When the Suzuki Vitara first came out it quickly established itself as a cult car. Our local car accessory shop was not the only one that took pride in having its name emblazoned down the side of Suzuki’s stylish new off-roader.
Twenty-four years and 2.9 million sales later, the Vitara has grown to become the Suzuki Grand Vitara and following a recent refresh of the range, I had the opportunity to try the latest model.
There has been a growing trend in recent years to what have been christened ‘soft roaders’. These are cars with the off-road image and some of the mud-plugging ability of a true 4x4. The Vitara, however, has always been a fully fledged off-roader. I well remember subjecting one to some really quite tricky tough off-road conditions in the early years and being amazed how it would just shrug off the mud and dodge the boulders.
The Grand Vitara sticks with that tradition. In this most recent update, the off-road credentials stay much as before, which means good ground clearance for off-road conditions, four-wheel-drive tuned for off-road use with low ratio gears and differential locks. The steel ladder-frame chassis serves to underline the Grand Vitara’s tough off-road credentials.
Perhaps the most obvious update on the latest Grand Vitara is the new nose. As ‘nose jobs’ go this is a neat one – neat, but not as distinctive as the good old Suzuki Vitara of days gone by.
You can drive off in a Suzuki Grand Vitara for as little as £15,995. That money gets you the 1600cc petrol-engined SZ three-door. But many will crave a little more power, which means looking at the next step up the ladder which is the 2.4-litre SZ. This costs £17,330 in three-door form, or £18,895 for the five-door model.
But, with the desire for power and economy, most off-road vehicle buyers now want diesel power under the bonnet and, with the Suzuki Grand Vitara, that means jumping up to the top of the range model – the Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.9DDiS SZ5. This is the model I tested and it costs £23,875.
It should be noted that this price includes a pretty comprehensive equipment inventory, including luxuries like heated leather seats, electric glass sunroof, Bluetooth music streaming and a Garmin sat nav.
As you settle in behind the wheel, the Suzuki Grand Vitara feels like a true off-roader should. You sit quite high in the commanding position that appeals to many people who never tackle anything more off-road than parking in a grass field at the annual village fete.
I took the Suzuki Grand Vitara onto my off-road course and, not surprisingly, it turned not a hair as it waded through heather and romped up the Bunnyville slope (so called because of the hordes of rabbit holes that have undermined the land).
As with so many aspects of car design there are compromises to be made. Off road ability requires a higher centre of gravity, a chassis tuned for coping with tough conditions and tall off-road tyres. Thus equipped, most people will recognise that no vehicle is going to deliver the sharpest of responses or sporting handling on tarmac.
Equally, what most people want in an off-roader is an engine that can combine fuel economy with low-down torque. The Grand Vitara’s 1.9 diesel can be a little bit noisy, but it delivers. It feels more lively than the 129 bhp might suggest, but the more telling figure is the 221lb/ft of torque. The 0-62 mph acceleration time is 13.2 seconds and the top speed is 108 mph.
At the same time the latest revisions have improved the combined fuel economy to 42.8 mpg from 41.5 mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions are down to 174 g/km from 179 g/km, putting the Grand Vitara 1.9DDiS into Band H for UK tax.
In keeping with the no-nonsense practical image, many will applaud the fact that Suzuki has ditched the puncture repair kit and reverted to a proper spare wheel – mounted on the rear door in traditional style, of course.
In grown-up Suzuki Grand Vitara mode this vehicle is less likely to appeal to those looking for a stylish, head-turning vehicle. But, it will appeal to those looking for ability. This Suzuki Grand Vitara really has the credentials to cope when the going gets tough.