Suzuki Grand Vitara Sport 2.4
Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $31,490 driveaway
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Four-speed automatic $2000; Tow bar $625; Roof bars $330
Crash rating: Four-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 9.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 234
Also consider: Mazda CX-5 (from $27,880); Nissan X-TRAIL (from $28,490); Skoda Yeti (from $26,290); Toyota RAV4 (from $28,990)
To say the Grand Vitara is getting long in the tooth would be an understatement. Launched in 2005, the third-generation of Suzuki’s budget off-roader has, apart from some engine revisions and equipment upgrades, changed little over the past seven years.
But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer relevant, or lacking in appeal. In fact, Grand Vitara sales were up by almost 20 per cent in 2012, to 3497 units, though it still lags well behind segment leaders Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-TRAIL and Toyota RAV4, which each clocked closer to 15,000 sales or more during the same period.
One of the Grand Vitara’s major attractions has always been its mini-LandCruiser status; it’s currently the only sub-$40K SUV offering a full-time four-wheel drive system with low-range gearing. But also helping keep sales of Suzuki’s compact SUV ticking along in more recent times has been some sharp drive-away deals, including the introduction of two enticing new variants: a cut-price 2WD five-door Grand Vitara priced just $2000 more than the entry-level, three-door version, and value-packed Sport edition.
Introduced in late-2011 and priced at a tempting $31,490 driveaway with five-speed manual (or $33,490 with four-speed auto tested here), the petrol-powered Sport stacks up as arguably the best value of the Grand Vitara range. Along with the usual kit of six airbags, electronic stability control, cruise control, remote central locking, climate control and power windows, the Sport picks up 18-inch alloys, silver-coloured roof rails, hill hold and hill descent control, and more recently a new in-dash infotainment system (also fitted to the top-spec Prestige).
Located prominently in the centre stack, the 6.1-inch colour touchscreen is a much-needed boost to the ageing Suzuki’s armoury, incorporating a reversing camera (not fitted to our test vehicle), Garmin sat-nav, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming and contacts, an SD card slot, auxiliary and USB inputs, CD player, AM/FM tuner and voice control of navigation, audio and telephony functions.
While the touchscreen unit was a welcome addition and generally worked well, we did experience a few ‘gremlins’. Annoyingly, the audio often didn’t play smoothly when connected via the wireless Bluetooth to an iPhone 4; something we’ve never experienced before with other in-car Bluetooth systems. Also, the touchscreen was not always immediately receptive to inputs, and we couldn’t locate the USB socket (only a 3.5mm auxiliary outlet) despite claims of one being available.
Loading up the Grand Vitara Sport for a two-week family holiday to the Victorian High Country also highlighted one of the vehicle’s perennial shortcomings: a small boot. Like the Skoda Yeti, which favours passenger space and comfort over cargo capacity, the Suzuki’s limited loadspace (with 60:40 split-fold rear seats in use) struggled to swallow much more than a medium-sized suitcase and a few odds and ends, including towels and sporting equipment.
Without a box trailer hitched up to the factory tow bar, which took care of some mountain bikes as well as the extra luggage, we would have needed to resort to an aftermarket roof pod, mounted on the (optional) roof bars fitted, to handle the overflow.
Once on the road though, and with two adults and two children onboard, the Grand Vitara proved a relatively quiet, refined, comfortable, reasonably roomy and capable runabout over a variety of terrain and situations.
The front seats provided enough support and cushioning for pain free, two hour-plus stints behind the wheel, and the Sport’s stylish black cloth trim did a decent job of repelling footprints and other kid-related grime.
Another area in which the Grand Vitara remains behind the eight-ball is the outdated four-speed automatic transmission available with the 2.4-litre petrol engine. It’s a major shortfall in a segment where six gears are now the norm.
The big gap between ratios is less of an issue around town where lower speeds and the smooth, free-revving 122kW/225Nm four-cylinder engine helps mask any deficiencies. It’s when cruising on the freeway at 100km/h, revving at 2600rpm in top gear, that an extra cog or two would come in handy.
That said, our average fuel economy of 10.3L/100km, not far off the official figure, was respectable, achieved over 2000km of driving that included everything from daily commuting and twisty alpine runs to lengthy freeway time towing a 350kg trailer and off-road jaunts.
The Grand Vitara is also let down by a jiggly, often bouncy ride, on anything less than billiard table-smooth bitumen. While never uncomfortable, it’s a far cry from the on-road composure exhibited by many of its more road-focused soft-roader rivals. But its ability to soak up the bigger potholes and ruts while traversing rougher bitumen or off-road trails is as good as any small SUV including the X-TRAIL.
And with its ‘command’ driving position, compact dimensions, and light steering, it’s a breeze to slot into busy supermarket carparks or other tight spots where bigger off-roaders struggle. While we can’t report on the efficacy of the reversing camera, the rear parking sensors proved a tad sensitive, bleeping madly at times when reversing over a driveway gutter or anything approaching an obstacle.
Also slightly annoying, at least in an urban environment, was the heavy, side-hinged, rear barn door with spare wheel mounted. It made accessing the rear cargo space often impossible without decent space behind, or with the trailer connected.
While the Suzuki’s spec sheet is improved with the latest update, it’s still missing a few items commonly found on newer rivals, like a multi-adjustable steering wheel, power adjust driver’s seat, auto headlights, side mirror indicators, and rear seats that fold completely flat. We did appreciate the inclusion of three 12V power outlets and extremely effective climate control that made light work of cooling the cabin during a series of 40-plus degree days.
Yes, the Grand Vitara is screaming for a major overhaul, but it’s not hard to understand its enduring appeal. For those who don’t necessarily desire the latest and greatest, are on a tight budget, and desire a practical four-wheel drive that doesn’t feel ponderous around town, then $33,490 drive-away in this configuration is hard to ignore.
While another $5000 will add leather seat trim, sunroof, keyless entry and starting, and a premium sound system, as part of the Prestige package, for our money the value-packed Sport is the better deal.
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