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2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Byte Bite: My first impression, Grand Vitara is a Home Run...Suzuki offers one of the best values in small SUVs

By Thom Cannell

Since the introduction of the first long wheelbase Suzuki Sidekick, I’ve thought Suzuki offered one of the best values in small SUVs.

Sidekick (and Tracker LWB) were third-world rugged, no-nonsense SUVs with aggressive pricing. Second generation vehicles—Grand Vitara and SL-7—added contemporary exterior styling and more comfortable interiors. With an all-new third generation Grand Vitara, Suzuki has increased the appeal of its 4-5 passenger small SUV with contemporary exterior styling, improved interior styling, more passenger space, and modern options. Seating four or five, the interior is 4.7”/120 mm larger in width with 4.7”/120mm more rear legroom than the old Grand Vitara. It has, however, lost some of its third-world ruggedness and off road prowess in the search for greater acceptability.

Suzuki Grand Vitara now uses unibody construction; a multi-rung ladder frame is created within the unibody chassis. Formerly the frame was an actual steel tube chassis with body atop, and is now manufactured from precision bent sheet metal. That’s great for weight reduction, noise reduction, and better fuel economy. It’s not so good if you must bounce around on nasty rock-strewn trails most of the time. For occasional rough backcountry duty, have no fears.

I came to this conclusion on a scenic drive North from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia. Departing an unfamiliar city during rush hour in an untried vehicle can reveal design flaws. Could I adjust the radio, configure the air conditioning, or adjust the steering wheel while navigating in a strange metro area? Absolutely. There was no trace of “we’re so clever” attempts to put cute and trendy ahead of function. Everything just worked. Climate control fully automatic, the 6-CD audio system picked up XM satellite radio, and rear seat passengers could hold a conversation without yelling. My first impression, Grand Vitara is a Home Run.

I enjoyed luxury-class interior features like steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; my eyes could remain on traffic. Gauges were large and directly in front of me, simple and easy to read with large white numerals on black background. Grand Vitara’s center stack of controls should be a lesson to larger manufacturers, both in materials and fit-and-finish.

At dashboard level, above a large air vent, is a combination clock, exterior temperature gauge, and fuel economy indicator. Below is an extremely clean audio head end; knobs and buttons are extruded through the surface rather than being stuck onto it. It looks custom, not like a box stuck into a hole.

Below this six-speaker/MP3/XM audio was the heating and air conditioning, with wonderfully easy controls—either automatic or manual—which continues the custom appearance. Temperature and fan speed are rotary, the air distribution control is circular with “pie-wedge” selector buttons. Above the “ash receiver” was the four-mode four-wheel drive switch, and the off switch for Suzuki’s standard Electronic Stability Control. Forget this switch exists unless you’re a professional driver.

The center console holds a gated shifter for the five-speed automatic transmission, or a five-speed manual transmission, and switches for seat heaters. Most of the cabin is finished in well-matched plastic surfaces of black with brushed silver accents on the steering wheel, at the console and air vents, plus wood appliqué at the shifter and center console. An alternative color scheme, tan and beige, is available. It’s a sophisticated interior, particularly at its price.

Grand Vitara has just one trim level, with three optional equipment packages. Air conditioning with automatic climate control and micron air filter, cruise control, and digital clock with outside temperature and fuel consumption indicator are standard.

The Grand Vitara, equipped with five-speed manual and RWD has an MSRP of $18,999. This includes Electronic Stability Program with Traction Control, and power mirrors. The Premium package adds alloy wheels, darkened privacy glass in the rear and a 6-disc CD with sub-woofer for $19,899.

Later in the model year an XSport with five-speed automatic transmission, textured fender flares and Smart Pass™ keyless entry and starting will be available at $21,399 RWD, $22,799 4WD.

If you want leather, ask for the Luxury package. It offers leather seat surfaces, wood grain trim, electric sunroof, an upgrade to 17” alloy rims, and HomeLink® door opener for $23, 299/$24,699. These prices are competitive against Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4 and similar vehicles from Mazda, Ford, and GM. Suzuki claims a $400-$1,000 price advantage when you look at the total package.

Besides Rear Wheel Drive, a full-time four-wheel drive—no transfer case or low gears—is available for $1,200 and a new “four mode” 4WD system with Low range and greater off road capability is available for $1,400.

The four-mode system includes a normal automatic four-wheel drive high (47/53% torque split,) four-wheel high with locked center differential for gravel and slippery surfaces, four-wheel low with locked differential for off roading, plus neutral for towing behind motorhomes.

Leaving three row seating to the larger XL-7, Grand Vitara uses bucket seats front and 60/40 second row bench seats. With the second seat folded there’s 68.9 cubic feet of storage, and a normal 24.4 cubic fee when seats are filled with passengers.

