The Grand Vitara, in my mind is one of those sturdy workhorse type 4×4’s that you find on farms, in remote villages as well as the average driveway, a much loved and revered 4×4 that, when I learnt Suzuki was ending production, I arranged for their very last press car to be delivered to Mud Life Towers for immediate assessment.
It’s claimed that back in 1988, Suzuki created a new category of four wheel drive vehicles – the compact Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). At an affordable price, the Vitara combined the comfort of a saloon with the all-terrain performance of a true off-roader. Since then, it’s a testament to the enduring appeal of the Vitara and Grand Vitara that 2.9 million have been sold worldwide in the years since the original model made its debut, and that’s 185,000 in the UK alone. Since its introduction in 1999, the Grand Vitara has only had a few body style changes, with its latest incarnation being introduced back in 2005, and only minor updates since then. One could argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Inevitably, the time has come for it to take a bow and leave by the exit to the left, and admittedly, it’s to my eternal shame that in all my years off roading and playing in 4×4’s, I’ve never driven a Vitara, I’ve been a passenger in quite a few, but it isn’t the same. So when TFX arrived I couldn’t wait to get it filthy… ahem, I mean assess this future classic in a professional and methodical manner.
Casually walking around the 1.9 DDiS, SZ5, 5 door Grand Vitara which was respendant in Pearl White Metallic, I was impressed by its modern, sleek and edgy design, and even though this current body has been with us since 2005, I liked it, it still looked purposeful and fresh.
I don’t know why, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got behind the wheel for the first time, the seats I found to be comfy, firm, with a bouncy base yet supportive in all the right areas, I liked that. In fact, after nearly a thousand miles in under 2 weeks my back problems disappeared, which means I’m going to make the time to fix the sunken driver's seat in my Discovery.
Glancing at the instrument panel and centre switches, I liked the simple and uncomplicated way in which they’re arranged, very neat and very pleasing. The binnacle itself houses the usual dials and information very neatly. The 6.1” colour touchscreen that houses the Garmin powered sat nav was again, well laid out and easy to use.
The marble effect inlay trim that’s on the centre console and armrests was debatable though, and divided opinions of those who joined me on jaunts, personally I didn’t mind it. I have to admit that I was a little flummoxed with the ignition key. The 2014 Grand Vitara comes with a keyless ignition, so once you’ve blipped the fob to open the doors, you can put the keys where ever you like. But unlike other cars that have a start button, the Grand Vitara has a switch that you turn in exactly the same place the ignition barrel would be. It’s a bit odd, but there’s no great hardship here, just when I came to turn the ignition to off, on many occasions I’d try and remove the switch (as you would the key), which resulted in it being pulled apart.. whoops!
Practicality wise, the LWB was great, for a weekend in Wales I loaded it up with a folding box full of food, a Ghillie kettle, Cobb BBQ & Cobblestones, a pair of waffle boards, 2 deck chairs, a Bio Stove with accessories, three bags of wood, shoes, all without having to put the rear seats down! I could have organised it better to create more space, but I didn’t need to, it swallowed it all up remarkably well.
The rear seats are comfortable, and even with the front drivers seat is in my driving position (6ft 1”), I can sit in comfort with plenty of room for my knees, which is what I liked about the Discovery 4.
So it looks great, the interior is spot on, but what’s it like to drive? Well, I loved it! Ok, I know that some other reviewers found the on-road drive quite harsh, and it is, you can’t deny that, but I’d gladly trade a little round-town harshness for its road handling ability. Let me give you an example. Cruising along motorways and dual carriageways I could have been driving any other car, it was good, comfortable and average, in a good way. However, once we got onto the Welsh B roads, everything changed.
I was astonished at how well this Suzuki behaved, not only on the tight and twisties, but the long and sweeping Welsh roads appeared to be this little Suzuki’s playground too, I wasn’t expecting it to be ‘that’ good! Looking in the rear view mirror I glimpsed at what would be potentially some cracking photos opportunities, but I didn’t stop, I was having far too much fun, in fact I even compared its handling to the 2014 Supercharged Range Rover Sport I drove last year, yeah, really! Suzuki say that it’s down to its chassis design that features strategic strengthening without any undue weight gain which offers resistance to twisting and bending. Couple that with its low profile, all-round independent suspension and permanent four wheel drive, is what gives the Grand Vitara its remarkably smooth and responsive on-road ride.
Not only the handling, but the engine and gearbox helped to shift the Grand Vitara along at a very reasonable pace, even keeping up with some youth in a Scooby Doo, all whilst achieving anything between 36 – 47mpg.
This changed everything in my mind, from being a good, practical 4×4 to something that appealed to my wild side, I was falling for it with every mile we drove, it was performing incredibly well on every level.
Visibility was excellent too, I hardly noticed the rear mounted spare, and the large door mirrors gave me an excellent all round view.
The weather during my time with the Grand Vitara was mostly glorious sunny, so there wasn’t much mud to be found, early one morning I did find wet slippery grass, the odd axle twister and soft power sapping sand, all of which the Zook managed with absolute ease.
With it packed with cooking and camping gear as well as 4 adults and a dog I have to admit that I got it bogged stuck in sand dune, it was my fault though, I chose the wrong gear – a school boy error. With the tyres buried almost up to the hubs, I engaged low box 2nd gear and with a little throttle the Zook dug itself out of the sandpit and edged forward with ease.
I really liked the Grand Vitara, as you can probably tell, and I was genuinely surprised that it was such a capable vehicle both on and off road. Sure, it has a lot of competition these days, but not many of them have a proper full time 4×4 system coupled to a high and low box and locking centre diff.
Over the past couple of years I’ve driven quite a number of 4×4’s that I’ve liked, but I wouldn’t buy for a variety of reasons, so would I put my money where my mouth is and buy a Grand Vitara? Well, if I didn’t want a 4×4 with better ground clearance, then it’s a most definite yes. Having said that, there are lift kits available from www.jimnybits.co.uk and the like, so there’s no excuse!
In the end I sad to see it go back, it had performed faultlessly at everything I threw at it, the Grand Vitara is a great example of what Suzuki do best – stylish, fun and practical vehicles.