The Grand Vitara seemingly has been with us nearly forever, although it was introduced in 1999. It was redesigned for 2006 and became much larger than the 1999-2005 version, gaining 6 inches in wheelbase and 11 inches in overall length.
The new model was welcomed, as sales rose to 26,931 units in 2006 from 8,624 in 2005. That's a drop in the bucket for larger Japanese auto producers, but Suzuki is a much smaller outfit. Its resale values thus don't match those of better-known rivals.
Better AWD System
The 2007 Grand Vitara still has standard rear-wheel drive, but new is an extra-cost all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that includes a locking differential and low-range gearing. Base version previously offered AWD without such gearing.
The Grand Vitara always has been pretty good during off-road jaunts, and the low-range gearing helps a lot during rugged off-road driving; it allows this Suzuki to crawl over big rocks and just about anything else.
I drove the first-generation Grand Vitara AWD model for several miles in a shallow river in a national sprawling Missouri park and easily climbed up a steep hill from the water and onto a rough trail, which the vehicle also attacked with aplomb.
For sure, the solidly built Grand Vitara always has been a tough customer, featuring a truck-style ladder frame and rear-wheel-drive design and offering a solid AWD system. Many compact SUVs are car-based with front-wheel drive.
However, one need not to travel off-road to appreciate the Grand Vitara. It's handsome and has an unusually roomy rear seat, which isn't the case with some other compact SUVs.
Stronger Engine Needed
The Grand Vitara has decent acceleration to 65 mph with its 2.7-liter 185-horsepower V6 engine, but the 65-75 mph passing time was just average—not nearly as fast as I expected it to be. The 3,582-pound Grand Vitara needs a larger engine with more torque for better acceleration. But then, this Suzuki never has been a fireball.
The engine works with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 5-speed automatic, which was in my test Grand Vitara. The automatic is responsive, but has a notchy gear selector—probably to prevent a driver from entering the wrong gear if the selector is moved too quickly.
Estimated fuel economy with rear-wheel drive or AWD and the manual is 18 and 23. It's 19 and 24 with rear-wheel drive and the automatic and 19 and 23 with the automatic and AWD.
The Grand Vitara has attractive pricing. It costs from $19,579 for the Base rear-wheel-drive version with a manual gearbox to $24,999 for the Luxury version with an automatic transmission and AWD.
All trim levels have a good amount of standard equipment. The Base version has air conditioning with automatic climate control, tilt steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, split folding rear seat, rear wiper/washer and power mirrors, windows and locks with remote keyless entry.
The Base AWD version adds a 2-speed transfer case, locking center differential and heated mirrors.
The Xsport rear-wheel-drive trim level adds an AM/FM radio with in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer. The AWD version adds the same extra items as the Base AWD trim level.
I drove the top-line Luxury AWD Grand Vitara. Its standard items include leather upholstery, heated front seats, power sunroof and larger tires. That equipment seems surprising, considering rather bare-bones earlier Grand Vitaras. But buyers in all vehicle segments keep demanding more upscale items.
Key Safety Features
Key safety features include anti-lock brakes, an electronic stability control system with traction control and front-seat side and side-curtain airbags.
Steering is quick, and the turning radius is tight. There is some body lean when taking curves quickly, but handling is stable. The ride is firm, but supple. Braking distances are acceptable, although the pedal is rather soft.
There is decent room for five tall adults, although four are more comfortable because the center of the back seat is rather stiff. On the other hand, rear seatbacks recline. It's easy to get in, but narrow rear door openings hinder exit.
Gauges in the modern, generally quiet interior are backlit to make them easy to read under various lighting conditions. Occupants sit high, and front seats provide good side support during sudden moves and in curves.
Climate controls are large, but audio system controls are both large and small. There is some hard plastic in the interior, but its materials don't look cheap.
Generous Cargo Room
Cargo room is decent with the rear seatbacks in an upright position, and they flip forward to significantly enlarge the cargo area. While the cargo opening is low and wide, the cargo door swings open to the right, thus complicating curbside loading. Also the spare tire is on the outside of that door, making it a little harder to open or close.
The Grand Vitara offers lots of value and is worth a hard look, although it's not near the top of many SUV shopping lists.