The five-passenger Grand Vitara compact SUV is reasonably civilized on-road, and it has the goods to perform decently off-road--including such features as a ladder frame and truck-style four-wheel drive with low-range gearing. The redesigned unibody construction, along with a fully independent suspension, results in a kinder, gentler ride and handling characteristics in the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara than the previous truck-based generation could muster.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is available with a choice of engines for the 2009 model year. The new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 166 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, and should deliver EPA fuel economy estimates of around 19 mpg city, 26 highway. The new 3.2-liter V-6 engine, replacing the 2.7-liter V-6 and available in the Grand Vitara XSport and Luxury models, produces 230 horsepower and 213 lb-ft of torque. Despite its 45-horsepower increase, the new V-6, according to Suzuki, is 20 percent cleaner than the old V-6 and delivers better fuel economy.
Also new on the 2009 Grand Vitara is the front bumper design and grill and interior enhancements, including illuminated steering wheel controls, a sliding front center armrest, visor extenders, HVAC controls, an upgraded audio system, and updated cloth upholstery.
The high seating position, combined with good forward and side visibility and especially precise, direct steering, makes the Grand Vitara surprisingly convenient and maneuverable on tight city streets, with a footprint for parking that's about the same as the smallest sedans. The ride quality is decent, but it can deteriorate and get bouncy over choppy pavement. Outside city limits, the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara doesn't handle or brake as well as expected--partly due to its heavy 3,700-pound curb weight--and the high seating position exaggerates the modest body lean in sharp corners.
Cargo space is a letdown; the cargo floor is higher than expected, and the heavy, old-style side-opening tailgate can be difficult when parallel-parked or when you're trying to hold on to grocery bags with one hand. The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara also has front seats that are a little short in proportion for taller occupants, but the backseat has enough legroom for adults--only two though, as the body is quite narrow.
Unlike its competition, the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara has the underpinnings for serious off-roading. An available, dual-range, Four Mode four-wheel-drive system includes a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing for off-road use--or a fully automatic single-mode version.
Front-side and side-curtain airbags are standard on the Grand Vitara, along with anti-lock brakes and stability and traction control systems. The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara earned four-star ratings in frontal impact and five stars in side impact from the federal government, but it hasn't been tested by the insurance-supported IIHS.
The XSport features keyless entry and start, fog lamps, roof rails, alloy wheels, and an upgraded sound system. The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury adds heated leather seats, a hard-shell tire cover, and wood-grain trim. New features on all models include automatic climate control and a remote fuel-door release.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara is more maneuverable than larger rugged SUVs, but there aren't many other reasons to recommend it.