Then came the nineties, and it all went cold and silent. There was the forgettable X-90, and the Sidekick was replaced with the Vitara and the Grand Vitara – which was, at the time, anything but grand. As the world filled up with “utility” vehicles built to cross parking stripes and climb driveways, Suzukis became sad echoes, chasing the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and others into the oncoming tide of the suburbanite SUV wave.
That cold silence ends with the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara. And the cheering, however faint in its Whoville way, can begin once again. Here, finally, is a five-seat SUV from Suzuki that does the things an SUV should do, namely go off road and, at the same time, provide a pleasant on-road driving experience with adequate power and plenty of room. Granted, there are many small suvs from which to choose, and many do one thing or another better than the new Grand Vitara. For instance, every Grand Vitara comes with a V6 engine that doesn’t get great gas mileage and which also drives whiny and without much authority at times. But the Grand Vitara is priced competitively, even at the base model where the engine outstrips its rivals in terms of horsepower. Plus, it is well equipped and carries one of the best warranties going. Few small SUVs do as many things right as the Grand Vitara, especially if you want an SUV that can be at once civilized and, at a moment’s notice, bawdy – in a dirty and muddy sort of way.
Though it is a one-trim vehicle, you can get your 2006 Grand Vitara in a number of ways, from a two-wheel-drive gentleman to a four-wheel-drive roughneck. Given its prowess navigating rocks and tough terrain, it seems a shame to purchase a pedestrian base model, though price may be a consideration.
Standard on all Grand Vitaras is a 2.7-liter V6 engine, as well as features such as automatic climate control; a digital clock with outside temperature display; power door locks, mirrors and windows; and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo system that plays MP3s through the CD slot and not an auxiliary port. The Grand Vitara is also prepped for XM satellite radio. What is perhaps most impressive, however, are the safety features that come standard on all 2006 Grand Vitaras, including an electronic stability system with traction control, and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. Passive safety equipment includes six airbags in total, with side curtain airbags for both rows.
A sticker price of $19,594.00 (inc. $599 destination charge) buys you a two-wheel-drive variant, equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. You can get a five-speed automatic for a little more. A Grand Vitara with a full-time single mode four-wheel-drive system and a manual transmission costs $20,794.00. Base model options include a Premium package for $900 that includes a six-disc in-dash CD changer, alloy wheels and privacy glass. One step up is the XSport at $21,694.00, which includes the Premium package and a five-speed automatic plus a keyless entry and start system. The XSport 4WD variant bumps up to a four-mode system for $23,094.00.Add leather, wood trim and 17-inch alloy wheels and you’ve got yourself the Luxury model, priced at $23,594.00 for 2WD and $24,994.00 for the 4WD version.
Nuts and Bolts
Engine strength has been a nemesis for Suzuki vehicles, an issue that at times has separated the automaker’s offerings from more established competition. And while the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara makes significant progress in erasing this stigma, on hills and during quick bursts it feels as though the engine struggles. That’s interesting, because the Grand Vitara’s standard 2.7-liter V6 engine offers higher horsepower ratings when compared to base models in the small SUV class. Competitors that offer multiple engine choices catch up with Suzuki as you climb the trim tree, however, and do so at comparable prices. Despite this, credit Suzuki for offering a powerplant that is competitive at the upper reaches of the segment while at the same time offering base trim shoppers a boost in power. It’s a significant edge in that it improves the Grand Vitara’s tow rating to 3,000 lbs., among the best in the class. Add to that the fact that Suzuki has kept the weight down, coming in at 3,505 lbs., which is less than the Jeep Liberty at 3,648lbs., though the Grand Vitara weighs around 400 lbs. more than the Ford Escape XLS.
Torque may be the culprit when it comes to what feels like a lack power, as the Grand Vitara’s peak twist resides at 4,500 rpm. That’s at least 500 revolutions higher than most of its competition. The companion horsepower rating of 185 comes in at 6,000 rpm, twenty horsepower better than the 2005 model. Fuel economy – the 2006 Grand Vitara is rated at 18 city and 23 mpg highway – isn’t so pleasing, when several competitors such as the Tucson (22/27) and the Honda CR-V (23/29) offer better efficiency. And you’ll get slightly worse fuel mileage by bumping the five-speed manual up to the five-speed automatic transmission, an option on all Grand Vitaras, and by driving like a freak. Attached to the ventilated front disc and rear drum braking system is a slew of safety features among the most advanced in the class. A standard electronic stability system keeps you upright and in control, while a traction control system – with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution – helps ensure forward momentum.
