2003 Suzuki Grand Vitara

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2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara

This 2001 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 6

Bottom Line:

A rugged, handsome compact sport-utility with a nice V6.
Pros:
  • Sporty
  • Smooth V6
  • Comfortable
  • Rugged
  • Good off-road abilities
Cons:
  • Tight back seat
  • Marginal fuel economy
  • Average highway performance

The Suzuki Grand Vitara isn't as long, powerful or roomy as the automaker's new, rather bland-looking XL-7 sport ute. But the handsome Grand Vitara is lighter, sportier and aimed at more style-conscious buyers.

The compact Grand Vitara comes only as a 4-door V6 sport ute. It isn't to be confused with the lower-priced Suzuki Vitara, which has a 4-cylinder and is offered as a 4-door hardtop and 2-door semi-convertible with a shorter wheelbase and folding soft-top over the back seat.

A Little Grander
The Grand Vitara arrived as a 1999 model and thus has few changes for 2001. But it becomes a little grander with the addition of a power tilt-and-slide sunroof to the top-line Limited Edition model.

That model debuted last year with leather upholstery, privacy glass and items that make it pretty posh for a small sport ute. They include air conditioning, cruise control, a bunch of power accessories and an AM/FM stereo with an in-dash CD changer.

Grand Vitara base prices have been increased slightly for 2001. They start at $18,399 for the fairly well equipped JLS model with rear-drive and a manual transmission and end at $22,999 for the Limited Edition with an automatic and 4-wheel drive.

The rear-drive Limited Edition costs $21,799 and is more popular in sunbelt states, where Suzuki says most Grand Vitara buyers feel they have little need for 4-wheel drive.

Grand Vitaras in various trim levels with rear- or 4-wheel drive are offered between the base and Limited Edition models.

Engine Advantage
The Grand Vitara has an advantage over its prime rivals—the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4—because it has a V6 and they have smaller 4-cylinder engines with less power.

The 2001 version of the Grand Vitara's 2.5-liter 155 horsepower V6 feels livelier than the 2000 version, which didn't perform as strongly as experts expected. Suzuki engineers say they tuned the 2001 version of the engine to provide more punch for U.S. driving, although the horsepower figure is unchanged.

The revised V6 still provides average 65-75 mph passing times, although acceleration is stronger at various speeds below 65 mph. And the engine's smoothness helps make the Grand Vitara a relaxed highway cruiser. The V6 has dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and camshaft chains instead of shorter-lasting belts.

Suzuki emphasizes that the V6's timing chain technology is from its extensive—and successful—motorcycle racing experience. It feels that many Americans are more familiar with its motorcycles than with its small cars or sport-utility vehicles.

Suzuki thus is featuring its sparkling motorcycle and marine engine technology and products to help sell the Grand Vitara—and new XL-7—in the 2001 model year.

Mediocre Fuel Economy
However, the Grand Vitara's fuel economy isn't very good for a small sport ute. Owners should expect in the mid- to high teens in the city and about 20 mpg on the open road with either the responsive 4-speed automatic transmission or awkward-shifting 5-speed manual, which works with a long-throw clutch.

However, the Grand Vitara has a leg up in that it's not derived from a car like the CR-V and RAV4. Rather, it has rugged, truck-like body-on-frame construction, with an exceptionally tough frame. That helps the Grand Vitara take heavy-duty off-road driving in stride.

The Grand Vitara's 4-wheel-drive system is part-time, and thus isn't designed for cruising on dry roads. And it must be activated by a driver, unlike full-time 4-wheel-drive systems.

On the other hand, the Grand Vitara has low-range gearing, which is crucial for challenging off-road motoring. And such gearing is helpful to drivers in snow-belt areas of the country who, say, get caught in parking areas covered with deep snow.

Good Urban Vehicle
The Grand Vitara's high driving position, quick steering, agile handling, small turning circle and large glass area help make it a good urban vehicle. The suspension provides a well-mannered ride, although the Grand Vitara gets a little choppy on some rough roads. The brake pedal needs a more linear action, but stopping power is okay.

The Grand Vitara has easily gripped outside door handles and is low enough to allow fairly easy entry and exit—although narrow rear door openings impede getting in and out gracefully. The front seats are supportive. Gauges can be quickly read, but controls should work more smoothly. Good rear visibility is provided by large outside mirrors.

More Rear Legroom Needed
An exceptionally high roof provides generous headroom, but tall rear occupants need more legroom. However, there's good room up front for tall folks, and four medium-size adults fit comfortably.

Cargo room is decent with the rear seat in its normal position. And the entire back seat quickly folds forward to provide a significantly larger cargo area with a flat floor. But the rear hatch swings open to the right, which can make it difficult to load from the curb.

The Grand Vitara has made Suzuki a much stronger player in the U.S. sport-ute market, where the automaker's sales have increased significantly.

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BB02 - 9/15/2014 2:45:10 AM