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Suzuki Vitara 4X4 Four-Door JLX (2002)

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,199
     Price As Tested                                    $ 19,689
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 122 cid/1997 cc
     Horsepower                                   127 @ 6000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               134 @ 3000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   97.6"/67.3"/163.0"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3097 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P215/65R16 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                                     Disc /drum
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            22/25/23
     0-60 MPH                                       11.5 seconds
     Maximum payload capacity                         700 pounds
     Maximum towing capacity                         1500 pounds
                 * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

The Suzuki Vitara is available with three or five doors, four or two-wheel drive, long wheelbase or short, open or convertible. One trim level is offered for all closed body styles: JLS, with two-wheel drive running gear, and JLX four-wheel drive version we test this week.

OUTSIDE - The Vitara we evaluated was about as standard as possible. It came with 16-inch steel wheels, black wall tires and no fender flares. This configuration represents a good number of the Vitaras actually sold, however, as it is the most affordable version. The current Vitara is the logical successor to the now-departed Sidekick, which enjoyed success here for many years. The newer look of Vitara, with its rounded shapes that look more modern, is a smart-looking SUV that doesn't take styling chances. For those wishing to outfit a Vitara with more visual goodies, the Grand Vitara is the next step upward in Suzuki's line. A stiff stamped-steel body gives a stiff shell to resist the twisting and bending forces of the rugged off-road, yet still delivers a quiet ride on the highway.

INSIDE - The interior layout is as simple as its exterior design. Easy-to-use switch-gear is laid out well, with sliding controls and rocker switches that are all within an arm's reach. And just like most mini-SUVs, Vitara isn't going to swallow the whole soccer team with room left for gear. Rather, there is just enough room inside for a family of four, with a modest amount of room behind the rear seat for cargo. Head, shoulder and legroom is ample for an SUV of this caliber. Suzuki also offers the Grand Vitara XL-7, which offers a stretched body with third-row seating and more cargo space. Seating is as comfortable as possible, with durable cloth upholstery and firm padding that should stand up to the test of time. Standard features include remote keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, an AM/FM/CD stereo, tilt steering and a tachometer.

ON THE ROAD - Power comes from a 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine. It uses dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and sequential multiport fuel injection to deliver a healthy 127 horsepower and 134 lb-ft of torque. Prior to 2002, this was the optional power choice for Vitara, but the entry-level JS and JX models, with their underpowered engines, are gone. Available torque comes on at 3000 rpm, so off-line acceleration is good and off-road brawn is ample. A five- speed manual transmission is standard equipment, while a four-speed automatic is optional. It's a very capable off-roader, and our tester's four-wheel drive system is a part-time unit that can be engaged on-the-fly at speeds below 62 mph, or used in a low range for extra power in rough terrain. Unfortunately, this system cannot be used in 4WD mode on pavement, like so many of its competitors, but getting out of the vehicle to "lock-in" the front differential hubs is unnecessary because they are automatic.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Vitara rides on a truck-like ladder frame. This rugged design, along with thick steel cross members, provide a solid foundation on which to mount the separate body. Also, Suzuki adds thick metal to the joints between the side rails and suspension mounting points. Specially-tuned rubber body mounts, along with extensive use of asphalt sheeting and foam insulation, contribute heavily in reducing noise, vibration and harshness. There is nothing too fancy about Vitara's underpinnings. The front suspension is a MacPherson strut layout, while the five-link rear suspension utilizes coil springs to support the solid rear axle. The handling is relatively nimble, though the grip of the standard tires is lost in heavier cornering. The power rack-and-pinion steering system gives a good balance of road feel and smoothness, while the front disc/rear drum brakes perform well in repeated stopping tests. The Vitara is a rugged off-roader that makes no pretense at being a sedan-based "cute-ute.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, daytime running headlamps and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Destination charge $490.