Compared to the majority of the latest wave of SUVs and most notably to that ultra-sexy, chic and must-have one designed by one Mrs Victoria Beckham, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is unapologetically boxy. But despite being styled as excitingly as a fridge-freezer in the minds of many people, it does have something about it. Its chunky, utilitarian outline reminds people that this ain’t a soft-roader – it’s a proper 4×4 off-roader. ‘All mouth and no trousers’ doesn’t apply to the Grand Vitara, as it can genuinely venture into the rocky, muddy unknown, where many of the more trendily-styled rivals would flop. And to be fair, some buyers actually value anonymity, so the Grand Vitara’s unlikelihood to turn heads and drop jaws is a selling point in their view.
This latest Grand Vitara model comes with indicators integrated into the door mirrors, slight tweaks to the rear to make it more modern, chunky 18” alloy wheels, tinted windows and a more butch front grille and bumpers. The spare wheel carrier on the back has also now been dropped, to try and make the Suzuki appear less ‘UN peace keeping’ and more ‘cool urban warrior’. HID headlights finish off the minutely refreshed look.
Exciting, it’s not – but the Grand Vitara has an enviably robust look about it. You know it’s been around a while, you know you won’t come a cropper off the beaten track, you know you can trust it owing to the firm’s reliable image, and you know it won’t attract much angst, if any, from anti-SUV sections of society. Although it could now do with an entirely new design, The Grand Vitara is still styled suitably for the honest, ‘does what it says on the tin’ image is carries – and for that, I don’t dislike it. In fact, I could understand why many people are still quite fond of them.
Interior & Practicality
I have to admit that as soon as I’d climbed into the Grand Vitara for the very first time, I felt a sense of nostalgia wash over me. Having driven a fair few 4x4s this year, from the upper echelons of a supercharged Range Rover and a Volvo XC60 Lux Premium model, to the lower ranks of a Mitsubishi Shogun and a Kia Sportage, the Suzuki Grand Vitara did have what to me felt like the most dated interior of them all. Don’t get me wrong, it felt extremely durable and tough, but on first glance, the whole look and implementation just felt like they were from another era. Everything looked rather boxy, with ‘function over form’ seeming to be the ethos, and some of the plastics were hard, such as the door bins, central storage box and the manual driver’s seat controls.
Having said all this, though, I did become more fond of the Grand Vitara as the week progressed, proving that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. For starters, the high, commanding driving position is great, combining with the huge windscreen and big wing mirrors to result in a very safe vehicle. As with all 4x4s, it’s nice being able to see over dry stone walls as you’re driving down country lanes, and to see over the smaller cars in front of you in queues of traffic.
It was a shame the heated front seats didn’t operate electrically, but they were comfortable nonetheless, the leather being of decent enough quality and with enough cossetting and support to keep most people happy. This model came with keyless entry and start, requiring you to turn the permanently-embedded ignition key to fire the Grand Vitara up. The instruments and dials were nicely laid out and suitably bright and clear, and the basic-looking CD changer radio system with its door tweeters and central speaker forming a quasi-surround-sound vibe was easy enough to operate and sounded fairly good. No Bluetooth in this car, so note that if you use your phone a lot. The glovebox was huge, the door bins and central console were of a decent size too and well done to Suzuki for putting proper pockets on the back of the front seats instead of nets. The steering wheel had a nice feel to it, along with cruise control, volume and other buttons, and all the additional controls and buttons did their jobs well enough. Two cupholders, two 12V accessories sockets and a sunroof add to the package interior-wise. The grey-ish wood inlays were nice enough, too. Overall, then, the Grand Vitara doesn’t have the most cutting-edge, style-oozing interior, but it does its job well and in top SZ5 form serves as a practical, reasonably well equipped space for a variety of owners.
