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New Car/Review


Suzuki Grand Vitara (2001)

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Suzuki Grand Vitara 
ENGINE:  2.5-liter DOHC V6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 155 hp @ 6500 rpm/160 lb-ft @ 4000  rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  4-speed automatic with overdrive and lock-up torque converter 
WHEELBASE: 97.6 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 164.5 x 70.1 x 67.8 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $23,554 

Suzuki has developed a good reputation for building good, small economical autos and sport utility vehicles. The Geo and now Chevy line of Trackers is an extension of the SUV line. And while the company received some bad ink because of dubious tests by Consumer Reports, Suzuki has continued to do what it does best for the SUV market as well as the small sedan market. Last year the company introduced the Grand Vitara, which was slightly larger than the Sidekick, carried a V6 engine and had more luxury than one normally expects from Suzuki. The Grand Vitara has modern SUV styling. The V6 engine is critical to good performance. And it has enough size to make it a practical vehicle. I always felt that the "Tracker" size Suzuki was just a little too small for my tastes.

The Grand Vitara has had an impact on the market. The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 were around before the Grand Vitara, but now Ford (and Mazda by extension), Hyundai and others are coming out with small entry-level sport utilities. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Through a series of unfortunate circumstances we had an opportunity to drive the Grand Vitara for two weeks rather than our standard one week. This gave us an opportunity to drive it over a wider variety of roads and driving experiences.

This is a comfortable car on Interstate highways. We were cruising at 65-70 mph along with the rest of the traffic on some highways. It's a relatively quiet car. Yes, it's a boxy car so there is some wind noise. The engine is relatively small, so when you try to accelerate you get a lot of engine noise. But in the long run it's a quiet car to drive.

We also drove the GV on some paved winding roads and on some dirt winding roads. This is a vehicle that handles well. It has a wide stance for its height -- good aspect ratio -- so there's no tipover fear if you corner reasonably hard. I always feel you should drive a car with your head and not your right foot and use common sense when driving it. This is a car that doesn't force you to use common sense, but it is one that welcomes intelligent driving.

The Grand Vitara uses a MacPherson strut front suspension with separately located coil springs and shock absorbers to allow long wheel travel and give good noise isolation. The rear is a live axle positioned by a five-link system that also allows free movement and a high level of lateral position control.

Some of the features of the GV were interesting. We had an AM/FM stereo sound system with an in-dash CD and cassette players. We had a host of power accessories, and a good heating system that allowed us to remove ice from the windshield quickly.

One of my favorite facets of the GV were the little storage areas located around the passenger compartment. There is one at the top of the dash, that I first thought was ridiculously small. But it held a cell phone. It held my wallet when I was on a toll road. It held receipts. It was a perfect size and a perfect location.

There is a storage area in front of the shifter that held larger objects. There were two cupholders between the seats and a storage area behind those. Add to these pockets in the doors and you have enough capacity inside the Grand Vitara to carry almost anything.

We folded down the rear seats to give us added carrying capacity, since we were not carrying extra passengers for the larger portion of our rides. I was impressed by the amount of volume and cargo we could carry in the GV. We had coolers filled with turkeys and all kinds of food for Thanksgiving, etc. Suzuki has built a strong reputation for building quality, small sport utility vehicles. The grand Vitara extends that reputation and not only continues Suzuki's reputation but it puts a vehicle on the automotive market that was a ball to drive.