2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review

This SUV is no dinosaur

2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review
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FAST FACTS

1. New 230hp V6 Engine offered.

2. 3,000 lb towing capacity means that while you can’t haul a yacht, a couple of seedoos is certainly a possibility.

3. Grand Vitara comes equipped with a fully independent suspension and optional four wheel drive.

Suzuki has changed a great deal on the Grand Vitara for 2009. Most impressive are the two brand new engines, which we'll get to in a moment. First, let's take a quick walk-around. Up front, the new Grand Vitara features a redesigned fascia that features a two-tiered, blacked-out grille with the automaker's stylized 'S' symbol front and center. Flanking the upper opening are two squared-off headlights and beneath those are two round fog lamps. It definitely appears upscale and attractive, however, for an SUV the wheelbase seems rather short from the outside, as does the width. Parked next to a Tahoe or even an Explorer, the Grand Vitara looks positively tiny. Suffice it to say, it's no SUVasaurus.

Again with the dinosaur reference, what's with that? Suzuki has some very innovative marketing material aimed at its competition and the oversized SUVs that have become so popular in the past decade. One clever cartoon-piece in particular highlights the fact that Suzuki has never outgrown the market as some automakers have, and it's coined the Jurassic term for the beastly, V8-powered 'utes roaming the streets today. On the other hand, Suzuki continues to refine its smaller platforms, offering the consumer just the right package of interior room, engine displacement and outer dimensions. At least, that's the theory. And in practice, there was very little to complain about with four passengers inside. Add a fifth in the center section of the rear seat, and things get snug. Still, we think that the automaker has hit a sweet-spot in the market that has historically been dominated by much larger machinery. Not everybody needs a massive utility vehicle to take their kids or dogs where they need to go, and the compact SUV market offers just the right alternative.

NEW, POWERFUL 230 HP V6 ENGINE

Under the short, flat hood lies your choice of either a 2.4L four-cylinder engine or a larger 3.2L V6. The 166 hp four banger can be mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. We drove a four-cylinder model with the automatic and found that while it doesn't exactly fall flat on its face when accelerating, it definitely won't be setting any land speed records. We wish Suzuki used at least five speeds for its four-cylinder's automatic transmission. Still, for drivers who favor fuel economy over outright performance, the four-cylinder option is agreeable and it offers 19 miles per gallon in the city no matter which transmission it's hooked to and as much as 26 mpg with a stick-shift rear-wheel drive model. The least efficient combo with the inline-four adds four-wheel drive to the automatic transmission, but it still gets 23 mpg on the highway. Suzuki has replaced last year's 2.7L V6 engine, which had been the only powerplant available, with a new 3.2L unit that was developed by Suzuki and is based on GM's high feature architecture. This engine isn't used anywhere outside of the Suzuki range and is an extremely smooth and well-mannered unit that gives the Grand Vitara an upscale sound and plenty of power – 230 ponies worth to be exact. This engine makes the 2009 Grand Vitara fully equipped to take on the best that its competition has to offer. The six-cylinder engine is mated to a five-speed automatic and offers EPA fuel mileage estimates of 18/24 with rear-wheel drive and 17/23 when equipped with four-wheel drive.

SMALL BUT CAPABLE WITH A 3,000 LB TOWING CAPACITY

Unlike most of its competitors, the Grand Vitara is equipped with a full-frame under its unibody architecture.  This allows for a rather high 3,000 lb towing capacity with any powertrain combination. Suzuki is quick to point out that the GV would have no problem pulling a trailer with a couple of its ATVs, dirtbikes or small watercraft. The Grand Vitara also features a true four-wheel drive system, which powers the rear wheels under normal circumstances but can be manually put into four-wheel high when the going gets a bit slippery.  For true off-roading, the Grand Vitara offers a real four-wheel low setting, which we put to good use on an off-road course that was provided to us for testing purposes. We didn't see a single Vitara get stuck in the mud, despite the numerous slippery slopes we negotiated. The vast majority of Grand Vitaras out on the streets will never be subjected to the type of driving that it is equipped to handle, but it's nice to know that there are still real SUVs available on the market for those that need them. Snowy driveways and the occasional dirt road are not going to tax the GV's prodigious rough road credentials.

FULLY INDEPENDENT SUSPENSION MAKES IT GREAT ON-ROAD AND OFF

Suzuki has equipped its Grand Vitara with four-wheel independent suspension, which makes for a nice ride on normal roads. There are literally no other vehicles in the GV's price class that offer true four-wheel drive and an independent rear axle. That makes the Suzuki a very unique vehicle in a market full of CR-Vs, RAV4s and Escapes, which are all based on front-wheel drive architecture. Models like the Jeep Liberty have a live axle at the rear, which compromises road manners for off-road credentials and a lower cost. The Grand Vitara is also able to be flat-towed, as it is equipped with a neutral setting on its electronic transfer case.

Driving the Grand Vitara, we were rather impressed by its quiet demeanor and ride. Considering its impressive off-road abilities, the Suzuki's interior is a nice place to spend time, either on the highway or on city streets. As a utility vehicle, there is plenty of room (24.4 cubic feet) behind the rear seats to store your belongings, and the 60/40 split rear seatbacks fold down, expanding total storage space to nearly 69 cubic feet. Safety features include an Electronic Stability Program along with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. Also standard are dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and side-mounted curtain airbags front and rear. A tire-pressure monitoring system and a rollover sensor also round out safety equipment.  Suzuki also equips the Grand Vitara with its excellent warranty coverage, consisting of a seven-year or 100,000 mile powertrain warranty and three-year or 36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper coverage.

PLUS

New engines
Surprisingly good off road
Fully independent suspension great for on-road

MINUS

Automatic tranny is a four-speed
Four cylinder lacking in power
Small inside and out for an SUV

THE VERDICT

Because Suzuki isn't quite an established player in the U.S. market, the automaker always seems to offer something unique to attract customers. The Grand Vitara is just such a unique vehicle. As the only vehicle in its segment that combines a 3,000 lb towing capacity, true rear-based four-wheel drive and independent suspension at all four corners, the Grand Vitara offers plenty of unique features that aren't available anywhere else. It also happens to be a very nice vehicle to drive and is covered by a comprehensive warranty. It's true that the market for SUVs is shrinking, but there are still a good number of people that require the kind of capabilities that are only available in vehicles like the Grand Vitara. For those people, the heavily revised Suzuki could be a perfect fit, especially now that it offers such a refined and powerful V6 engine option. We definitely suggest that anybody looking at the segment check their nearest Suzuki dealer and take one for a test drive.

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