Motivation for the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara comes from a 2.7-liter, dual overhead cam, 24-valve, aluminum V6 pushing 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. A five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission directs power to the rear axle or to all four wheels through a full-time four-wheel-drive system complete with a two-speed transfer case and self-locking hubs. The Grand Vitara’s curb weight ranges from 3,452 to 3,682 pounds, guided by rack-and-pinion steering and supported by a MacPherson strut front suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear. Front vented discs and rear drums slow things down, and the Grand Vitara comes standard with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and stability control.
Besides the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, buyers of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara also need to decide which trim level they’d like: base, Premium, XSport, or Luxury. Starting at $19,594 including a $595 destination charge, a two-wheel-drive base model features a manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels rolling on 225/70 tires, cruise control, tilt steering, climate control, CD and MP3 players, power windows and locks, steering wheel radio controls, front-side airbags, and side-curtain airbags. Options include the automatic tranny and 16-inch alloy wheels. Rear-wheel-drive Premium versions carry a $20,594 base price and include the 16-inch alloys, a hard exterior spare tire cover, an upgraded sound system with a six-disc CD changer and a subwoofer, roof rails, rear privacy glass, front fog lights, and a rear spoiler. Moving up to the Grand Vitara XSport packs on the automatic transmission, keyless entry, heated exterior mirrors, unique fender flares, and a $21,994 sticker price. Finally, the Luxury starts at $23,894 and ups the content quotient with 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Yokohama Geolander 225/65 tires, leather upholstery, a power moonroof, heated front seats, a remote garage door opener, silver interior accents, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Four-wheel-drive capability is available on all models for $1,100 - $1,400.
Our evaluation was based on a four-wheel-drive 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury model that sells for $25,294, which means this Azure Gray tester was fully loaded. Over the course of a week and hundreds of miles, we had a chance to discover all this ‘ute had and didn’t have to offer by hitting some gnarly off-road trails and using it as our daily driver, all of which resulted in a somewhat disappointing 19.3-mpg average.
Every year Suzuki continues to improve its vehicles. This year’s redesigned 2006 Grand Vitara is no exception, but Suzuki does have a lot more room for improvement. The Grand Vitara’s biggest downfall is its lack of power. For whatever reason, Suzuki always installs underpowered engines and this makes the company’s products unpleasant to drive. This is frustrating because if the Grand Vitara had the extra punch of a few more horsepower, it would be more competitive. Suzuki also needs to address the overly responsive steering in the Grand Vitara. In an emergency maneuver I could easily see losing control due to the sensitivity of the steering and how the SUV counter reacts to quick input. The Grand Vitara feels like a quality ride when you slip behind the wheel, thanks to all the nice leather and the multiple textured plastics, and that feeling continues during the drive. The ride is smooth and the brakes are firm but informative. The Grand Vitara noticeably reacts to cornering force, as you would expect an SUV to, feeling a bit top heavy. With just a little more work, the Grand Vitara has the potential to be a contender.
Christian Wardlaw’s 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Driving Impressions:
If you’re shopping for a sport/utility vehicle that looks like a truck and drives like a car, the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara is not it. This is a stiff-riding vehicle not unlike a sport sedan, except that when you spin the rather slow steering you find that the body rolls and the tires give up early. In other words, the Grand Vitara delivers a more traditional SUV driving experience. The 2.7-liter V6 is torquey for decent punch off the line, but loses steam quickly and proves merely adequate under most conditions. You’ll have no trouble keeping up with traffic, but you’ll definitely need to leave extra room for merging and passing. Equipped with a grade-logic automatic transmission, the SGV’s engine brakes on descents and holds a gear nicely for ascents. Gear whine is your constant companion between 30 and 60 mph, at which point wind and exhaust noise overtake it. The tight turning circle is a boon when trail blazing, parking at the mall, or executing a U-turn.
Overall, I liked the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s driving character, because I like vehicles that give me a feel for the road and that can go just about anywhere. However, Suzuki needs to get a more powerful and more fuel efficient engine into this vehicle pronto. And I’d like to be able to enjoy all the conveniences and luxury items in the top-level trim without having an expensive automatic transmission forced upon me.
