2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara DDiS Road Test Review
However, one variant that had escaped the keenly-honed 'nitpickery' of TMR's finest brains was the diesel-powered Grand Vitara DDiS - until now.
This model has been on sale in Australia since early 2008. In that time, it has earned high praise from more than a few motoring scribes... all fine and dandy, but what do we reckon?
First up, it’s easy to understand its appeal.
As a basic package, the Grand Vitara five-door offers a keenly-priced package for buyers looking for more utility than the average sedan, but who don’t want to move up to a full-size four-wheel-drive. Couple that with a 1.9 litre turbodiesel engine that’s easy on the juice, and the picture gets even brighter.
However, despite its obvious merits in fuel economy, there are a few areas where the diesel-drinking Grand Vitara falls a little flat. We’ll get to those in a moment, but first let’s see just how different the DDiS is from its petrol-powered stablemates.
Aside from a handful of DDiS badges, the Grand Vitara Diesel is virtually identical to the 2.4 and 3.2 litre petrol models.
In fact, the only real point of difference is the absence of foglights on the diesel, which are standard equipment on the Grand Vitara Prestige.
There are no special flourishes to denote the DDiS’s status as the only diesel in Suzuki Australia’s line-up, but that’s no big deal. The Grand Vitara is already a handsome car in standard form, if perhaps a little conservative.
Chunky wheelarches, bold creases and an absence of fussy detailing work in the Grand Vitara’s favour, and the result is a car that looks a lot larger that it actually is.
It’s a rugged, high-riding shape that appeals to both sexes, and although most Grand Vitara buyers won’t venture too far from the blacktop, there’s a promise of off-road adventure in the car’s shape.
Again, the interior of the DDiS isn’t all that different from other models in the Grand Vitara range. In fact, aside from a tachometer that redlines at 4500rpm, there is little to differentiate them.
The design (both aesthetic and ergonomic) of the Grand Vitara diesel’s interior is good, but an overabundance of hard easily-marked black plastic surfaces let it down.
The dashboard centre stack in particular feels a little cheap, and more tactile materials would be of real benefit here.
The driving position is comfortable though, and the rest of the seats are reasonably good in terms of leg and headroom.
The front seats are considerably more supportive than the rear bench, but the ability to recline the rear backrests is a plus.
Thanks to the high seating position, outward visibility is excellent. The Grand Vitara’s glasshouse is certainly large enough, with the thick-ish D-pillar and the top of the rear-mounted spare tyre the only things that might obstruct your vision.
In terms of luggage-carrying capability, the Grand Vitara is a versatile machine. With the rear seats in place, 398 litres of cargo can be carried without obscuring rearward vision.
Fold the backrests down, tumble the seats forward and 758 litres of room is freed up – 1386 litres if you pack your stuff higher than the window line.
Equipment And Features
The Grand Vitara DDiS is specced similarly to the 2.4 litre model. That means cruise control, power windows, climate control and a four-speaker MP3 compatible AM/FM CD tuner are standard-issue.
A leather-trimmed steering wheel with remote audio controls also makes the grade, and so does a trip computer and a set of 17-inch alloy wheels. A nice practical touch is the 12-volt power outlets dotted around the cabin.
Safety kit is comprehensive, and consists of stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist - all as standard.
Passive safety is taken care of by three-point safety belts on each seat (pretensioners are fitted to the front seats) and a full suite of front, side and curtain airbags.
The mechanical highlight of the DDiS is, of course, its diesel engine. A 1.9 litre turbodiesel unit with common-rail direct injection, it develops 95kW of power at 3750rpm, 300Nm of torque at just 2000rpm and redlines at 4500rpm.
It’s not a great deal of power, but it is a reasonable amount of torque and it gets the 1630kg wagon moving with relative ease.
The water-cooled Garrett turbocharger features a variable-geometry turbine housing, which gets the turbo spinning earlier and thus minimizes lag.
The intercooler is mounted behind the front bumper.
The 1.9 litre DDiS motor came in for some minor revisions in late 2008, which saw fuel economy improve by eight percent to 7.0 l/100km on the combined cycle.
The DDiS engine is available only with a five-speed manual transmission, with no auto offered. However, the dual-range, lockable AWD drivetrain that sits underneath the other Grand Vitara variants is also mated to the DDiS, and delivers a hefty serving of genuine off-road ability.
