Quick Drive: Suzuki Grand Vitara XSport V-6

By Winding Road Staff

June 02, 2010

Viewed in isolation, the Grand Vitara comes across positively. It has good room, lots of features and drives acceptably. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that the Grand Vitara would have been a standout car 5-10 years ago, but is middle-of-the-pack in 2010.

Some of this comes down to little things. The rear seats fold, for example, but they don’t create anything like a flat load floor. This kind of detail engineering has become de rigeure in functional vehicles in the last decade. In addition, I didn’t get the sense that the Grand Vitara exudes the sense of quality going down the road that a typical new car buyer might look for. The interior bits are fine, it is just that the noise signature and mechanical feeling are a little off.

Driving dynamics were okay, but one can do better. The engine/transmission combination has enough power. The handling is resolutely tilted toward understeer, though roll is nicely controlled. Not bad, not great.

Of course, this is a small SUV, so driving dynamics will always be compromised to some degree by the high center of gravity necessitated by high ground clearance. Still, if you compare the Grand Vitara to, say, the Nissan XTerra, you find that the XTerra seems more refined and more involving. That said, you’ll pay more for the Nissan and give up some features, which may or may not be a good tradeoff.

—Tom Martin

I mostly concur with Tom’s assessment, though my overall outlook on the Grand Vitara is more positive than his. Here’s why: I felt the Suzuki got certain elemental things right in ways that many SUVs do not.

First off, let’s note that the Grand Vitara offers full-time four-wheel drive (much like a Subaru), but also offers the option of selecting either a four-wheel high or four-wheel low range (a handy feature for those who plan to take their SUVs up or down truly gnarly inclines in sketchy weather conditions).

Second, let me observe that the engine/transmission combo not only has “enough power,” as Tom said, but also manages initial acceleration from a dead stop much better than some competing SUVs we’ve tried of late. Many seem to offer either a mileage-oriented engine/transmission profile that feels sluggish off the line, or a well-intended sport mode that’s more aggressive, but still not quite right. The Grand Vitara, however, struck me as finding the happy medium—at lease most of the time.

Third, the Grand Vitara’s steering felt both immediate and accurate in the sense that a given amount of steering wheel rotation yielded prompt and consistent turn in—this in contrast to SUVs that offer old-school, truck-like steering where you feel as if you’re offering “suggestions” that the front wheels may or may not choose to follow. Granted, the Suzuki understeers quite a lot, but don’t many of today’s SUV’s?

Tom is quite right to point out that certain Suzuki design details, such as the irregular load floor surfaces he mentioned, are decidedly wonky. My personal point of perplexity was reached when I discovered the Grand Vitara’s swing-open tailgate was hinged on the right side of the vehicle (the opposite of many I’ve seen) so that curbside access is blocked when the gate is open. Go figure.

Such oddities notwithstanding, however, I came to appreciate the Suzuki’s straightforward goodness and utility value the more that I drove it. 

—Chris Martens