Suzuki includes six standard airbags, dual stage front airbags; driver and passenger in-seat side curtain airbags; and rear side curtain airbags. Other advanced active safety features include ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Electronic Stability Program for resistance to understeer (plowing) or oversteer (spins.) Brakes are vented front discs and rear drum, and a 225/65R17 tire and wheel package is available.

Exterior design elegantly updated. The hood is sloped, but not tapered for a wide-shoulder look, and the side glass is slightly tapered towards the rear to evoke velocity and athleticism. Particularly note that the doors cover the sills. Details like this are normally found only in customized vehicles. Headlamps are modern dual projector-look and cut in beneath a clamshell hood. Fender flares, black trimmed, hold tightly to tires and wheels and visually pull the tires to the corners for handling and roll resistance. New fog lamps are centered on the lower air intake and main beams creating a solid stance; head on the proportions of body to windscreen are balanced.

The rear view also features cut in tail lamps that appear to merge into the hefty C-pillar, a, swing-open rear door, and exterior-mounted full-sized spare tire. Instead of chrome, Suzuki has chosen monochrome bumpers and touches of matte black for accent.

Placement of the critical A-pillar, the one at the intersection of windscreen and door, is exemplary. To comply with government crash tests, A-pillars have become stronger, and huge. In many vehicles the left A-pillar blocks your left side vision. Somehow Suzuki avoided this problem. I never had to shift my head to the right to see traffic approaching from the left, or peer around the A-pillar when turning left.

Grand Vitara’s engine is an improved version of their 2.7-liter V6. It’s spunky, with 185 horsepower (@ 6,000 rpm) and 184 lb-ft of torque (@ 4,500 rpm.) This dual overhead cam engine has a self-adjusting timing chain, not a replaceable belt, and variable induction intake. Variable induction systems change the effective length between intake and combustion chamber to increase low-speed torque and high RPM operation. It is, however, a bit noisy above 4,000 rpm.

In the mountains North of Vancouver, moderate motor noise was apparent, but not overwhelming. Power was not a problem; the automatic transmission is responsive, downshifting promptly and accurately.

Suzuki is a world manufacturer and will sell versions of Grand Vitara in over 100 markets. With rising gas prices, their 4-cylinder engine might be certified for the US. I’d prefer their 2.0-liter diesel. This engine, with manual transmission, is a big seller in Germany and other countries. With the introduction of low-sulfur fuel in 2007, we might see that combination in the United States. For now, all North American Grand Vitaras will be equipped with the V6, which has a tow rating of 3,000 pounds, suitable for light trailers and campers.

We switched into vehicles equipped with the Four Mode 4x4 system and drove into the mountains near Whistler. Once off the highway, we headed into Garibaldi Provincial Park on rocky dirt roads and forest trails where Grand Vitara’s suspension was challenged. It performed well, with little head toss, absolutely no squeaks or rattles, and plenty of grip. Arriving at a trailhead and shifting into four-wheel low gear via the dash mounted transfer case switch, we tackled more challenging trails.

Off roading in the classic sense means going where you desire, climbing over what looks fun, and around what you can’t climb. With a ground clearance of 7.9” (7.4” Rear Wheel Drive) Grand Vitara can go many places, but not where Jeeps and Hummers roam. You can, however, go where few choose to go. With an approach angle of 29° (how steeply you can climb without rubbing the nose) and departure of 26°, even off road novices can climb steep, slippery trails and over boulders the size of beer kegs. By placing tires—correctly—atop those rocks we avoided grinding the floor pan or sensitive mechanical parts.

Grand Vitara retains four-wheel independent suspension: McPherson struts in front and multi-link at the rear. This allows plenty of suspension articulation—vertical movement—off road, and is more comfortable on highways than a solid rear axle.

Overall, Grand Vitara remains a good value in small SUVs. Its EPA fuel economy rating of 18/23-mpg manual and 19/24 mpg automatic is similar to others in this size/weight category. Styling, penned in-house, is fresh, crisp, modern. Interior space is sufficient at 125.4 cubic feet. Rear seat ingress/ egress is quite good because of wide opening rear doors.

With a long wheelbase (103.9-in. (2,640 mm,)) wide tread (60.6-in. (1,540 mm) / 61.4-in. (1,560 mm,)) and engine lowered 1.2” for lower center of gravity, it should fare well in government safety tests.

In dropping its distinctive body-on-frame, Suzuki opted to offer a more sophisticated small SUV. With two 4WD systems as well as rear wheel drive, V6 engines, automatic and one of the few remaining manual transmissions, they provide distinctive products. Upscale interior styling and accessories like keyless entry and ignition are equally unique in this class. So, I don’t have to revise my conclusion that Suzuki offers one of the best values in small SUVs; it remains quiet, rugged, roomy, and reasonably priced.