Three drive modes are available: four-wheel drive high range, four-wheel drive high range locked and four-wheel drive low range locked.
A neutral position disengages the transfer case allowing the car to be towed behind another vehicle (such as a motorhome), and all drive modes can be engaged with just a twist of a dash-mounted switch.
For the Grand Vitara DDiS, we decided on a trip that we thought matched the car’s position in the market as a family-friendly high-riding wagon - an extended weekend jaunt along the south coast of Victoria.
The route involved a peak-hour slog through Melbourne’s inner suburbs, a sedate cruise along the Princes Highway, then some B-road legs and gravel-road excursions as we headed south - the kind of drive a holidaying family might take.
What became immediately apparent was that the DDiS feels so much more agricultural than the petrol Grand Vitara variants.
Suzuki says there’s improved sound deadening, but the rattle from the turbodiesel engine is plainly evident at idle and at speed, and the gearshift is almost truck-like in its feel.
First gear is a fairly short ratio (more suited to off-road duties), and you're kept busy with gear-changes when accelerating away from traffic lights.
Boost starts to build from around 1700rpm, but if caught in the wrong gear progress can be sluggish. Power starts to taper off quickly from 3900rpm, and the 1.9 litre is well and truly out of puff by the time the 4500rpm redline rolls around.
However, that’s not to say it’s a frustrating drive – the car just needs a driver that understands its characteristics and can adapt to the relatively narrow powerband.
Keep the engine spinning in the meat of its torque curve and throttle response is good. Overtaking requires a little forethought, but the Grand Vitara’s 300Nm is certainly capable of throwing it forward when it needs to.
After spending a weekend touring Victoria’s coastal districts, the Grand Vitara was subjected to yet more heavy-traffic horror during the weekly grind. Despite all of this, average fuel consumption was just 6.7 l/100km – 0.3 l/100km less than Suzuki’s claimed figure.
Not too bad for a 1600kg wagon with the aerodynamic profile of a garden shed.
It handles quite well too. The iron-blocked diesel engine and its attendant turbo hardware doesn’t add enough weight to the nose of the Grand Vitara to noticeably affect handling.
It might not be the most suitable vehicle for attacking a mountain road, but it will certainly take whatever conditions get thrown at it in the hands of the average motorist.
Damper valving is firm on undulating country roads and gravel, but becomes more compliant on bumpy urban streets. Springrates are well matched to the Grand Vitara’s mass, and body roll – although present – isn’t excessive.
The permanent all-wheel drive system inspires confidence in the wet, and the traction control and stability control program does a good job of reining in wheelspin.
We didn’t venture too far off the beaten track in this car, but the locking centre differential, proper low-range gearing and comparatively good ground clearance means the Grand Vitara DDiS will go a lot further than most other soft-roaders can manage.
Looking for a fuel-efficient, sharply priced and well-equipped small-ish SUV to cart the family around? The Grand Vitara DDiS should be on your shortlist – if, that is, you don’t mind the sound of a diesel engine or having to manhandle a vaguely truck-ish gearshift.
An automatic transmission would solve the few major shortcomings of the DDiS and arguably broaden its appeal to buyers, but it would likely sacrifice fuel economy.
If you must have an automatic, the 2.4 litre and 3.2 litre petrol Grand Vitaras will do almost everything the DDiS can, albeit with a greater thirst for a more expensive fuel.
Buyers looking to get into some off-roading may also be enticed by the diesel over the petrols, as the greater torque output of the DDiS and the low range gearing makes it more suited to low-speed crawling.
At a retail price of $35,990, the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara DDiS represents good buying, especially compared to European diesel competitors like the Volkswagen Tiguan. With a genuine low-range 4WD capability, it’s also better value than the Toyota RAV4.
It may not be quite as refined as some in the segment, but it’s tougher than the average 'soft-roader'. It's not built for a life of fire-trails, but it's definitely worth a look for those who want their SUV with occasional off-road capability.
- Great fuel economy
- Low-range 4WD
- Rugged build and compact style
- Good value pricing
- Noisy diesel engine
- Notchy gearbox
- Uneven ratio spread
- Hard plastic dash
- Side-hinged rear door can be an inconvenience in tight carparks.