Steering is handled with a rack-and-pinion set up that sends your wishes to a standard set of all-season 16-inch tires. Those tires are connected to a four-wheel independent suspension, MacPherson struts in front, multi-link in the back. That, in turn, is bolted onto a unibody architecture with a built-in ladder frame – a type of underbody that is increasingly the standard among SUVs with real off-road capability.
Off-road is where Suzuki loyalists will cheer the loudest for the 2006 Grand Vitara, because this mini-ute is the real deal when traversing boulders and streams. There are two available four-wheel drive options: A full-time single-mode four-wheel-drive system for light-duty off-roading in 4-Hi mode, and a full-time four-mode four-wheel-drive system which adds a 4-Hi locking mode, a 4-Lo locking mode, and neutral mode for flat towing behind an RV. The latter is a setup that can handle pretty much anything outside of Moab – and maybe even that. With good visibility and approach/departure angles of 29 and 27 degrees, the Grand Vitara 4WD handled everything on a difficult course. That kind of performance is sure to rekindle Suzuki’s reputation as a credible source for off-road vehicles, though a little more than the allotted 7.9-inch ground clearance would be nice.
Going off-road is easy, too, and in the spirit of making four-wheel driving a video game. Except to check your angle, you never have to get out of the Grand Vitara. Engaging 4WD for traversing creek beds and boulders is handled by an interior switch that activates the center differential. An added benefit to the optional four-mode 4WD is towing, as in towing the vehicle. By shifting into neutral, you can tow the SUV with all four wheels on the ground, incurring zero odometer creep in the process.
If they put a Chevy badge on the Grand Vitara, people would clamor for the new and stylish face of General Motors. And the 2006 Grand Vitara almost was the new face for Chevy SUVs…sadly for The General, though, Chevy and Saturn will have to be content slopping about with the likes of the Equinox and the Vue, while Suzuki, on their own platform, sells a true off-road SUV with a suburbia-suitable interior.
Compared to the outgoing Grand Vitara, well, there’s simply no comparison. Much of the credit for that goes to the wider track. Longer and wider than the old model, the 2006 rendition has more room to stretch out and a more attractive stance. Thankfully, designers took that and eschewed fancy, whoop-dee-doo design for clean, hard lines that appeal to those who want refined, mainstream styling in their SUVs. This is not a girlie SUV anymore, gents. It’s one that has the look of a substantial, well thought-out purchase. It’s the look of an up-and-comer in the market. Based on the Concept X-2 that debuted last year at the New York International Auto Show, designers actually stayed close to the overall look of the concept – enough so that you can see a relationship between fact and fiction. Exterior design highlights include large fender flares, and a blended light display, both front and rear. The rear hatch opens from the side, and the spare tire is kept on the back hatch. Overall, the Grand Vitara’s lines are smooth and taut, with a conservative bent much like all other SUVs.
Those who dream of Nissan Muranos or Toyota RAV4s may grind their teeth and plead boredom over the Grand Vitara. And perhaps they have a point. But after years spent trying to distinguish itself from the competition with eccentric design, it’s nice to see Suzuki offering what is, ultimately, the look people want to buy when they’re shopping for an SUV.
If the exterior of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara is nicely conservative, the interior is like a lapel-pin republican, what with its carefully chosen materials, excellent noise control and a design that takes a page from the Toyota playbook: Simple, straightforward, clean, and effective. The basics are well covered inside the Grand Vitara. Fit and finish looks nice, there’s not much road and wind noise, and materials throughout the cabin bespeak a quality designed to last.