2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Technical Specs


Type: 2.7-liter, six-cylinder, 24-valve DOHC
Materials: Aluminum cylinder block/aluminum cylinder heads
Displacement: 2.7 liters (2,736cc / 167 cu. in.)
Bore x stroke: 88.0 x 75.0 / 3.46-in. x 2.95-in.
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Horsepower: 185 @ 6,000 RPM
Torque: 184 @ 4,500 RPM
Valves per cylinder: Four
Fuel system::Electronic multi-port fuel injection, variable
induction system (VIS),in-tank fuel pump
Emission compliance: LEV II / BIN5
Exhaust: Single

TRANSMISSIONS Five-speed manual 1st 4.550:1 2nd 2.357:1 3rd 1.695:1 4th 1.242:1 5th 1.000:1 Reverse 4.436:1 Final drive ratio 3.583:1 Five-speed automatic 1st 3.520:1 2nd 2.043:1 3rd 1.401:1 4th 1.000:1 5th 0.717:1 Reverse 3.224:1 Final drive ratio 4.300:1 FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE SYSTEMS Full-time single-mode four-wheel drive – transfer case with
differential for full-time operation in 4H mode.

Full-time four-mode four-wheel drive – transfer case with
locking differential and low range.

The operating modes are:
4H mode, 4H locking mode, 4L Lock mode differential is always
locked in 4L) and Neutral mode for flat towing behind RV.

Transfer case ratio is 1.97:1. SUSPENSION Front: Independent: MacPherson strut suspension with coil
springs,hydraulic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar.

Rear: Independent: Multi-link suspension with coil springs,
hydraulic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar. STEERING Type: Power-assisted rack and pinion Overall ratio: TK Turns, lock-to-lock: 2.6 Turning circle: 36 ft. (11 m) curb-to-curb BRAKES Front: Power-assisted ventilated disc with floating two-piston calipers and pad wear sensor Rear: Power-assisted 10.0-in. (254 mm) rear drum ABS: Standard, four wheel, four channel Traction control: Standard Electronic Stability Program (ESP):Standard WHEELS 16 x 6.5-in. steel 16 x 6.5-in. alloy 17 x 6.5-in. alloy TIRES P225/70R16 P225/65R17 Full-size rear-mounted spare EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS Wheelbase: 103.9-in. (2,640 mm) Overall length: 176-in. (4,470 mm) Overall width: 71.3-in. (1,810 mm) Overall height: 66.7-in. (1,695 mm) Tread width, f/r: 60.6-in. (1,540 mm)/61.4-in.(1,560 mm) Overhang, front: 29.7-in. (755 mm) Overhang, rear: 42.3-in. (1,075 mm) Ground clearance: 7.9-in. (200.6 mm) Approach angle: 29 deg. Departure angle: 27 deg. Ramp break over angle: 19 deg. INTERIOR DIMENSIONS Headroom Front: 40.0-in.(1,016 mm), 38.2-in. (970 mm)with Luxury Package Rear: 38.2-in. (970 mm) Legroom Front: 41.3-in. (1,049 mm) Rear: 37.2-in. (944.8 mm) Shoulder room Front: 56.3-in. (1,430 mm) Rear: 54.9-in. (1,384 mm) Hip Room Front: 55.5-in. (1,409.7 mm) Rear: 44.0-in. (1,117.6 mm) Interior volume: 125.4 cu. ft., 122.9 cu. ft. with Luxury Package SAE cargo index: 24.4 cu. ft. rear seat up, 68.9 cu. ft. rear seat down; 23.8 cu. ft. rear seat up,with Luxury Package 67.3 rear seat down with Luxury Package CAPACITIES Fuel tank: 17.4 gal. (66 liters) Engine oil: 5.0 qt. (4.8 liters) Engine coolant: 8.6 qt. (8.2 liters) CURB WEIGHT RWD, manual transmission 3,452 lbs. (1,565.8 kg) RWD, auto transmission 3,505 lbs. (1,589.8 kg) 4WD, manual transmission 3,582 lbs. (1,624.7 kg) 4WD, auto transmission 3,682 lbs. (1,670.1 kg) TOWING RWD, manual transmission 3,000 lbs. (1,360.7 kg) RWD, auto transmission 3,000 lbs. (1,360.7 kg) 4WD, manual transmission 3,000 lbs. (1,360.7 kg) 4WD, auto transmission 3,000 lbs. (1,360.7 kg) FUEL ECONOMY Manual transmission: 18/23 mpg city/highway Automatic transmission: 19/24 mpg city/highway 2WD 19/23 mpg city/highway 4WD

Copyright 2005 by Thom Cannell First NA Serial Rights Granted; All Other Rights Reserved