Suzuki's new Grand Vitara compact SUV moves away from a separate body and frame, and adopts a full-time four-wheel drive system as standard.
It's being marketed in three-door and five-door forms. The three-door has a 1600cc four cylinder motor; the five-door is available with a choice of 2.0-litre four or 2.7-litre V6.
All are petrol engines. A diesel Vitara is available in some markets but is not coming here yet. The sticking point is a licensing arrangement for this part of the world with the diesel engine's supplier, Renault.
That may make things a little tougher for the new Grand Vitara, given the currently escalating fuel prices, and the fact that key rival, Toyota's RAV4 is tipped to get a diesel in its engine line-up.
The new Vitara is bigger than its predecessor. The three-door is now 4005mm long (old model, 3905mm). The five-door is 4470mm long, compared to 4215mm for its predecessor.
Wheelbases are also longer - by 220mm in the three-door and 160mm in the five. At 1810mm, both versions are 30mm wider than the old model, and wheel track is also wider front and rear.
Suzuki says the new body construction - a ladder frame is built into the body - gives a lower floor height and a lower centre of gravity without sacrificing a 200mm ground clearance for offroad work. The front overhang is now shorter.
The three-door, available only with a manual gearbox, is powered by a DOHC 1600cc engine, replacing the previous model's SOHC unit. It develops 78kW at 5900rpm, and peak torque of 145Nm at 4100rpm.
It has variable valve timing, and is said to average nine litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
The five-door's DOHC 2.0litre four cylinder motor gets changes that lift power 10 per cent, to 103kW at 6000rpm. Peak torque is 183Nm at 4000rpm. Combined cycle fuel use is quoted as 9.2 litres/100km. Five-door fours are available with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearboxes.
The V6 is now 2.7 litres instead of 2.5, and develops 135kW at 6000rpm; peak torque is a useful 250Nm at 4500rpm. Suzuki says combined cycle fuel consumption is 11.6 litres/100km. All three engines have fly-by-wire throttles.
Though a five-speed auto is standard on the V6, Suzuki says customers can specify a manual to special order.
The new full-time 4WD transmission with centre differential replaces the on-demand system used in the first two generations of the Vitara. The centre diff absorbs the differences between front and rear wheel speeds, reduces understeer and improves fuel economy.
The three-door uses a simplified version without the selectable low mode offered in the five-doors. The transmission is permanently fixed in high four-wheel drive mode (4H). The five-doors use 4H for normal highway driving and drivers can selected 4-low for serious offroad work. The front/rear torque split is 47/53, giving the Vitara a slight rear-drive feel. Drivers can select high-range lock in the five-doors. A clutch locks the centre diff to eliminate speed difference between the front and rear wheels and improve traction in slippery going.
The suspension is now independent at all four wheels. At the front are double-acting MacPherson struts, and at the rear is a multi-link set-up. It consists of upper and lower control arms, and control and trailing roads.
All new Vitaras have hydraulic power steering, disc front and drum rear brakes, and an ABS anti-lock system. The new Vitaras are heavier than their predecessors, but towing limits have been raised. The five-door will now tow an 1850kg braked trailer - a 32 per cent increase over the old model's capacity.
Suzuki Grand Vitara prices
1.6-litre three-door manual $25,500
2.0-litre five door manual $33,00 (auto, $34,500)
2.7-litre V6 automatic $37,500
2.7-litre V6 Limited automatic $41,000
For driving impressions see page 30 of Auto Trader, issue 1206.