Suzuki Grand Vitara Review

The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a small SUV that attempts to deliver the often mutually exclusive attributes of off-road ability and on-road comfort. In its first generation, the Grand Vitara featured a trucklike chassis, V6 power and low-range gearing. The current model is similar, but it features a body structure that blends car and truck chassis designs.

Due to a variety of shortcomings, the original Grand Vitara did not achieve a great deal of success in the U.S. marketplace. The most current model is greatly improved, however, and even if it lacks the refinement of its many compact SUV competitors, its rough-and-tumble nature makes it a good choice for those who like to escape the urban grind with adventures into the great outdoors.

Most Recent Suzuki Grand Vitara
The last-generation Suzuki Grand Vitara was sold from 2006 through 2012. Like most other compact SUVs, the Grand Vitara featured a carlike unibody chassis for improved body rigidity, handling and safety. Suzuki further beefed it up by incorporating a ladder frame design into the unibody structure. The claimed benefit was enhanced off-road and towing abilities. The Grand Vitara seated five (no third row seat was available despite this vehicle's name) and offered something not typically seen in its segment — a low range with its available four-wheel-drive system.

During this generation's early years there was just one engine choice — a 2.7-liter V6 that made 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, coupled to either a five-speed manual (base trim only) or a five-speed automatic transmission.

Initially there were three trim levels: base, XSport and Luxury. Even the base trim came well-equipped with automatic climate control, cruise control, fully power accessories and an MP3/CD stereo with steering-wheel controls. Moving up through the other trims added niceties such as alloy wheels, a moonroof, a six-disc CD changer, keyless ignition and entry, leather seating and heated front seats. Safety features included stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.

Changes were minimal until '09, when trim levels were shuffled slightly and a comprehensive update took place. The latter brought a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 166 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque as well as a potent 3.2-liter V6 (230 hp and 213 lb-ft). A five-speed manual transmission was standard on base models; the rest got a four-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive was standard with four-wheel drive optional. Notably, Limited models offered a four-mode 4WD system that allowed the Grand Vitara to be flat-towed behind an RV without adding miles to the odometer. That big year also saw a new front-end design and revamped interior controls.

For '11 the V6 was unfortunately discontinued. Somewhat ironically, the Grand Vitara marked its last year (2012) with the debut of the Ultimate Adventure Edition, whose highlights included 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats and water-resistant upholstery.

In reviews, this Suzuki SUV earned favorable commentary for its long list of standard features, attractive price and above-average abilities when taken off-pavement. Its slow acceleration (with the four-cylinder engine), unimpressive fuel economy and general lack of refinement, however, make it less appealing than other compact crossovers.

Past Suzuki Grand Vitara Models
The first-generation Suzuki Grand Vitara debuted for the 1999 model year and lasted through 2005. It served as a replacement for the Sidekick, Suzuki's previous compact SUV. There was also a "regular" Vitara — the difference between the two was that the Grand Vitara came with a V6 engine and more standard equipment and was available as a four-door body style only.

In its first year, the Grand Vitara was the only small SUV for the U.S. market equipped with a V6 engine. Upon release, this 2.5-liter V6 made 155 hp. Other distinct design elements included a trucklike chassis and low-range gearing on four-wheel-drive models. The main trim levels were either two-wheel-drive JS or four-wheel-drive JLX. There were also "plus" versions that came standard with antilock brakes and alloy wheels. In 2000, a plush Limited model was released that featured, among other luxuries, leather seating. In 2002, the V6 gained 10 more hp, and in 2003 Suzuki simplified the trim levels to be known simply as 2WD and 4WD.

Though many of its specs looked good on paper, this Suzuki Grand Vitara's shortcomings quickly became apparent in editorial reviews. The V6's output lagged behind many competitors' four-cylinder engines; ride quality was poor over rough pavement; and the interior was short on comfort and space. For the most part, shoppers interested in a used SUV should look elsewhere.

Read the most recent 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara review.

If you are looking for older years, visit our used Suzuki Grand Vitara page.

For more on past Suzuki Grand Vitara models, view our Suzuki Grand Vitara history page.