If you want a small off-roader that can actually go off-road – whether that’s for credibility or actual ability – the Grand Vitara would have to be top of your list.
Powertrain and performance: 2.4-litre petrol four, 122kW/225Nm, 4-speed automatic, part-time four-wheel drive with low-range transfer, Combined economy 9.9 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4500mm long, 1695mm high, 2640mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 398/1386 litres, fuel tank 66 litres.
We like: Credibility of proper off-road ability, unpretentious image.
We don’t like: Lacklustre powertrain, dated interior.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Medium-sized sports utility vehicles with genuine off-road ability are a rare thing indeed these days. But the Suzuki Grand Vitara is one.
Ironically, the Vitara was the vehicle that made small off-roaders more fashionable than functional in the 1980s – but that was long before anybody thought of removing the hard-core hardware completely.
Even after all these years, Grand Vitara is soldiering on with separate-frame construction and a low-range transfer for the gearbox. If you want to cross rivers and climb over rocks, this vehicle can still do that.
Last year’s facelift brought some mild changes to Grand Vitara. On the outside, there’s a new grille and front bumper with a silver-and-black garnish made from Suzuki Super Polypropylene (SSP), which is lighter than standard polypropylene and does not need to be painted.
The Limited model has 18-inch alloys and chrome side mouldings.
The Limited also features a Garmin sat-nav touch-screen with integrated Bluetooth and audio functions, sunroof and leather upholstery.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
There’s nothing wrong with tradition, but some innovation wouldn’t go astray under the bonnet to enhance the old-world charm of the Grand Vitara. The 2.4-litre petrol engine is no ball of fire, and it certainly gets little chance to shine when it’s driving through a four-speed automatic gearbox. Once upon a time that would have been acceptable, but these days the Grand Vitara’s rivals have five and six-speed transmissions.
Suzuki has done a good job of balancing the Grand Vitara’s chassis between ultimate off-road ability (which it must have, as its USP) and on-road competence and comfort. It does not steer or corner anywhere near as well as its crossover rivals, but nor does it irk occupants with the unsettled ride and approximate handling that off-roaders once suffered from.
Off-road, the Grand Vitara has 200mm of ground clearance, rampover angle of 19 degrees and approach/departure angles of 29/27 degrees. Braked tow rating is 1700kg.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
You’d be hard pressed to call the Grand Vitara’s cabin stylish and there are precious few soft plastics in evidence, but in typical Suzuki fashion the layout is admirably simple and the build quality excellent.
If the large Garmin sat-nav/media touch-screen unit looks like an afterthought, that’s because it is. The Grand Vitara dates from a time before such technology was expected in mainstream cars; but it’s easy to use, the screen is large and it does add a much-needed dash of contemporary convenience-tech to this familiar model.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
If you want a small off-roader that can actually go off-road – whether that’s for credibility or actual ability – the Grand Vitara would have to be top of your list. The powertrain is disappointing and it doesn’t handle anywhere as well as a Mazda CX-5 or Honda CR-V on the road – but you wouldn’t expect it to given its talents in the rough.
The Grand Vitara is looking dated now too, but it’s still handsome in a form-follows-function kind of way. It’s a particular type of vehicle that has fallen out of favour as the ‘soft roader’ genre has taken over the market, but that’s not to say the Grand Vitara is totally devoid of charm. Especially when Suzuki has such a great history of making highly capable off-roaders.
It’s well out of step with current tastes, but you can’t help feeling a little proud that such a vehicle still exists.
Coda: in an attempt to mix it up among the soft-roader set, Suzuki has also launched a two-wheel drive version of the Grand Vitara. For reasons already explained, that’s a mistake.
Air conditioning: Climate control
Audio: Single CD, iPod integration, SD card
Automatic lights/wipers: No/no
Cruise control: Yes
Leather upholstery: Yes
Parking radar: Camera
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: Yes
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40 tumble-folding
Steering reach adjustment: Yes