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Brand New Suzuki Grand Vitara

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Mike Stevens | Mar 8, 2009 | 4 Comments

The Vitara name first appeared back in 1989, and with the simple approach of leaving a pair of doors on the factory floor, Suzuki added 'light' and 'affordable' to the compact 4x4 segment.

It was available as either a convertible or a hard-top. It also came with a choice of 1.3 litre and 1.6 litre engines and genuine four-wheel-drive capability. Smartly styled and easy on the juice, it made the funky little Vitara a favourite for both off-roading enthusiasts and weekend beachcombers alike.

In 1990, Suzuki stretched the wheelbase, picked up those extra doors, bolted ‘em in and gave us the five-door Grand Vitara.

Over time, perhaps to bring an air of prestige and maturity to the entire range, both the five-door and three-door had 'Grand' slapped next to the 'Vitara' moniker.

Whatever Suzuki’s intentions, the three-door Vitara Grand Vitara is as fun and youthful as it’s ever been, and prefacing the name with the senior citizenly ‘Grand’ ain’t gonna change that.

Styling

While the current shape of the Grand Vitara – both the five-door and the three-door - has been with us since 2005, it’s aged well enough that it looks as much at home in 2009 as it did four years ago.

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Like the five-door, the smaller three-door model features the defining ‘clamshell’ style bonnet. Unlike its more conservative big brother however, the three-door drives home the ‘sporty’ message with tonka toy wheels (big for its size), chopped-off tail and chrome-backed tail lights.

The raked B-pillar and rhomboidal rear passenger windows continue the theme, separating it further from the five-door’s air of sensibility and giving it a youthful appeal that the bigger family model lacks.

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There’s nothing awkward or poorly proportioned about the three-door; while it's styling isn't ‘out there’ on the edge, everything about it says fun and funky.

On the inside

The dash and door trim, while understated, is well put together with good quality materials and excellent finish. Function over form is the obvious direction here, but lashings of chrome and silver add the right amount of style.

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Electric windows and mirrors are standard, as is climate control and backlit steering-mounted audio controls. Two 12volt power points sit either side of the gear shifter, and you’ll find another in the boot.

The trip computer has been relocated from the top of the dashboard to the re-styled instrument cluster, offering better line-of-sight viewing, while the climate control gains an LCD display for an up-market feel and easier use.

Annoyingly, cruise control is noticeably absent from the three-door, even as an option. It’s expected to be offered with later 2009 models.

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The Grand Vitara three-door is a compact unit to be sure, but there’s no trouble sliding four occupants into its surprisingly cavernous interior. All four seats are large and comfortable, and the higher 4x4 seating position helps with forward and side visibility, allowing you to better read the traffic ahead.

Shorter folks however – myself included, unfortunately – will find the higher seating a little trickier to climb into (damning myself to ‘shortarse’ gags, I quickly move on).

The fact that the smallest Grand Vitara seats only four will be a concern for some, no doubt, but each of those four occupants will be plenty comfortable.

The long doors and easily-folded front seats ensure that entry and exit from the back row is a breeze, though again some sort of foothold would make the task an easier one.

Visibility, while excellent to the front and sides thanks to that higher seating, leaves more than a bit to be desired when looking to the rear. The angled B-pillar and rhomboidal rear passenger window are neat from outside, but from the wheel serve only to hamper the view out the back and rear sides. Large side mirrors however alleviate the poor head-check view somewhat.

While reversing sensors can be optioned – and I suggest you do option them – it seems they’d have made a sensible standard feature.


On the road, and a bit off it

While the styling has been left mostly untouched, the latest Grand Vitara three-door’s engine bay now hosts a 2.4 litre four-cylinder engine. A willing enough unit, it makes a goodly 122kW at 6000rpm and and 225Nm of torque at 4000rpm, which represents a power gain of 67 percent over the old 1.6 litre.

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Fuel economy is improved with the claimed 9.6/100km proving more than achievable in our test.

Dual-range full-time four-wheel-drive is standard, while the drive shafts have been changed to sliding constant velocity joints, ensuring less vibration and a smoother, quieter operation.

