The Suzuki Grand Vitara gets a rough ride with most motoring journalists, whose complaints tend to centre on the engines that are on offer or its roly-poly ride. Received wisdom is that there are better four-wheel-drives out there, although the Suzuki is cheap.
The problem is that the new Dacia Duster is even cheaper, potentially leaving the Grand Vitara without a niche. Has the time finally come from the Grand Old Dame to bow out? Time to get behind the wheel to find out.
The Grand Vitara looks like a proper off-roader with its chunky stance, boot-mounted spare wheel and clamshell bonnet. This isnt misleading; no matter what the Vitaras shortcomings, it acquits itself in the rough very well.
The recent facelift has freshened the car up quite nicely and has given it a touch of the Freelander about it. The result might be a generic shape but its a neat enough one, and one that fits in well with the school and supermarket run, which is where most will surely be used.
The interior feels old (check out the faux key in the old ignition switch) but despite that it is really rather nice. Heated leather seats, satin chrome trim, and dark wood veneer are tried-and-tested ways to raise the ambience and, true to form, they work well here.
The driving position is upright and lofty, which is exactly what you want in this sort of car, and the ergonomics are perfectly acceptable.
Its generously equipped with electricity and heating wherever youd expect them as well as Bluetooth and sat-nav. In short, all of your basic 21st century automotive Human Rights are addressed.
Rear leg-room isnt the most generous youll ever come across but the rear seats fold easily enough to yield a massive boot with tie-down points and bag-hooks.
If Land Rover had continued to develop the Defender then it would drive like the Vitara and that isnt a cheap dig at Suzuki, either. The Grand Vitara feels indefatigable, indomitable, invincible. This is Good. It might not be the most civilised car youll ever drive but youd trust it to bring your family home safe in a blizzard, thats for sure.
It is a proper off-roader, with proper four-wheel drive and a proper low-range gearbox. This makes it easy to drive off piste and ensures that it will cope with genuine off-road conditions as well as the muddy field that most crossovers and soft-roaders are designed for.
This is important, whether for bragging rights or genuine usability. (It is, after all, why people are so besotted with Land Rover and its products).
The permanent four-wheel-drive system can be left to its own devices on the road or locked into a 50:50 split. If the surface becomes so difficult you need to slow right down and rely on gobs of torque to pull you through you can switch to the low-range gearbox. It isnt as sophisticated as that fitted to some (more expensive) off-roaders but it gets the job done in a down-and-dirty kind of way.
On the road things go downhill ever so slightly. The ride is good but firm and it does roll a bit. Its also a bit slow and ponderous and youll never mistake it for a small hatchback from behind the wheel. These are all traits of the Real Thing, a car that will take you across mountains as well as to Morrisons. If you dont like the feel of a lofty mud-crawler then buy a Qashqai.
The towing limit is 2,000kgs, which should be enough for most sensibly sized caravans and trailers. Heavy plant operators and farmers might be forced elsewhere though, funnily enough.
My review car was fitted with the 1.9-litre DDiS diesel engine, a willing enough lump that produces 127bhp and 221lb/ft of torque.
Top speed is a purely academic 106mph while the 0-62mph dash takes a pedestrian 13.2 seconds. Overtaking is perfectly possible but takes a bit of forethought and planning although it is very easy to maintain a decent motorway cruising speed all day long.
Its a nice enough engine, feeling eager and willing without ever sounding strained. Its not a memorable one but it gets the job done in a workmanlike fashion and its rather plodding nature suits the spirit of the car; this is no Johnny-Come-Lately (Suzuki has sold nearly three million in total) brimming with whistles and bells, this is an established contender who might be getting on a bit but who can still punch above their weight when they have to.
Value for Money
The Grand Vitara range starts at just under 16,000 for a three-door 1.6-litre petrol SZ3. My car, a five-door SZ5 with the 1.9-litre diesel engine, starts at almost 24,000. This makes it good value but not a bargain.
Fuel economy is only middling; the official fuel consumption figures might argue that 42.8mpg is possible but it isnt. Mid-thirties might be as good as it gets unless you are a saint. The CO2 emissions are 174 g/km CO2, which means that it falls into Band H for VED purposes.
If you need a properly rugged off-roader then the Grand Vitara is hard to beat. Its tough, well-proven in the sort of places where four-wheel-drive is a life-saver rather than a face-saver and has a rugged appeal that is rare in the homogenised 21st Brave New World we now live in. Think Land Rover Defender or Mercedes G-Wagen and youll get a measure of how the Suzuki feels behind the wheel.
If you dont need a full-fat off-roader then its flaws become more apparent and you might be better off with a semi-skimmed Skoda Yeti or a skimmed Nissan Qashqai.
But dont dismiss the Suzuki Grand Vitara, because, while it might not suit everyone, it might just suit you perfectly.
For more information, read our full guide to the Suzuki Grand Vitara, with reviews, user reviews, stats, photos and videos!