SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide
Since the holidays were upon us, we thought it might be nice to take a small trip and take Ms. Vitara out on the open road. Since the gorgeous Southern California weather before the holidays meant for scant to no snowfall, a trip to Lake Tahoe and its surrounding ski areas was abandoned. However, a change of plan and a rendezvous with my father in Carmel-by-the-Sea presented just the opportunity.
With 2 sets of golf clubs and quite a bit of luggage on board, we loaded up the CD player and hit the 101 North. Saturday afternoon traffic proved to be flowing nicely, the sun was shining, and cruising at 75-80mph (or so!) proved extremely quiet, comfortable and, more importantly, stable in the Grand Vitara. This is the heaviest load I've had in the car and handling was actually surprisingly good, especially given the usual horror stories about instability at speed and when fully loaded. Evidently, there aren't too many sharp turns on the 101, although one canyon section provided some nice hills and corners, when reduced speed was definitely required on the downhill parts and, although the V6 coped well with the inclines, a subtle, extra depression of the gas pedal came in useful on the uphill parts!
5 1/2 hours later and we were pulling into our hotel, after 1 fill up, a few too many slow pokes in the fast lane, and a couple of wrong turns in the Monterrey/Carmel area. The coastline - as you can see in the pictures - is stunning, and we took full advantage of the view by doing 17-mile drive. Rather a lot of tourists meant for a leisurely drive, but all-the-better to look at some of the fabulous homes (think of the beach house in 'Basic Instinct'...only no Sharon Stone - sorry boys) overlooking the water.
To get to the golf course we decided on 2 cars, since 3 sets of clubs and 4 people proved too much of a squeeze for the Vitara. Well, we could get in, but it wasn't the most comfortable, given 2, 6ft passengers with the need for legroom in the front, and 2 relatively long-legged passengers in the back. I love Cirque du Soleil, but I fear I will never join the troupe as a contortionist!
The Vitara's performance on the road was far superior to mine on the golf course. It had been over a year, so I wasn't surprised, but with every shot veering 20 degrees to the right, and collecting every tree along the way (and, unfortunately, I'm really not exaggerating!) my 18 holes proved slow going, and rather high-scoring! Some improvement was evident after a few more rounds, but by then the pain from the blister on my finger was outweighing the enjoyment of the (bad) playing, so I called it a day. The temperature had also dropped to freezing as soon as the sun went down, but the instant heat in the Vitara, and some Beatles '1' on the CD player soon warmed us up on the drive back.
A power cut on Christmas eve meant for some fantastic star gazing after dinner, but the pitch blackness proved no match for the fog lamps and high beams of the Vitara, our road home thus brightly illuminated.
Heading back to LA, we were 1 more passenger and a lot more luggage. After some rather careful packing and wedging of both bags and people, everything was in and we were off down the 101 again. The difference in load was immediately apparent, but this was not detrimental to the handling. Yes, you could feel the extra weight, but the car felt very sturdy, despite quite strong cross-winds, and we made excellent progress. Managing a time of 5 hours, with little traffic and one fill up, the Vitara proved nicely fuel efficient, and we averaged about 265 to the tank.
The only major complaint I would have is the to do with the seats. The leather seats are comfortable, but have very little padding in the actual 'cushion' part of the seat, and no lumbar support to speak of. This makes for a rather numb bum and stiff lower back after a couple of hours of driving, and must surely contribute to a fatigued feeling on longer drives. Given that we drove from 9pm-2am, everyone was definitely ready for sleep upon our arrival back in LALAland.
Overall, both my brother and I were pleasantly surprised by the Vitara's performance. I think because the smaller SUV's on the market often look less rugged than some of their larger counterparts, the assumption is that their capabilities and handling will likewise be lightweight. But the Vitara 4x4 proves itself a good match for its big brothers, just don't take too many friends along for the ride.