The Grand Vitara three-door – in fact, the entire Grand Vitara range – now features ESP as standard. Safety is further improved by the addition of front, side, and curtain airbags. ABS, Electronic Braking Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist System (BAS) are also standard.

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Highway driving is a relaxed affair provided you don't mind the occasional jiggling over some surfaces, thanks to that short wheel-base. Big wheels, short wheel-base, high stance, and genuine off-road capability means that the suspension settings will always be compromised on the highway. It just goes with the territory.

There was one thing a longer drive cemented in my mind however, and that was this: I might simply be used to it, but cruise control is a ridiculous thing to leave out of any car.

Like the five-door model – in fact, more so – the Grand Vitara three-door corners surprisingly well, even at moderate to higher speeds. That’s not to say the Grand Vitara three-door is anything close to 'sporting', but it does bring a sense of competence to the corners that you don’t expect, and it’s a welcome discovery. With light and direct steering, it's not hard to live with on the road.

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While there was little genuine off-roading while the three-door was in our care (having stretched the five-door maybe a little too unsympathetically), an excursion along a particularly soft beach in Victoria’s south east proved the low range of Suzuki’s most compact SUV.

It coped with this sort of work comfortably – and frankly, this is about as much off-roading as the three-door is likely to see in most drivers' hands.

Thanks to improved seals, sound deadening and thicker glass, cabin noise and vibration is commendably muted. More confined inside, it actually seems quieter than the five-door on coarser surfaces.

In this respect the Grand Vitara three-door feels a class ahead of its price point. Suzuki says the interior noise is down some 2dB on the previous generation and, to be honest, I’d have guessed more.

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Our test car was fitted with the four-speed automatic, which, though not ideal, proved to be easy enough to live with. The space between first and second gear feels too long and while this could be an issue for anyone used to the snappier performance of boxes with more cogs inside, the four-speed unit is a smooth one and up to the task in the light-ish three-door.

Storage

The limited boot space suffers somewhat if a long trip with four occupants is on the cards. That said, for the general day-to-day hauling of groceries and family stuff mid-week, and wet-suits and scuba gear on weekends, it’s more than sufficient.

With the rear seats up in their standard position, storage is 184 litres. A trip away with just yourself and your partner, however, will give you a whopping 964 litres with the rear seats folded down.

The Verdict

On the blacktop, where – let’s face it – it’s likely to see most of its time, the Grand Vitara three-door is an appealing little unit. Despite the poor rearward visibility, everything else about this car says there's value for money in its $26,000 or so list price. For those that consider it a priority, the three-door has plenty of style, while the more sensible side will be rapt with the fuel economy offered by the new 2.4 litre engine that lies below.

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Most importantly, and unlike a similarly-priced sedan or hatch like the Mazda3 Maxx Sport, the off-road capability is there for the odd weekend away. On the other hand, the Mazda3 Maxx Sport does feature cruise control…

Likes

  • Chic sporty styling
  • Tight turning circle
  • Quiet on road, with a well put-together interior
  • Surprisingly gutsy engine

Dislikes

  • No cruise control
  • Rear and rear-side visibility
  • Missing a ratio in the four-speed auto
  • Jiggly ride on some surfaces
  • No centre console storage (or arm rest)

Gallery

Specifications

Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder with variable valve timing
Power 122kW @ 6000rpm
Torque 225kW @ 4000rpm
Economy Combined: 8.8 l/100km (manual) / 9.6 l/100km (automatic)
Performance 0-100km/h (un-timed)
4WD modes full time 4-mode (4H + 4H Lock + 4L Lock + N)
Transmission 5-speed Manual / 4-speed Automatic (tested)
Suspension Front: MacPherson struts

Rear: Multi-link

Brakes Front/rear: ventilated discs
Safety • Front, side, curtain airbags • Anti-lock braking system (ABS) • Electronic brake distribution (EBS) • Brake assist system (BAS) • Vehicle Stability Control (ESP) • Traction control
Wheels and tyres 16-inch steel with 225/70 tyres
Kerb weight 1489kg (manual) / 1505kg (automatic)
Prices Manual: $25,990

Automatic: $27,990

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