By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 3/10/2011
At its launch in the fall of 2005, the all-new Grand Vitara represented a significant step for both Suzuki Motor Corporation and its North American arm. Some twenty years after the extremely successful debut of its Samurai, American Suzuki had continued to market credible and well-received compact SUVs. With separate ladder frames and appointments speaking to their entry-level price point, the Sidekick, Vitara and XL-7 provided the outdoor enthusiast with an affordable approach to both off-roading and the daily commute. Its new Grand Vitara upped the ante, offering a unitized body/frame, clean sheetmetal, a standard V6 and all-independent suspension while retaining an affordable price point. The GV retained genuine off-road capability combined with improved on-road composure. Regrettably, the market has moved - while Suzuki's GV product team seems stuck in neutral. This static display doesn't take away from the Grand Vitara's essential goodness, but does bring into question its continued relevance in the U.S. market.
Despite the Grand Vitara's age - and lack of an optional V6 powertrain - it remains an attractive combination of practicality, capability and affordability. Its interior still provides adequate room for four adults, and the upright greenhouse makes navigating urban congestion remarkably easy. If you live in the snow belt both of the all-wheel drive systems (if matched with appropriate winter rubber) allow unimpeded access to virtually any destination.You May Not Like This Car If...
If you're looking for the responsiveness - or composure - of a car-based platform, you'll probably take a pass on the 2011 Suzuki Grand Vitara. Conversely, while offering 4-Mode all-wheel drive, this Grand Vitara is not for boulder-hopping, and shouldn't be confused with Nissan's Xterra or Jeep's 4-door Wrangler.What's New for 2011
A Garmin-based navigation system was made standard in 2010, positioning the Grand Vitara as America's most affordable SUV with nav. For 2011 they've updated the Garmin to the 1600 system; it now includes a host of services, including real-time traffic, weather forecast, movie search, flight info and lowest gas price. They've also - and more notably - eliminated the V6 powerplant.Driving It Driving Impressions
For the in-town commute or cross-country adventure, we've been very pleased with our long-term exposure to the Grand Vitara. Its integrated unit body and reinforcing frame provide a solid platform for the suspension, and the all-independent suspension is well-controlled for the segment. This platform, however, shouldn't be confused with "nimble," although its athleticism will outshine those more conventional off-roaders. It's the blend of attributes that impresses, with reasonably precise steering, a fairly tight 36-foot turning circle and reasonable isolation from road and wind noise. Those living - or traveling - at high elevations will miss the performance of the 3.2 liter V6, but the standard in-line four is competitive in the segment. Finally, the 4-Mode 4-wheel drive system allows for rock-crawling in the slow and capability in the snow; New England and the Rocky Mountain states love it.Favorite Features
4-Mode Full-Time 4WD
Increasingly unique - especially among compact SUVs - is Suzuki's 4-Mode 4WD, offering enhanced traction - and safety - in virtually every weather or terrain, while avoiding the complexity of all-electronic systems and the (eventual) high maintenance costs that accompany that complexity. The GV is truly an SUV for all seasons.
Electronic Stability Control w/Traction Control System
Regardless of how you drive or where you drive, eventually you'll find yourself on a surface - or at a speed - that makes staying in your lane a questionable process. Stability control and traction control are there to help, and within the context of a family vehicle can prove invaluable.
You won't confuse the design effort with those from Germany, but at launch this new Suzuki was far removed from the almost agricultural efforts which preceded it. There remain plenty of hard plastic elements, but gauges are clear and informative, the centerstack is eminently logical and seating - with a height-adjustable feature for the driver - keeps you in comfortable control even on long trips. The flip-and-fold rear seats provide additional load flexibility, but don't begin to offer the volume enhancement afforded by the fold-flats in the Honda Fit. One real benefit of a spare tire mounted on the rear door is the lower load floor that results.Exterior
Since its debut we've liked the visual balance provided by the Grand Vitara's two-box profile. And while - as noted - the design is now rather long in the tooth, for those who prefer to take their SUVs in more traditional doses the GV is a perfect antidote to the sheetmetal coming from Korea. We like its generous greenhouse, extremely short overhangs front and rear, wide track relative to its body and hinged fifth door, while wishing that door was hinged for U.S. drivers, with its opening to the curb. The wheel and tire package for the base model is surprisingly generous - at least in size, while the available 18-inch alloys and tires both brighten the (visual) picture and sharpen the handling.Notable Standard Equipment
Fully appropriate to Suzuki's value proposition is a generous grouping of standard features, even at the entry-level (under $20K) price point. The platform includes a multi-link independent suspension, 4-wheel disc braking and manual(!) transmission. Inside, power windows, locks and remote would typically be found in the option column of the competition. Perhaps the nicest surprise is the standard navigation - supplied by Garmin - on all trim levels.
Inside, Bluetooth hands-free communication can be added to all trim levels above 'base', while a handful of comfort and convenience items are available from the dealer. For ease of ordering, Suzuki has intentionally grouped their options into the trim levels and, over the life of the product cycle, further reduced those trim levels. The GV's most notable option - a responsive V6 - is (as noted) no longer available.Under the Hood
With but one engine there's but one descriptive. The standard in-line four is both straightforward and non-descript. It is the same 2.4 liter four that powers Suzuki's Kizashi sport sedan, but in a lower state of tune for what Suzuki thinks is its more pedestrian application. We'd beg to differ, given the GV's less aerodynamic stance and 3,600 pounds. The engine does, however, achieve an EPA rating of 26 highway with its 5-speed manual, a respectable figure in its category. And when discussing powertrain it's worth noting Suzuki's seven-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
2.4-liter in-line 4
166 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
162 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/26 (RWD, manual), 19/25 (RWD, automatic),
19/23 (4WD, automatic)
Add floor mats, cargo accessories and destination/handling to a base 2011 Suzuki Grand Vitara 2WD and you will have spent just over $20,000. Given the Grand Vitara's design and execution, this constitutes a screaming deal in the segment. A mid-range Premium trim with all-wheel drive is just under $24,000, and a full-boat Limited with 4-mode 4WD will sticker at $26,500. Again, the value is self-evident, with but one caveat. While a great many competitors will offer a lease incentive, Suzuki typically will not. The reasoning is part institutional (many Suzuki prospects over the years have been recruited from the subprime ranks, but then, so have their dealers) and part a reflection of residual values. The Grand Vitara is - at best - mid-pack in its resale history, and that performance reduces the upside potential of a lease offering. Be sure and check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price before committing to your purchase price.