house. We got to our destination and I dropped her off and was about to drive away. The warning light started flashing and I had to park the car. She had gotten out and walked away with the FOB in her purse. I was fortunate enough to have been in the position to park before the engine cut out. I had go and find her and get the FOB from her before I could leave.
Personally I can’t see the benefit of these keyless management systems unless you’re in a car-jacking area – it would work terrific in that scenario – jump out, run away and the thief is left with a car that ain’t goin’ nowhere! I’d rather see the money spent in other areas, or better yet use the VW system where the key is spring-loaded inside the FOB. You need the FOB anyway, so there is no advantage to leaving it in your pocket or purse to start and run the car. Once you climb out you still have to fumble for it to lock the vehicle. My wife loved the no-key FOB, while I just don’t quite understand the advantages of it.
The stereo system is very good, and in all but the JA model has the ability to play CD’s as well as WAV/MP3 CD’s. When upgrading from the JA, you get 6 speakers (instead of 4) and a sub-woofer. Moving up to the JLX gets you a 6-disc in dash system. The radio is XM satellite ready with a dealer-installed optional receiver. I was very impressed with the sound, and the stereo system was very easy to operate – simple is good when you’re driving.
Also easy to operate was the set-and-forget automatic climate control. Again, simple and easy to operate with or without gloves. The heating system stayed off until the proper engine temperature was reached and then it came on full blast until the cabin temperature reached the desired level. Once that was accomplished it settled down and maintained the set temperature. This is probably the best heating system I’ve experienced in any vehicle – including cars that cost twice the price of the Suzuki.
The Grand Vitara came with Yokohama All-Season tires on 5-spoke 17” rims. The steering feel was nicely weighted – light when you need it while parking and heavier when speeds increase. The steering wheel was a perfect size too, although I would have liked the buttons for the stereo and cruise controls to be lit at night.
The ride, fit and finish are superb. The permanent all-wheel drive is a nice safety feature along with all the other features. It does everything well, even excelling in many aspects. I can’t fault this vehicle. The only ‘problems’ that I could find were just personal-preference things like a lumber adjustment in the seats and lighted steering wheel buttons. Power is more than adequate, although never eyeball-flattening – that’s for sure.
If you’re in the market for any vehicle in this price range – car or SUV – you must put the Grand Vitara on your test drive list. It’s on mine; I just have to wait for the lease on my present vehicle to expire. Even if there’s no Suzuki dealership close to where you live it shouldn’t be a problem. Suzuki’s are known for being reliable and dependable – one dealer told me they only make money on them when they sell them, they never came back for warranty repairs or problems. Another bonus in this day of globalization – they’re still made in Japan.
Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX:
Price as tested: $28,995 (Base price for the JA is $24,995)
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The five-speed automatic is listed at 19 mpg – city [12.4L/100 km] and 25.3 mpg – highway [9.3L/100 km]
I averaged 17 mpg [13.9 L/100km] in combined driving
Suzuki’s outstanding quality, fit and finish
All-Wheel-Drive, plus all the other safety and luxury features at this price point!
A driver’s seat that needs a lumbar adjustment
Switches for the power windows/locks are not lit at night, same with the steering mounted cruise/stereo controls
Fuel consumption seemed a bit on the high side
Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Absolutely! Nothing in it’s class, or price-range comes close to it!
Back Seat Driver Test: 9 out of 10
Comfortable with terrific adjustments on the seatback. A 2-person back seat – 3 in a pinch.
Passengers found it quite easy to get in and out of, only noticing the height on exit when it seemed a bit of a jump down.
Visibility from the back seat was considered quite good due to the extra shoulder room in the front cabin and the higher stance of the rear seats (not quite theatre style seating).
Pontiac Torrent/Chevy Equinox twins; Saturn Vue, Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander.
By The Numbers…
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Climate Control etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
9 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
7 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
10 – Bang for the $$
6 – Fuel Economy
141 Total / 150
Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk