Twenty years ago you probably didn’t imagine the Suzuki Vitara to be a ground breaker. But it was. The little 4x4 was the first small Sports Utility Vehicle and as such created a sector in the market that every major car maker would want to join.
You’ve got to feel for ’em. Two decades on and Suzuki still makes its small SUV – now extravagantly called the Grand Vitara – but it’s largely overlooked. As bigger players have joined the fray the current version has been consistently shuffled down people’s wish list even though it was only launched in 2005. Having sorted out the smaller cars in its range the Japanese firm has now addressed the Grand Vitara.
So what’s Suzuki done to the Grand Vitara?
It’s hardly a radical revamp. The front end’s been tweaked with a sleeker grille and bumper that adds 3cm to the front overhang. It also gets new door mirrors with turn indicators incorporated. Suzuki's been at work on the interior too. The switches have been given a more solid feel to them and there’s a new centre console and air-conditioning controllers. It’s smart to look at and well built but the materials still don’t exude quality.
Suzuki has also been at work in areas you can’t see. It’s increased the thickness of the glass in the front doors and the depth of the carpet to improve sound insulation. But perhaps strangely, considering big cars are currently as popular as hedge fund managers, it’s the top end of the Grand Vitara range Suzuki has concentrated on.
The biggest change is to the engines. The top of the line 2.0-litre petrol unit has been replaced by a 2.4-litre. At 169bhp the new engine is 29bhp up than the unit it replaces. But it’s also got more torque and has been designed to be quieter while putting out the same carbon dioxide emissions of 205g/km in the three-door manual, 225g/km in the dirtiest five-door auto.
The efforts at improving refinement have been successful. At motorway speeds you can’t hear the engine; it’s drowned out by the wind noise. And even holding gears with the smooth though not particularly fast-shifting five-speed manual doesn’t make it sound coarse or thrashy. We tried it out in the three-door model and although hardly down on power you’d expect a modern 2.4 in a relatively small vehicle to be a bit gutsier.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 first drive
Suzuki still does a three-door model I see?
Indeed it does and the firm’s very proud of it too as it’s the only small SUV of its kind and therefore the only one to feature a 2.4-litre engine. Speaking of which, it seems slightly odd the firm identified the engine as the most needy area of the Grand Vitara when the quality of the ride – or rather lack of it ‑ is the first thing that strikes you as worthy of attention. Even on a relatively smooth motorway you’ll find yourself being bounced around in the driver’s seat as though on an off-road track.
And while the front seats are very comfortable with excellent support, on your average (therefore poorly surfaced) country road a ride, which never has time to settle between bumps, becomes rather wearing. It’s a shame because body roll is actually quite well controlled and despite its high ground clearance there’s sufficient grip from the full-time four-wheel drive to make corners quite entertaining.
How practical is it?
Although the three-door 2.4 is a unique proposition there’s probably a good reason why others makers don’t do such a body shape. Open the immensely wide side-hinged rear door and that reason greets you in the form of a 184 litre boot. Along with cramped rear seats and a healthy blind spot where the thick B pillar sits there are ample reasons for anyone considering a Grand Vitara to go for the five door.
You get a decent amount of kit in the three door with your £14,499 buying an in-dash CD player, rear privacy glass and 17-inch wheels on top of air-con and electric windows. For £3000 more the five door offers an electric glass roof, high intensity discharge headlamps, 18-inch wheels and leather seats that are heated in the front. Electronic Stability Programme is now standard throughout the range too.
However, although impressively equipped compared to more expensive rivals, the Grand Vitara doesn’t share their combinations of talents. But with a range starting at £12,715 for a 1.6 petrol and with a soon-to-be-revised 1.9-litre turbo diesel coming, lower end models bought as an capable off-road alternative to a small family hatch make some sense.
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