2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2012.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
A growing number of people are associating Suzuki with its cars and sport-utility vehicles and not just considering it mainly a motorcycle producer.
However, although Suzuki still isn't a major player in the mainstream vehicle market, its extensively redesigned Grand Vitara should help give it more presence in the vehicle field.
A new Grand Vitara clearly has been needed. The old model had impressive off-road abilities, as I found while driving it off-road and in a shallow river in a Missouri nature park. But it was better off-road than on-road because it had a weak engine, cramped interior and noisy ride.
Suzuki was in the right place at the right time to make money from enthusiasm for SUVs, but it had the wrong product. Most SUV buyers were looking for comfortable on-road models.
It didn't help that the old Grand Vitara was truck-like, with body-on-frame construction when other automakers were profiting with car-based SUVs designed to be used like cars on roads.
The 2006 Grand Vitara has new light, yet rigid, unibody construction enhanced with a built-in ladder frame that provides the refined road manners of a car-based unibody SUV with the off-road strength of a body-on-frame design.
Off-Road Prowess Retained
The new Grand Vitara comes with rear-wheel drive and single- or 4-mode all-wheel-drive systems. One has a locking differential and low-range gearing for tough off-road use.
The wheelbase of the new Grand Vitara has grown 6.3 inches to 103.9 inches. It's 11.5 inches longer at 176 inches and 1.2 inches wider at 71.3 inches. However, it's still easy to park and garage.
The ride from the 4-wheel-independent suspension is firm but compliant, although it occasionally got choppy on some freeway surfaces. The power rack-and-pinion steering allows easy directional changes, and handling is good partly because the Grand Vitara sits fairly low at 66.7 inches. The sporty BMW X3 compact SUV is about the same height, at 66 inches.
Fuel economy is OK for a compact V6 SUV, at an estimated 18-19 mpg in the city and 23-24 on the highway.
The engine works with either a 5-speed manual gearbox that's a bit notchy when rushed or a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission. I was most impressed with the top-line $24,699 Grand Vitara Luxury model with the automatic and 4-wheel drive.
List prices for the Grand Vitara start at $18,999 with rear-wheel-drive and the manual transmission, and all versions have color-keyed bumpers, outside door handles and mirrors for a smoother appearance and to avoid that "entry level" look.
Safety features include standard front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags, besides daytime running lights. There's also a standard anti-skid/traction control system.
Available are leather upholstery, heated front seats, sunroof and 6-disc in-dash CD changer with seven speakers.
The brake pedal is soft, but its linear action allows smooth stops. Every version of the Grand Vitara has an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution for surer panic stops.
There's comfortable space for four tall adults, or for five in a pinch. Visibility is pretty good, helped by large outside mirrors, although headrests partly block vision.
Gauges can be read at a glance, and audio and climate controls are large. Front console cupholders are conveniently located, but inside door handles should be at least twice as large.
Gimmicky Keyless Start
The cargo door swings to the right, which complicates curbside loading. However, the cargo floor is low and wide. And the entire split rear seat flips forward to provide an impressive cargo area, although folding the seat requires a few awkward moves. The cargo area is decent size with the rear seat in its full upright position.
The Grand Vitara could use more power for certain driving conditions, but it's worth a good look because it has a roomy interior, pleasant road manners and lots of comfort, convenience and safety features.