Thom Blackett’s 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Driving Impressions:
One word best describes the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s 2.7-liter V6 engine: lackluster. There’s enough power for casual driving around town, but go for full throttle and it feels wholly inadequate, so don’t plan on any sudden cuts into high-speed highway traffic. Try it and the sound of a taxed engine suggests that 185 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque aren’t up to the task of moving nearly 3,700 pounds of curb weight. And that’s with only a 165-lb. driver on board – traveling with a family of five, all of their gear, and a 3,000-lb. trailer likely requires hanging out in the breakdown lane with the hazards on. Kudos go to Suzuki engineers for including a solid braking system with a progressive pedal feel and steering that borders on responsive.
In terms of handling, the redesigned Grand Vitara can feel a bit tippy on high-speed corners, though not to the point of causing alarm. Though the ride is stiff, there’s still a smidge of body roll. However, where this little ‘ute really shines is off-road. With its short wheelbase and capable four-wheel-drive system, this Suzuki tackled rock-strewn trails, washed-out gullies and deep ruts with ease. In fact, the Grand Vitara took everything I threw at it, from narrow passes ravaged by rain, steep inclines and descents, and small boulders that randomly popped up. Bombing down dusty trails is good fun and, interestingly, I recorded my best fuel rating, 21.2 mpg, while punishing the Grand Vitara in the dirt.
The first thing I noticed about the seats in the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara was that they were flat and lacked cushioning. They aren’t horrible, but are noticeably flatter and harder than most traditional seats and don’t offer much bolstering. I welcomed the soft-touch surfaces on the door panels and center console but the center armrest needs more padding. I did enjoy the sliding console lid that adjusts for comfort.
Getting in the back seat requires a bit of a twist since you have to slide over the rear tire well. Once seated in the back, the headrests must be raised immediately since in their down position they hit you right between the shoulder blades. Surprisingly, there is sufficient knee and headroom to be comfortable in the back seat. Designers repeated the padded arm rests on the rear door panels so getting comfortable is easy. Like the front seats, the rear seats could use additional padding to make them more comfortable. The ride is pretty smooth and interior noise at speed is acceptable.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s Comfort:
There are two main comfort issues with the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara. First, the bottom of the driver’s seat cushion raises, but cannot be separately adjusted for tilt. The result is a low driving position with lots of thigh support, or a tall driving position with no thigh support. I like a tall driving position with lots of thigh support – which this vehicle doesn’t offer. Also, I disliked the design of the steering wheel. It appears that a sharper radius is used on the face of the rim, and after a short while the thinly-padded wheel becomes uncomfortable to hold. Additionally, it lacks a telescopic feature, resulting in an arms-extended driving position for people with longer legs.
Otherwise, I have no comfort issues with this vehicle. I like the upright windshield and side glass, especially combined with the thin pillars and large sunroof, because they give the Grand Vitara an open, airy, spacious feel. The leather on the seats is soft, the seat padding supportive. Of course, I didn’t ride in the back seat, and I think that if adults are placed back there for an all-day trip, everyone will arrive at the destination in a foul mood. It is, however, fine for a cross-town trip, with just enough leg room, generous foot space, and a tall, soft, supportive seat cushion.
Loading cargo is easy thanks to the Grand Vitara’s ultra-low liftover height, but difficult due to the Grand Vitara’s anachronistic swing-to-the-side rear door. And that door swings curb side, so if you live someplace where parallel parking is a reality of life, this will really frustrate you over time. Too bad there’s nowhere else to stow that spare tire except to hang it on the rear door.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s Comfort:
Perspective means everything. Remember when you were a kid, how everything looked bigger than life? And now, as an adult, things like your childhood home and Uncle Fred look small? One can look at the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s interior in a similar way. From the front seats this appears to be a spacious little SUV. The driver and front passenger are afforded plenty of room, padded door sills and armrests, a padded and sliding center armrest, and large adjustable headrests. The driver gets a tilt steering wheel, though there’s no telescoping feature. Unfortunately, while the front seating area is spacious, the buckets are stiff and flat with useless lower bolsters and upper bolsters that are nearly as bad. Getting in and out is basically a non-issue, except for the fact that the seats are positioned quite a distance in from the doors so it takes a good stretch to get your keister squarely planted.
