2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited V6 4WD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyers Guide

True to its roots, the 2010 Grand Vitara offers value, power, standard features, and real off-road and towing ability

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited V6 4WD

Want to see a good example of automotive evolution in action? Take a look at the 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara.

Long successful in motorcycles, Suzuki gained a four-wheeled foothold in the American automotive marketplace with small Third-World utility vehicles even before the sport-utility boom of the Nineties. The Samurai of the mid-80s was inexpensive, and somewhat marginal in power and handling, but inexpensive. It was replaced by the (comparatively) larger and more substantial Sidekick, offered in both two- and four-door form.

Even, or maybe especially, in SUVs, comfort, power, and refinement meant success. Even at the low-priced end. So in 1999 the Sidekick gave way to the Vitara and Grand Vitara, the latter being more upscale in appointment and style, and offered with V6 power. Still, even though front-wheel drive, car-based crossovers were increasingly dominating the small-size niches in the SUV market at the time, the Suzukis were traditional body-on-frame trucks, with rear- or on-demand dual-range four-wheel drive. And more serious off-road ability than the crossovers.

Fast-forward another decade. The SUV fad has run it course, and crossovers are victorious. Two-door utes are ancient history, Vitara included. And as of 2009, there is a new Grand Vitara. True to its roots, it offers value, power, standard features, and real off-road and towing ability. Hey, there are people who need, not merely want, those attributes!

For ruggedness and towing ability, the newest Grand Vitara still has body-on-frame construction -- kind of. As in some high-priced SUVs, a ladder frame is integrated into an upper unibody structure. Also as in some high-priced SUVs, a navigation system is standard equipment, even in the $18,999 base model, and all of the current electronic cabin entertainment and information systems are available. Suspension is fully independent -- gone is the old solid rear axle. Gone also is the old, not particularly powerful 2.7-liter V6. It has been replaced by a 230-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 that is also more fuel-efficient. A 2.4-liter four is the base engine. Drivetrains are rear-wheel drive, single-mode full-time four-wheel drive, or multi-mode full-time four-wheel drive (V6 only). Four-wheel ventilated antilock discs stop quickly, and standard ESP stability control and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor. Trim levels are base, Premium, Premium Special Edition, XSport, and Limited with the four, and XSport and Limited with the V6.

The 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara wears its truck heritage proudly, but, as I discovered after a week with a top-of-the-line V6 Limited 4WD, it's as civilized and comfortable as any comparable crossover. In Limited V6 4WD trim it's appointed in a near-luxury manner. Plus, for those who need it, the Grand Vitara has real off-road capability -- just in case you live someplace where winter means deep snow or mud, or pavement is merely a fantasy. Or if you enjoy outdoors activities a ways beyond the end of maintained roads. And its 3000-pound towing ability handle small trailers or boats or motorcycles or quads with ease. The 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara stays true to its roots, and more than matches the crossover competition.

APPEARANCE: No rugged, macho fantasy look here. The Grand Vitara would not stand out in a lineup of crossovers. It's a cleanly, if conservatively and unpretentiously, styled two-box design with minimally-rounded edges and corners. The curved front is slightly sloped, to improve aerodynamics, and the windshield a bit more so. Fender flares are moderate, connected by a raised area between the wheels, but there is no oh-so-90s cladding. The passenger cabin is tall, with plenty of glass area for good driver visibility. Rear styling is simple and functional - and look! An external spare tire! How retro! And also how functional, as it's full-sized (a space-saver won't save you off road) and neither wastes interior space nor impedes rear vision.

COMFORT: Inside, find the high-eyepoint seating position that made SUVs popular, with no access difficulties. "Imposing" is not in the description, and that's a Good Thing. At V6 Limited level, the Grand Vitara is outfitted with pushbutton (well, twist-button) start, leather seating, heated in front, a leather-rimmed steering wheel with cruise and auxiliary audio controls, AM/FM/XM ready/CD/auxiliary audio player input audio, and navigation system for no extra cost. Ok, seat and steering wheel adjustment is manual and the nav system is a Garmin, semi-built in to the top of the instrument panel. But this is a vehicle that runs well under $30,000. Manual adjustment is simple, and use of the Garmin is at least a minor stroke of genius -- no need for an expensive instrument panel re-wiring with the nav system and it looks and works better than an aftermarket example stuck on with a suction cup. It comes with a one-year subscription to MSN® Direct Services for traffic, weather, and other information. Seat comfort is as good as in any competitor, the backlit instruments are easy to read, and controls for the audio, climate, and nav systems are simple and straightforward. An info center display shows average and instant mileage, range, and average speed. A tilt-and-slide moonroof adds light, or air. Options in my test car were limited to floor and cargo mats and Bluetooth® connectivity, all for reasonable charges. Useful storage, dual front 12VDC power points, and visor extensions add convenience. A higher rear seat cushion helps passengers see out, with minimal impact on head room. The rear seat is wide enough for three, at least for a while, and folds 60/40 for cargo versatility. Cargo space is not going to be a problem here.

SAFETY: The Grand Vitara is designed to protect passengers in the event of a collision, with front and front seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags networked with a rollover sensor, and four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with antilock and ESP stability control.

RIDE AND HANDLING: It may technically be a truck, but the Grand Vitara feels little different from a car-based crossover. The unsprung weight of the largish P225/60 tires on 18-inch alloy wheels is inescapably noticeable, as would be the case in any vehicle so shod. Ride quality is good, thanks to a well-tuned MacPherson front, multilink rear suspension. The interior is as quiet as most cars, and steering response is better than some crossovers. With nearly eight inches of clearance, both highway hazards and fire roads present little challenge. Strong four-wheel ventilated antilock disc brakes stop well.

PERFORMANCE: At nearly 3900 pound in 4x4 V6 trim, the Grand Vitara is no lightweight. But with 230 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 213 lb-ft of torque (at 3500 rpm), its 3.2-liter V6 is up to any task required. The torque peak is right in the midrange, where it is most useful, and the five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly. Keeping up with traffic or merging on short onramps present no problems. The multi-mode four-wheel drive system is in "4Hi" normally, meaning primarily rear-wheel drive unless traction is lost at the rear or needed at the front. In dirt, gravel, or snow, 4Hi Lock or 4Lo Lock engage the center differential lock for maximum slippery-conditions traction. Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control also help navigate tricky territory. Suzuki SUVs have been popular shuttlecraft with RVers for years, and the new Grand Vitara (with automatic transmission) can be flat-towed by switching the transfer case to neutral.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2010 Grand Vitara continues Suzuki's tradition of providing high-value SUVs.

SPECIFICATIONS
2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited 4WD

Base Price			$ 26,999
Price As Tested			$ 28,318
Engine Type			24-valve dohc V6 with variable cam
				 phasing
Engine Size			3.2 liters / 195 cu. in.
Horsepower			230 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			213 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 177.2 in.
Curb Weight			3876 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.9
Fuel Capacity			17.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/60R18 99H Dunlop Grand Trek
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around, ABS, ESP
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multi-link
Ground clearance		7.9 in.
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				  multi-mode four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 23 / 18
0 to 60 mph				8.5  sec
Towing capacity				3000 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
All-Season Cargo Mat and Net		$ 130
Floor Mats				$ 125
Bluetooth® w/on-screen text messaging	$ 269
Destination Charge			$ 795

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyers Guide

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