For a small car company, success can sometimes be defined as finding a niche and exploiting it to the fullest. Suzuki is probably best known for their line of sport bikes and all-terrain vehicles, and they have been building motorcycles since the 1950s. However, the company had been in business for almost half a decade before that, producing various industrial devices and machines as well as dabbling in several different forms of basic motorized transportation until World War II ground their plans to a halt.
Although motorcycles would become the brand's guiding light, they never quite gave up their dream of selling 4-wheeled passenger vehicles. Realizing that they did not have the resources to take on the true giants in the world's automotive market, they decided instead to focus on specific segments where the major car companies were not overwhelmingly present. This included smaller city cars and other MINI vehicles that were focused on value rather than prestige.
It was through pursuing this strategy that Suzuki inadvertently created one of their most iconic automobiles. The Sidekick, a small 4x4 warrior with a tiny 4-cylinder engine became an off-road legend, a vehicle renowned for its prowess at negotiating difficult obstacles and treacherous surfaces. The Sidekick was also extremely reliable and easy to repair, two important characteristics for drivers who frequently found themselves many miles from civilization and certainly out of reach of the local Suzuki dealership's parts department. Released in 1989, the Sidekick slowly built up a loyal following amongst buyers who preferred to spend their time off the beaten path.
Suzuki would continue to develop the sidekick throughout the 1990s, refining its appearance and mechanicals and eventually adopting the name it had been given for the European market, the Vitara. The compact SUV was split into two distinct vehicles towards the end of the decade, with the Vitara maintaining the two door, short wheelbase template that had made it so maneuverable in challenging situations and the Grand Vitara extending the sport-utility vehicle until it was large enough to accommodate 4 doors and serve as a comfortable people mover. The smaller Vitara was eventually phased out in 2003, but the Grand Vitara continued to find success in North America. Re-designed in 2006, it finally came into its own as a fully-featured vehicle that added a new level of passenger comfort without sacrificing its hard-earned off-road credentials.
This article takes a look at the features and specifications of both the Vitara and the Grand Vitara, the two best used compact SUVs available from Suzuki.
1999 - 2003 Suzuki Vitara
Re-designed for 1999, the most modern version of the Suzuki Sidekick of old has traded in its rectangular box shape for a much more striking aerodynamic snout and a chopped rear passenger compartment that is open to the elements. With no C-pillar to speak of, the 1999 - 2003 Suzuki Vitara cuts a unique profile that sets it apart from some of the other cookie-cutter compact SUV's on the market.
The mini-SUV is powered by one of two different 4-cylinder engines. The base model features a 1.6-liter unit that tops out at 97 horsepower, while the top trim level is furnished with a 2.0-liter motor pushing 127 horsepower and 134 lb-ft of torque. Given that the Vitara weighs in at well under 3,000 lbs, this is a significant amount of motivation, and drivers will have no issues keeping pace with the flow of highway traffic. A 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission can be had with either edition of the truck. Two-wheel drive is also available but four-wheel drive unlocks the best part of the Vitara - its excellent suspension and chassis which are destined to challenge the rockiest and muddiest of conditions. Fuel mileage is fairly good thanks to the tiny engines and low mass, and the 1.6-liter provides 28 miles per gallon in highway driving.
Four passengers can squeeze into the Vitara, but the vehicle is quite small and as such it is best enjoyed as a two-seater. A total of 33 cubic feet of gear can be stuffed into the rear of the Vitara, but given that the cloth roof can be removed oversized gear can definitely be accommodated. The SUV's level of equipment isn't stunning, but for the price it does offer the requisite number of features that most buyers would expect, such as air conditioning.
The 1999 - 2003 Suzuki Vitara is a unique used compact SUV, one which is definitely at home in the backwoods or desert dunes and which can provide thrifty thrills for adventurous buyers.
2006 - 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara
When it came time to revamp the larger of their compact SUVs, Suzuki elected to borrow a platform from corporate partner General Motors and go to work on creating a new 5-passenger truck that would inject a little bit of modern technology into their off-road friendly package. The 2006 - 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara is bigger and bolder than the previous generation of vehicle, and it represents a mature effort from a small Japanese car company with plus-size aspirations when it comes to capability and competence.
No matter which trim level of Grand Vitara is selected, it makes use of the same 2.7-liter V-6 engine. With 185 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, this mill is very capable of providing the kind of grunt and acceleration that compact SUV drivers have come to expect. A 5-speed automatic or manual transmission direct power to either the rear or all four wheels, and the truck also provides excellent ground clearance and a suspension system that is capable of handling some truly rough terrain. Electronic stability control and traction control help to keep an eye on things and prevent rollovers or other unhappy endings on both the pavement and in the mud.
The extra size afforded to the 2006 - 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara makes for better interior room for passengers, and 5 adults won't have too much to complain about as long as 3 passengers in the rear seat are only crammed in together for a short trip. The quality of the vehicle's interior finish and overall organization of its controls and gauges is also improved over the outgoing model. Buyers can opt for such features as leather seats and wood trim, keyless entry and a sunroof.
The 2006 - 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a rugged used compact SUV that is great for anyone craving more than just a shuttle to take the kids to soccer practice or pick up a load of groceries.