Rear seat passengers get the same stiff seat, yet much less leg and knee room – the soft front seatback should help those confined lower extremities. Like up front, the door armrests and window sills are padded, but there’s no center armrest and the headrests impact on passengers’ necks unless fully raised. Entry and exit is hindered by intrusive wheel wells that are begging to soil someone’s pant leg.
The 2006 Grand Vitara’s build quality is good with the exception of a few minor items. One has to be the use of the rubber substance on the door panel pulls. Fingernails leave scratches and an appearance of premature wear. The shifter also needs improvement because dropping the lever from Park to Drive and back up to Reverse feels too spongy. Outside, body seams and gaps were pretty consistent with the exception of the spoiler over the rear window. There was a half-inch gap on the left side and a standard gap on the right. This could be due to the swinging door but designers should have taken that into account and compensated for it. The difference really looks awful. Still, there aren’t any major quality issues and that shows Suzuki is making strides in its effort to improve its products.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s Quality:
Like any Japanese engineered and assembled Suzuki product, the Grand Vitara features tight build quality and solid switchgear. Materials, though significantly upgraded over the previous-generation Grand Vitara, are only up to class standards rather than exceeding them. The leather feels soft, but thin, giving the impression that it would be vulnerable to sharp objects – or even a dog’s nails. Soft-touch areas, such as the steering wheel, center armrest, and upper door panels, are thinly padded, imparting a feel of cheapness. The headliner is fuzzy, low-grade material rather than the woven mesh fabric that has become popular. The result is a cabin that looks good, but doesn’t feel like it will wear well over time.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s Quality:
This is a good time to remember the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s merits: off-road capability, a long list of standard features, and an unbeatable powertrain warranty. It’s the job of those few points to counter all the negative comments that can be spewed about this vehicle’s quality. First, there are a handful of positives to note, like the matching plastic grains, soft leather on the steering wheel, padded armrests and window sills and, well, that’s pretty much it. Unfortunately, the list of complaints is longer and focuses on the crappy leather upholstery, faux woodgrain that looks horribly cheap, irregular gaps around the pillars, a flimsy headliner, and numerous plastic panels in the cargo area and throughout the cabin that exhibit too much flex. The exterior of our test truck featured large and inconsistent gaps around the hood, headlights, and tailgate; a rear driver’s side door that didn’t sit flush with the quarter panel; and roof rack end caps that popped off easily.
By coincidence, I had the opportunity to drive a 2006 Toyota RAV4 on the same off-road course as the Grand Vitara and discovered that the RAV rolled away solid and quiet, whereas the Suzuki returned to the pavement with a cacophony of annoying rattles.
The 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s designers may not have hit a home run with this SUV, but they did get a line drive hit up the third baseline. The Grand Vitara is a nice looking vehicle without that sometimes odd Japanese flavor that looks out of place on these shores. The design isn’t especially distinctive but the smooth flowing lines are pleasing to the eye.
Inside, the interior is visually pleasing and well laid out. I like the use of the multiple textures on the plastic surfaces and how they used them throughout the interior. There are a few things I don’t quite understand, like the swinging tailgate. In parallel parking situations the rear door becomes an issue. If you can find a space large enough to accommodate both the Grand Vitara and the swinging door, you then have to maneuver whatever you are unloading around the door to the sidewalk. Designers also missed the boat when it comes to the fold-down rear seats. They don’t become part of the rear cargo area like most other SUV’s. They only fold forward and add the width of the seatbacks in that position, blocking access through the rear door in the process. There is also the issue of the wheel wells intruding into the rear passenger door opening and making it difficult to get into the back seats. With all of the other good examples out there to study, Suzuki designers need to spend more time in the competitors’ models.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s Design:
On the outside, with the exception of that spare tire hanging on the rear door, the new Suzuki Grand Vitara looks terrific. This is a handsome SUV, well balanced, clean, with none of that rugged gimcrackery that stylists continue to think sport-ute buyers want. But, be sure that it won’t be long before some buffoon bedecks the Grand Vitara with a brush guard, side rails, taillight protectors, an oversized roof rack, and dopey looking fender extensions. I like the design right out of the factory, but would recommend that on the next go-round, Suzuki figure out a different spot for the spare and install a proper liftgate on this vehicle.
