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2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The name Suzuki, for me, brings to mind ring-ding-ding motorcycles and tiny, tinny cars. A week with the Grand Vitara has convinced me that Suzuki is a fully modern competitor in today’s automotive scene.

From making weaving looms in the 1920s and motor bikes in the 50s, Suzuki built its first automobile in 1955, a stubbly, cartoonesque little thing with rack and pinion steering, tall skinny tires, front-wheel-drive, and independent suspension. Suzuki entered the US market with the Samurai in 1985. And now, in 2005, Suzuki is working on a record sales year.

The last Suzuki I drove was a Samurai we rented on the Caribbean island of St. John in the late 80s. It was a competent enough cute-ute, very basic, simple, cheap and plenty fun to drive on those narrow island roads. We had quite an adventure there, trundling to every corner of the island and rescuing a little orange cat named Booker. Remind me to tell you that story sometime.

This new Suzuki Grand Vitara came to my driveway unexpectedly. I was scheduled for an Audi. Not a problem. I had seen the new Grand Vitara and was interested in having a closer look. Initial inspection was very favorable. The color took me right away. “Silky silver metallic” they call it and it surely looks silky. I saw the clear beige metallic (gold) at a press event recently and it was just as striking. Certainly the paint and colors are well executed and the finish on my test car was excellent.

The Grand Vitara has a sturdy stance at first view. The styling is up-to-date and quite attractive. Suzuki calls it muscular. That’s a bit of hyperbole, I’d say. In fact, I’d still put it in the category called “cute-ute”.

lb. The standard Grand Vitara comes quite well equipped. A V6 engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power windows, locks and mirrors, remote entry system, adjustable steering column, steering wheel controls for audio and cruise, three 12-volt power outlets, front and rear automatic climate control, cargo cover, outside temp and fuel consumption gauges, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA, XM stereo with 4-speakers and all the airbags you might want. You get all this, in two-wheel-drive configuration, for less than 19-grand. Four-wheel-drive adds $2,200. Premium, sport and luxury packages could bring the price as high as $24,399 with everything. Our test vehicle is has the premium package and lists out at $22,600.

Off to town for a first drive, I liked its feel, solid and smooth, but I was not impressed with the Grand Vitara’s power. The DOHC, 2.7-litre, 24-valve V6 is rated at 185-horsepower. It sure didn’t feel like 185. Checking the specs again I find that horsepower comes on at 6,000 rpm. I didn’t wind it up that tight. Maximum torque is 184 ft. at 4,500 rpm. Heading onto the freeway on our cloverleaf ramp I could barely make 70 mph at the end of the acceleration lane with foot to the floor. Of course I couldn’t get much of a head start either since the modest body lean and jumpiness were disconcerting on the tight cloverleaf. Once used to the Vitara’s handling I could probably push it a bit more.

Fuel economy is rated at 18-city and 23-highway on regular fuel for the manual transmission and 19 and 24 for the automatic. Don’t ask me why. Usually a manual gets a bit better mileage than an automatic. The tank holds 17.4 gallons. Expect about a 400-mile range. Though I wasn’t able to put enough miles on the Vitara to check the mileage accurately these numbers represent a reasonable expectation.

At speed the Vitara felt fine – steady, tight and firm. The ride, both on the freeway and on the rough two-lanes, felt balanced and well damped. I was most impressed as I passed briskly across a notoriously rough set of railroad tracks between me and the city. I could feel no squirm or flex – just a nice tight jump. The chassis, a reinforced unibody design, is rigid and tough.

Vitara’s brakes are ventilated disc in front and drums in the rear with standard ABS and stability control.

The Vitara’s interior is conventional and well executed. Materials looked and felt better than expected. Controls are well placed and clearly identified. I did not need to check the book for anything. Seats, front and rear, are just firm enough to be comfortable and supportive without a lot of bolster. Rear seat backs have multiple positions from straight up to a nice bit of recline. Seating positions are high with good visibility. Rear seat passengers have cup holders in the back of the front console but few other amenities.

The rear cargo area is well appointed with hooks and stowage options although the cargo cover is poorly designed. It’s a tri-fold affair that once folded doesn’t want to unfold without excessive encouragement. Rear seats fold against the fronts rather awkwardly for a cargo area that seems a tad limited. The whole vehicle has 125.4 cubic feet of space inside which puts it about equal to its competitors.

So, how about Grand Vitara’s off-road credentials, you ask. Wheelbase is 103.9 inches. Ground clearance is 7.9 inches. The four-wheel-drive versions have low range lock positions for pulling in the really bad stuff. Angle of departure and approach are 27 and 29 degrees respectively. Towing capacity is listed at 3000 pounds. I did not get the Grand Vitara into any substantial off-road area but our colleague, Thom Cannell, did. You can see his assessment here on

The basic warranty, roadside assistance and rust through are 3 years/36,000 miles. The drivetrain is covered for 7 years or 1000,000 miles.

One of the automotive web sites I browsed in researching this review graded the Suzuki Grand Vitara near the bottom of its class. I don’t agree. If you’re thinking about a vehicle in this small sport-utility segment be sure to check this one out. It’s a winner.