Full 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review
What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Suzuki Grand Vitara gets a mid-cycle update that includes a new available four-cylinder engine, as well as a more powerful V6. Other changes include more rigid construction, better weight distribution, some redesigned interior controls and a new grille and front bumper design. New options include hill descent control and a hill hold feature.
We all know a "but" person. It's the friend, family member or romantic partner who would be ideal -- except for that one deal-breaking trait. You can prattle off several good qualities about this person (smart, good-looking, funny, etc.), and still at the end of your list, there lies the one "but …" caveat. Up until this year, the Suzuki Grand Vitara was a "but" vehicle of sorts. It boasted a nice cabin, able handling, a long list of standard features and a class-leading warranty. But, there was one major shortcoming: the engine, which lacked power and wasn't so great when it came to fuel economy.
Things have changed with the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara. Along with other improvements such as a more rigid chassis, redesigned interior controls and a freshened front fascia, the old V6 has been dropped in favor of a 2.4-liter inline-4 and a 230-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 -- the latter makes 45 more horses than the previous V6. And while fuel economy for the bigger engine still isn't stellar, it's much improved considering the extra power.
Like almost all other small SUVs, the Grand Vitara is a car-based, unibody vehicle. Unlike most crossovers which are best kept to the pavement, the Suzuki uses an integrated ladder frame for improved ruggedness and flexibility. Standard rear-wheel drive, as well as optional four-wheel drive (including four-mode, low-range gearing on V6 models) helps to make this compact crossover SUV as capable of handling mud and steep terrain as it is a supermarket parking lot.
With a substantial features list, upscale styling, good build quality and a competitive price, the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara will appeal to shoppers looking for a small SUV around $20,000 that is comfortable and capable both on- and off-road. Still, those who want to consider all their options should look at the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 (both of which rank high among our editors), as well as the Nissan Rogue, Saturn Vue and Subaru Forester. One notable advantage the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara has over these competitors is its warranty: The powertrain is covered for seven years or 100,000 miles. And although this year's changes might not have kicked the Grand Vitara's "but" completely, the 2009 model seems considerably improved.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a compact SUV that comes in four trim levels related to drivetrain. The four-cylinder models are offered in Base, Premium, XSport and Luxury. V6-equipped trims come only in XSport and Luxury. Base models come standard with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, full power accessories, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a four-speaker stereo with a single CD/MP3 player. The Premium trim adds privacy glass, a hard-shelled spare wheel cover and a cargo cover. Premium 4WD models also get heated sideview mirrors.
The XSport trim adds 16-inch alloy wheels (optional on Premium), a sunroof, roof rails and foglamps, and deletes the hard spare wheel cover, keyless ignition and entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an in-dash six-CD changer. Those who spring for the fully loaded Luxury model will get 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated front seats, silver and wood print interior trim and additional speakers for the audio system. The corresponding trim levels on V6-powered models are almost identical to their four-cylinder counterparts, but the V6 XSport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, while the Luxury has standard 18-inch wheels.
Options include a rear back-up camera with rearview mirror display, an auxiliary audio jack and Bluetooth phone connectivity (the latter two of which are dealer installed). In addition, the XSport models can be fitted with an Appearance package, which adds a side step and textured fender flares.
Powertrains and Performance
A choice of two engines is available for the rear-wheel-drive 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara. The 2.4-liter inline-4 produces 166 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque and can be paired with either a five-speed manual transmission (on Base and Premium trims only) or a four-speed automatic (standard on XSport and Luxury models). The new 3.2-liter V6 makes a much-improved 230 hp and 213 lb-ft of torque; both trims come standard with a five-speed automatic transmission.
All trims except for the Base can be equipped with 4WD. The Premium trim's optional 4WD is a single-mode system, while all XSport and Luxury trims get four-mode 4WD (4H, 4H Lock, 4L Lock and N). XSport and Luxury models can also come with an optional limited slip differential. Properly equipped, the Grand Vitara can tow up to a competitive 3,000 pounds. The four-mode system features a neutral setting that allows the Grand Vitara to be flat-towed behind a recreational vehicle without mileage accumulation.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara are average for the segment. Rear-wheel drive four-cylinders with the manual transmission achieve 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The automatic inline-4 gets 19/25/21 mpg -- the same rating as the 4WD version with the manual transmission. The automatic 4WD gets 19/23/20 mpg. V6-powered models get 18/24/20 with rear-wheel drive and 17/23/19 with 4WD.
The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara's standard safety features are plentiful and advanced for an entry-level crossover SUV. They include stability control, traction control, antilock disc brakes, full-length side curtain airbags and front-seat side impact airbags.
Additionally, V6-powered 4WD versions can be equipped with both hill descent control and a hill hold feature. In government crash tests, Suzuki's SUV earned four stars (out of five) for frontal impacts to both driver and passenger in frontal crash protection, as well as for rollovers. Side impact tests resulted in a perfect five-star rating for both front and rear occupants. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Grand Vitara its highest rating of "Good" in the frontal offset test and the second-highest rating of "Acceptable" in the side test.
Interior Design and Special Features
The five-passenger Grand Vitara has one of the best interiors we've seen in any Suzuki -- and it competes well with other compact-SUV class leaders. Design and materials are comprised of flowing lines and soft textures, with gauges set in simulated aluminum trim. For 2009, the Grand Vitara gains more functionality with illuminated steering wheel controls, a sliding front center armrest, visor extenders and a redesigned layout for the climate control system.
The sleek and attractive cabin is roomy for a compact SUV, but the Grand Vitara is lacking in interior storage compartments. So while passengers will be relatively comfy, they won't have many places to stash their belongings. Also, the Limited's leather upholstery looks good, but it isn't as comfortable as the cloth seats found in the Base and XSport models. A competitive 69 cubic feet of total cargo space is available with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down.
Thanks to its reinforced unibody construction, the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara is able to strike a balance between decent on-road manners and rugged off-road flexibility. The optional 4WD system with low-range gearing, combined with a respectable 8 inches of ground clearance, gives the compact Suzuki admirable prowess when it turns off the beaten path. In past model years, city driving felt smoother and more car-like in the Grand Vitara over traditional body-on-frame SUVs, but the Suzuki was still surpassed in terms of overall comfort by the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. And although we haven't yet tested the 2009 Grand Vitara, we anticipate that its stronger frame and improved weight distribution will help when it comes to both comfort and handling, though the Grand Vitara is still a bit noisy at highway speeds.