Suffice to say, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is quite large for its class, similar in size to a Toyota Rav 4, Nissan X-Trail or a Freelander, and it’s got the squarest looks of them all, so will be able to hold a plethora of luggage or whatever else you want to stuff into it. The specific figures are 398 litres with the rear seats up and 758 litres with them down – but bear in mind the rear seats can’t be completely removed.The tailgate opens sideways, too, which is quite nifty apart from if you’re in a space too tight to open it in. Visibility for rear passengers is of course great and leg, shoulder and headroom can’t be grumbled at. All I did find was that when I left the rear headrests in their down position, they dug into my back, almost like the actual rear seats weren’t tall enough. Overall, the Suzuki Grand Vitara’s no-nonsense interior is very well suited to standing up to punishment from kids, clobber or, err, cabbages. Sorry, I just wanted to keep the alliteration going and it so happens that the Grand Vitara is perfect for and indeed owned by a fair few farmers…
How does it ride?
Some cars are very easy to drive, from the very first time you set off in them, everything feeling instinctive. Not so in the Grand Vitara. The 169bhp 2.4-litre petrol engine sounded quite noisy and the clutch demanded precision. Anything less than perfect pedal control made the Grand Vitara grumble and instilled the fear of stalling it. The key was to rev the engine harder than usual when setting off and to bring the clutch up super gently. So yes, there was a knack to it, but 95% of cars I drive each week don’t require much adjustment in one’s driving style – they just gel with me from the off. The manual gearbox wasn’t the best in terms of driver operation, either. The level itself felt like a very tall stick of rhubarb and wobbled about with so much slack that it felt like a spoon in a mixing bowl. It shook in my hands, too, courtesy of the engine vibration in low gears, I would assume. Whenever I pulled up the handbrake, the car lurched ever so slightly, as well.
But it’s not all bad! Comfortable front seats, a good driving position, a large windscreen and mirrors and the high-up ride made for quite a pleasurable experience at times, particularly whilst out in the country or in long queues of traffic. The ability to splosh through puddles and standing water, give speed bumps a run for their money and to traverse rocky, slippy terrain, started to make me warm further to the Grand Vitara. Ventilated disc brakes at the back mean the Grand Vitara can be brought to a stop quite quickly given its bulk, with the added benefit of the rear brakes drying more effectively after you’ve driven the car through water.
Okay, the first few days cooped up in the urban jungle weren’t that enjoyable, but once I had the chance to stretch its legs over the A628 Woodhead Pass, my respect of the Grand Vitara’s decent road holding, handling and ride grew. Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with traction control comes as standard and the car felt quite nimble being chucked round twisty country roads, and on straights the 2.4-litre petrol engine accelerated quite well, 2nd and 3rd gears proving particularly punchy. Although the petrol engine was a bit noisy on startup and in lower gears, it settled down nicely when I moved up the ‘box and the GV made for a reasonably quiet cruiser. Suzuki may have spent too much time listening to Bjork’s ‘It’s oh so quiet’ record, as they’ve gone to great lengths to try to make the Grand Vitara as hushed as possible, fitting a “silent” timing chain, extra insulation, thicker carpets, tougher glass, a balancer shaft and generally trying to stiffen up all the components to reduce noise. Fair play, chaps.
The Grand Vitara is still a proper 4×4 at the end of the day, though, and uses permanent 4WD, with switchable settings allowing you to choose low-range, high-range, lock the centre diff’ or put it in neutral. Its impressive handling is partly down to its monocoque chassis with integrated ‘ladder-frame’ design, and McPherson suspension up front.
Great value for money but debatable running costs
One of the strong selling points about the Suzuki Grand Vitara is its price, which is just a few quid under £21,000. What other mid-size, capable off-roader comes close? A less capable but more refined Honda CRV costs £2k more, an equally competent off-roader in the form of a Land Rover Freelander will cost £2k more even for the most basic model, a Nissan X-Trail will set you back £4k more, a Toyota Rav4 will cost about £2k more and Kia Sorento prices start at around £21,000 but this is for the most basic spec. The Sportage is quite a bit dearer than the Suzuki Grand Vitara SZ5 petrol auto and Hyundai’s ix35 is only available with a 1.6 petrol engine in 2WD so has to be left out of the comparisons. Even a wildcard rugged estate like the Subaru Forester weighs in at £2k more than the Suzuki. So for its blend of practicality, ruggedness, specification and genuine off-road ability, nothing comes close to the Grand Vitara on price, unless you look at something smaller like the, err, Jimny.
