What's New for 2008
The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara sees only minor enhancements. These include better sound deadening, redesigned climate controls and a remote fuel door release. A sunroof also becomes standard on the XSport and Luxury trim levels.
A quick quiz before we go any further. Is leftover chocolate cake for dessert or for breakfast? For some, it's an easy choice. But there are those who ask, why not both? Some people feel the same about an SUV. Does it tackle rutted fire roads like a champ or does it haul a small crowd to the Cheesecake Factory in comfort and style? Why can't it do both? Well, for this cake-and-eat-it-too small-SUV buyer, there's the 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara.
To achieve the seemingly competing goals of on-road manners and off-road agility, the Grand Vitara has a couple of distinctive design elements. Like almost all other small SUVs, this Suzuki has carlike unibody construction. But in an unusual twist, Suzuki's designers kept off-road prowess in mind by integrating a ladder frame into the unibody design for improved flexibility and ruggedness. Additionally, the Grand Vitara has rear-wheel drive as standard (four-wheel drive with low-range gearing is optional) unlike most other competing models, which are front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
The resulting vehicle – which receives some minor enhancements for 2008 – makes good on the promise to deliver comfort in the urban jungle without sacrificing utility in the mud, rocks and dust of the back country.
For a vehicle with a base price of less than $20,000, the 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara sports a long standard features list: V6 engine, traction and stability control, antilock brakes, automatic air-conditioning, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and remote keyless entry. Moving up the trim level hierarchy to XSport or Luxury rewards buyers with the SmartPass keyless engine start system and other luxury touches.
With a substantial features list, upscale styling, build quality on par with others in its class, a competitive price (even when loaded with options) and Suzuki's seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Grand Vitara will appeal to shoppers looking for a small rear-wheel-drive SUV that strikes a good balance between the road and the trail. Our only major complaint is its sluggish V6, which we found to be underpowered in general, noisy while accelerating and disappointing in fuel economy. If you test-drive the Grand Vitara and don't find it to your liking, you might want to take a look at the Jeep Liberty (another dual-purpose small SUV) or other top small crossover SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Saturn Vue and Toyota RAV4.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a compact SUV that comes in three trim levels: base, XSport and Luxury. Well-equipped base models include automatic climate control, cruise control, remote keyless entry, full power accessories and an MP3/CD stereo with a six-disc changer, steering-wheel controls and speed-sensitive volume control. Step up to the XSport trim level and enjoy the addition of alloy wheels, a sunroof, roof rails and the SmartPass keyless start system. Springing for the fully loaded flagship Luxury model will garner premium features like 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating heated front seats and silver and wood grain interior trim. There are no additional factory options.
Powertrains and Performance
The only engine available in the Suzuki Grand Vitara is a 2.7-liter V6, which delivers 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque -- paltry compared to the RAV4's V6 (at 269 hp and 246 lb-ft) and only approximately 20 hp and 23 lb-ft more than the Honda CR-V's four-cylinder engine offers. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the base trim level only, with a five-speed automatic optional on the base model and standard on the Grand Vitara XSport and Luxury trim levels.
Unlike most other small SUVs, all Grand Vitara trim levels come with standard rear-wheel drive and optional full-time four-wheel drive (which brings standard heated outside mirrors with it). The latter has low-range capability as well as a neutral setting for flat towing behind other vehicles without odometer mileage accumulation, a bonus for RV owners. Fuel economy estimates, at 17 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway for a 4WD model with the automatic transmission, are below average for a compact SUV. Expect a 0-60-mph time of about 9.4 seconds. And while not necessarily a top choice for major towing duty, the Grand Vitara can tug up to 3,000 pounds, a respectable figure given the competition's tow ratings.
The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara's standard safety features are plentiful and advanced for a low-cost compact vehicle, and include stability control, traction control, antilock disc brakes, full-length side-curtain airbags and front seat side-impact airbags. In government crash tests, Suzuki's SUV earned four stars (out of a possible top score of five) for both driver and passenger in frontal crash protection. Side-impact tests resulted in a perfect five-star rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
Since its 2006 redesign, the five-passenger Grand Vitara's interior is one of the best we've seen in any Suzuki -- and competes well with compact SUV class leaders. Soft textures and flowing lines abound, with gauges taking up residence in a multilayered cluster with simulated aluminum trim. The Limited's leather is very nice to look at, but pales in comparison with the base and XSport's cloth seats when it comes to comfort.
While the sleek and attractive cabin feels (and is) roomy for a small SUV, interior storage compartments are lacking. So while passengers will be comfy and uncramped, they'll have to hold onto all of their personal items instead of stashing them in the car. Luggage capacity is a meager 24.4 cubic feet with the rear seats up -- not much compared with what's available from other small SUVs -- but folding down the 60/40-split rear seat reveals a more competitive 68.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara employs a ladder frame-reinforced unibody platform to accomplish its dual goals of on-road gentility and off-road dexterity. City driving feels smoother and more carlike compared to other body-on-frame truck-based SUVs, but competitors like the CR-V still surpass the Suzuki in terms of overall ride comfort.
When hills get steep and roads get muddy, the Grand Vitara's optional 4WD with low-range gearing and respectable-for-the-class 7.9 inches of ground clearance work to supply the small crossover SUV with admirable off-road prowess. During testing, our editors noted that the cabin stays fairly free from engine, road and wind noise at highway speeds, but the easily overwhelmed V6 engine becomes noisy during hard acceleration while delivering only mediocre power. Additionally, on rockier topographies, bumps and jostles are poorly isolated and the side-swinging rear door can make a good deal of noise, though with improved-for-2008 sound-deadening materials, this should be less of an issue.