Inside, the Grand Vitara looks upscale, and the brightly lit gauge cluster reminds me of a Lexus. What’s missing is nighttime illumination – none for the steering wheel controls, or most of the door panel controls, or many of the stereo markings. And how the heck do you get the trip computer to display average fuel economy instead of instant miles-per-gallon? A check of the owner’s manual index for “trip computer” and “fuel economy” results in no entries, and the operation of this feature remains a mystery to me. I also think the rear seats should be removable in addition to offering the fold-and-tumble feature. That would free up lots of space, and since many Grand Vitara owners are likely to be singles or empty-nesters towing the rig behind an RV, that extra space could come in handy.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s Design:
Aside from its off-road prowess, design may be the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara’s greatest claim to fame. This is a sharp little truck. Positives include the honeycomb grille, scalloped headlights akin to those on the new Dodge Charger, wheel flares that impart a sense of power, and simple yet attractive body lines. The rear spoiler blends in well, as does the body-color exterior spare tire cover. Five-spoke alloy wheels and deeply tinted glass dress things up nicely, serving to move the Grand Vitara a bit upscale. Before heading off road, I was concerned that the low-hanging rear license plate frame, integrated into the rear fascia, would get hung up on some rocks, though those fears proved to be unfounded. My only complaint regarding exterior design has to do with that oversized chrome emblem on the grille, though that is a minor consideration.
Our tester featured an attractive black interior with silver accents that were obviously plastic and not even close to resembling alloy parts. A small, leather-wrapped steering wheel and silver ringed gauges added a bit of sport, and the layout of the controls was well-designed and logical. Large rearview mirrors and rear quarter windows aided visibility, yet wide rear pillars limited the view.
There isn’t a big cost savings here but the seven-year or 100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty makes considering the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara a worthwhile option. This is a decent vehicle depending on your needs. It isn’t a serious family hauler due to the lack of storage space and seating, but it would be a great vehicle for a college student or an active single person that needs a 4X4 and the small available cargo space for a bike, rock climbing gear or anything of that size and nature.
Christian Wardlaw’s Advice about the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara:
In today’s urban reality of crumbling, traffic-choked roads and increasingly tight parking spots, the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara makes great sense. It’s small, a nimble handler, equipped to battle snowstorms without giving much up in terms of ride and handling. Because its engineered for real off-roading, the Grand Vitara is stout enough to take the pummeling doled out by potholes and frost heaves, and if you lead that active lifestyle that every marketer talks about but few Americans actually engage in, the Grand Vitara’s got the goods to get you farther off the beaten path than many of its competitors. Add in the impressive powertrain warranty, quality construction, and tailored design inside and out, and it’s hard not to recommend a look at this rugged little ute. The trade-off, however, is interior size and driving refinement. The Grand Vitara’s V6 is adequate, no more, and the rear seat is tight for use by adults or rear-facing child seats. A family hauler this Suzuki is not.
Thom Blackett’s Advice about the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara:
If for no other reason, shoppers should consider the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara because of its exceptional warranty. Transferable coverage that spans 100,000 miles is nothing to sneeze at. And if your driving routine involves some rugged off-roading coupled with leisurely trips around town with light loads, again, the Suzuki is worth a look. But our tester’s $25,294 sticker price puts a damper on things. Granted, that’s not a bad price for a brand new car in 2006, yet it’s in the ball park of numerous competitors that offer added power, roomier cabins, more comfort, and better quality. For a truly versatile small SUV, there are more sensible choices than the Suzuki. However, few can tackle the dirt like a 2006 Grand Vitara.
Price of Test Vehicle: $25,294 (including a $595 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.7-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 185 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 184 lb.-ft. at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,682
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/23 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 19.3 mpg
Length: 176.0 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Height: 66.7 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 41.3/37.2 inches
Head room (front/rear): 38.2/38.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 67.3 cubic feet
Max. Payload (lbs.): 960
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs.): 3,000
Ground Clearance: 7.9 inches
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Hyundai Tucson, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sportage, Kia Sorento, Mazda Tribute, Mercury Mariner, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Xterra, Pontiac Torrent, Saturn VUE, Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volvo V50
Photos by Ron Perry