And oh yes. It’s bigger, too – bigger inside than the previous Grand Vitara, and among the largest in the small SUV segment. With more room in which to stretch your piggies, your perspective gets better, you become calmer and generally feel more relaxed. As for storage, the Grand Vitara offers 24.4 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats up, expanding to 68.9 cubic feet with rear seats down, and a 60/40 rear seat split helps maximize utility. That’s enough for what most people need in an SUV of this size. Upfront, controls and gadgets fit well together and are easy to use, and tactile feel is pleasant. You’ll find the dashboard and the center console understandable and intuitive. It’s as if the interior designers went back to the basics with the 2006 Grand Vitara, making convenience the primary goal. To wit, all models come with audio controls on the steering wheel, a feature that is increasingly required for virtually all vehicles. One of the only potential issues with the Grand Vitara’s interior is in back. Compared to the comfort given to front passengers, with nice quality seats made of decent material, the rear seats are good, but you can find better headroom in other competitors.
You don’t have to think about driving this car. And while that may sound weird, it’s an important quality when you’re trying to convince people to forego the Honda CR-V or the Toyota RAV4. People don’t want to think about driving a small SUV. They want to get behind the wheel and, 30 minutes later, find themselves at home. On that score, the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a smashing success. The seats are comfortable, the interior is pleasant and there is little in the way of noise or road intrusion. Because the Grand Vitara is either a rear-wheel-drive or a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the engine keeps you from thinking gee I wish I had a more powerful vehicle.
Well, most of the time. Though the 2006 Grand Vitara offers a 2.7-liter V6 engine that outmatches its base trim competitors in horsepower and torque, traversing hills and making quick moves can illicit an unbecoming whine and hesitation. It’s likely due to a torque curve that peaks at least 500 revolutions per minute higher than the competition, making the Grand Vitara seem a bit sluggish. This is a minor point, however, when viewed in context of the entire driving experience. Sight lines are open and friendly, and the rearview mirrors are large enough to make traffic driving and backing up less of a chore. Once again, interior designers did an excellent job of building a cockpit that puts the driver’s needs first, evident in an excellent relationship between the seat, steering wheel and pedals. All controls are within easy reach, and the seats do what seats need to – keep your rear from sliding around and your legs supported. More on this later, however, as our test drive was little more than a day’s outing, not one where fatigue was likely to set in. Getting in and out of the Grand Vitara followed suit in terms of comfort, as the hip point – a measure of how easy it is to slide in and out of the seats – felt ideally situated. This is a common benefit of SUV ownership, of course, as the seating position is higher than that of a sedan.
Though the ride seems a bit trucky at times, one of the nicest surprises about the Grand Vitara is its pleasant highway manner and off-road capability. Suzuki has itself an SUV that can handle dry creek beds and long stretches of highway with nary a whine or moan from passengers fore or aft. Overall, the initial impression behind the wheel in on-and-off road environments provided ample evidence as to why this vehicle is better than the Saturn VUE or the Chevy Equinox: With an above average 4WD system, a different powertrain, and better interior quality, the Grand Vitara will make for a happier driver, whether on the commute home or during weekend play.
How does the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara measure up against the competition?
Very well, especially at the base model. The Grand Vitara offers as much or more off-road capability of any small SUV except the Jeep Liberty and the Nissan Xterra, its powerplant measures up well against other base models in the class, and its interior is among the roomiest available.
How does the Grand Vitara fare in terms of fuel economy?
Not so hot, though the difference may not be a significant factor. The 2006 Grand Vitara is rated at 18 city and 23 mpg highway, while several competitors such as the Hyundai Tucson (22/27) and the Honda CR-V (23/39) offer better efficiency.
Test Vehicle: Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury 4WD
Price Range: $19,594.00 - $24,994.00 (inc. destination of $599)
Engine Size and Type: 2.7-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 185 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 184 at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,505 lbs. (automatic transmission)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 18/23
Length: 176.0 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Height: 66.7 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.3/37.2 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 40.0/38.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 67.3 cu. ft.
Max. Towing Capacity: 3,000 lbs.
Ground Clearance: 7.9 inches
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda Element, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sorento, Kia Sportage, Mazda Tribute, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Xterra, Pontiac Torrent, Saturn Vue, Toyota RAV4
Photos courtesy of Suzuki Motors