Preview: 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara
When Suzuki introduced its new generation Grand Vitara for 2006, it thought it had the power plant situation rather neatly sussed out by equipping it with only a V6 - but not a very big one.
Huntsville, Ont.-It made logical sense for Suzuki to offer just one engine when the car company launched the Grand Vitara: Buyers could lord it over compact class SUV buyers who "only" had four-cylinder engines. And as the V6 displaced just 2.7 litres, the fuel penalty was only a couple of litres per 100 km over rivals' not-much-smaller fours.
However, dramatic increases in fuel costs in the meantime have meant a quick re-think and the result is the introduction of the facelifted - and otherwise improved - 2009 Grand Vitara with a fuel frugal four-pot powerplant, accompanied by an optional and more potent V6 for those who still want one.
Major market moves
According to Suzuki, volume in the compact sport-utility sector grew 82 per cent from 2004 to 2007, and year-to-date in 2008 it is the third-largest vehicle segment - and still growing. But there's also a shift developing within the segment itself. Last year 43 per cent of compact sport-ute buyers opted for a four-banger but so far this year there's a 50/50 split between the fours and sixes. "There's obviously a dramatic shift taking place," says Bill Porter, Suzuki's vice-president of sales and marketing. "And we know fuel prices are driving it. We expect demand for four-cylinder engines to grow even more."
Less power ... and more power
As mid-cycle refreshes go, this one is significant primarily because of the new engine offerings.
The new four-cylinder is a 2.4L, DOHC, variable-valve-timing unit rated at 166 hp at 6,000 rpm. It produces a peak torque rating of 162 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm. It comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, with an optional four-speed automatic.
Fuel economy ratings are 11.2 L/100 km (city) and 8.1 L/100 km (highway) with the manual and 11.2 L/100 km (city) and 8.6 L/100 km (highway) for the automatic.
For those who still want more punch under the hood there's a new-generation V6 with displacement bumped to 3.2L, horsepower increased to 230 hp at 6,200 rpm, up from 185 hp, and 213 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm, up from 184 lb.-ft. The V6 is available only with a five-speed automatic transmission and fuel economy ratings are 12.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.6 L/100 km on the highway; that's about the same as the previous motor in the city, but better on the highway.
All engine and transmission variations are available with full-time all-wheel-drive systems with low-range gearing for off-road capability.
A new level of refinement
The 2006 redesign gave the Grand Vitara a new platform integrating a rugged boxed frame with a monocoque body structure. This added refinement while maintaining moderate off-road capability and the ability to tow a hefty 1,360 kg (almost double any other SUVs in the four-cylinder class, which the exception of the new Forester, which is rated at nearly 1,100 kg).
The styling also brought the vehicle into the modern crossover era, although Suzuki couldn't quite figure out how to hide the spare wheel, which meant it had to be hung on the side rear door (dangerously swinging open from the side of the vehicle that's adjacent to traffic) opening to the curbside unfortunately). The exterior changes for 2009 are limited to a larger grille, restyled and more aerodynamic fascia up front and standard 17-inch wheels with the four-cylinder and 18-inchers with the V6. The most basic four-cylinder model continues to use 16-inch steel wheels.
An emphasis on reducing noise/vibration/harshness has resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in interior noise. The centre stack has been redesigned and there's a new electro-luminescent instrument cluster with a driver information display, an eight-speaker audio system (on the JLX trim) and illuminated steering-wheel audio and cruise-control switches.
The interior offers plenty of room, comfortable and supportive seats and, with its silver and faux-wood trim, a pleasant ambiance. It also has 691L of cargo space with the rear seat upright and 1,695L when folded.
Four disc brakes are now standard, there's a stronger rear suspension and a revised rear subframe. Six-cylinder models have stability control with hill hold and descent features.
Well equipped and priced
All Grand Vitaras come with six airbags, automatic climate control, full-time AWD, stability and traction control, power windows and mirrors, and remote keyless entry. Move up to the next model for more features: keyless entry and start, leather trim, sunroof, heated seats and mirrors and upgraded audio.
The four-cylinder JA with manual gearbox starts at $25,995 while the JX automatic starts at $27,995. The JLX with automatic costs $28,995 or $29,995 with leather. The JLX V6 is priced at $31,695 or $32,695 with leather.
Muskoka back roading
A morning spent with a four-cylinder automatic-equipped Grand Vitara on winding, uphill and down, paved and gravel roads in Ontario's Huntsville area, proved this combination can deliver a more than adequate level of performance. Acceleration off the line is energetic and the motor is smooth and willing and its noise level is well muted when it's working hard. A five-speed automatic would make it even better and more economical, but the four speed does its job effectively enough.
In urban traffic there's a good amount of power, though on steep hills acceleration is either sluggish when you depress the pedal, or there's a sudden ratio gap on the downshift. Though there's enough power and torque on tap that you don't have to drive around with your foot on the floor destroying any fuel economy gains.
And there are no vestiges remaining of this crossover's long-departed truck-based antecedents. It's a very competent back-road ride, steering accurately and cornering without roll. The ride is firm, but comfortably compliant.
A brief trail drive - think of the worst cottage road you can imagine - showed the Grand Vitara is more than capable of tackling the rough stuff.
The afternoon was spent driving a V6-powered model. And with its smooth, effortless and abundant performance it, not surprisingly, proved to be the Grand Vitara of choice. But there's little downside, and some real savings to be realized, by choosing the four-cylinder model.
2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara
Price range: $25,995 - $32,695
Type of vehicle: Five-door compact SUV
Engine: 2.4L I-4 / 3.2L V6
Power/torque: 166 hp/162 lb.-ft. / 230 hp/213 lb.-ft.
Transmission: I-4: five-speed manual/four-speed automatic; V6: five-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (city/hwy): I-4 manual: 11.2/8.6 L/100 km; V6 automatic: 12.5/8.6 L/100 km
Competition: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4
- Lively four-cylinder engine
- Attractive outside, livable inside
- Excellent on road/capable off-road
- Only four-speed automatic (I-4)
- Rear door opens to curbside
- Spare tire mounted on rear door
More related Autos articles:
Research a new Suzuki
First Look: Suzuki Equator pickup truck
First Drive: Suzuki SX4 Sedan
First Drive: Suzuki SX4 Fastback
First Drive: Suzuki XL7