Suzuki have tried to make the larger petrol engine as efficient as possible by using clever air intake wizardry, but the economic downside to the Grand Vitara which will stare you in the face is its thirst, with a quoted combined fuel economy figure of 32.1mpg. Yes, it likes a drink. But to be fair, we managed to achieve 29.4mpg during the Grand Vitara’s week-long stay – so at least it’s a realistic number and not significantly lower in real life. CO2 emissions are flinchingly steep at 204g/km, so don’t expect your choosing the 2.4-litre Grand Vitara 5-door variant to win you any brownie points. To reach 60mph it’ll take you 11.7 seconds, by the way, and the top speed is 115mph. But I don’t think that any of these statistics will trouble the kind of people who would typically buy the more powerful petrol version over the more logical 1.9-litre diesel choice. Many may want to tow something with their Grand Vitara, so it’s worth noting that it can tow 1,825kg braked, so is about average.
If you think of a Grand Vitara like a German sheepdog, you’ll be ok. Said dog may not be the most attractive, is a bit rough (woolly?) around the edges at times with less refinement than others and has a large appetite. But at the end of the day, it’s a very capable, hard-working, enduring, faithful family friend. And for this, it has to be respected. In the same way, the Grand Vitara isn’t the most attractive 4×4 SUV, it likes a drink in 2.4 petrol guise and lacks the finesse of many rivals. But it’s way more capable than the competition, it’s built like a tank and will withstand many years of hard work, like a faithful friend. So if you don’t do high miles, aren’t fussed about fitting in with the Beckhamites and want a car for all purposes, don’t dismiss the Vitara and its value-for-money price tag. You might grow to really like it.
© Oliver Hammond
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant
Specification of the Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 Petrol Manual 5-Door SZ5 tested in this review
Engine: 2,393cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Max Output: 169bhp
Max Torque: 169 lb ft @ 3,800rpm
Top Speed: 115mph
0-60mph: 11.7 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 32.1mpg
Fuel tank capacity: 66 litres
CO2 Emissions: 204g/km
Gross Weight: 2,100kg
Max Towing Weight (braked): 1,850kg
Boot capacity: 398 litres (rear seats up), 758 litres (seats down)
Dimensions: 4,300mm long, 1,880mm wide, 1,695mm high
Standard Specification includes (but not limited to):
ABS with EBD & Brake Assist
ESP® (Electronic Stability Program) *
Driver & front passenger airbags
Side airbags (incorporated into front seats)
Height adjustable front 3-point ELR seatbelts with pretensioner, force limiter
Rear 3-point ELR seatbelts
Foot protecting brake & clutch pedals
Side impact protection beams
ISOFIX child seat anchorages
Child seat tether anchorages
Childproof rear door locks
Remote central door locking
Freewheeling key cylinders
Comfort & Convenience
Heated front seats
Electric windows with driver’s auto down
Driver’s seat height adjuster
Rear 60:40 split seat & armrest
2 accessory sockets
Front sun visors with vanity mirrors
4 assist grips
Tilt adjustable steering wheel
Outside temperature display
Fuel consumption & range display
Remote fuel lid opener
Low fuel warning lamp
Lights on reminder
Driver’s seatbelt warning lamp & alarm
Door ajar warning lamp
Front cabin light
Centre/rear cabin lights
Luggage area lamp
Luggage area accessory socket
Folding exterior door mirrors
Flat tyre repair kit (replaces spare wheel)
Automatic air conditioning
Front fog lamps
Front wiper with adjustable intermittent
Rear wiper with intermittent
HID projector headlamps with washers
Automatic headlamp levelling
Electrically adjustable heated door mirrors
Lockable glove box
Upper storage tray with lid
Front driver & passenger seatback pocket
Ticket holder ( on driver’s sun visor)
Centre console with storage and armrest
Storage pocket with bottle holders (front doors)
Storage pocket in rear doors
Luggage area underfloor compartment
MP3/WMA compatible 6CD tuner
Steering wheel mounted audio controls
Rear roof mounted antenna
18” Alloy wheels
Rear privacy glass
Green tinted glass
Body colour door handles & mirrors
Black roof rails
Black woodgrain centre console & window switch garnish
3 spoke leather covered steering wheel
Front map light
Keyless entry & start