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Edmunds Full Test: 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury

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Climbing to new heights

By Donna DeRosa

Date posted: 03-30-2006

We switch the Suzuki's four-mode four-wheel drive into the 4L Lock position and begin our ascent of the muddy hill. It isn't exactly K2, but recent rains have left much of the Santa Monica Mountains sloppy enough for it to challenge the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury.

Not all the vehicles in the small-SUV category could make it to the top, but we're having fun and so is our little truck. The completely redesigned Grand Vitara may be larger and more comfortable than its predecessor, but it still maintains the off-road nature of the original. It's a feisty little SUV eager to climb its way to the summit.

Fully equipped

Unlike the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Grand Vitara is no longer offered with a four-cylinder. It's only available with a V6 in either rear-wheel drive or full-time four-mode four-wheel drive. There are no options; just choose which wheel drive you want and you're ready to go. Standard equipment includes cruise control and an in-dash, six-disc CD player with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

Step up to the top-of-the-line Grand Vitara 4WD Luxury, like our test car, and the standard equipment list swells to include a five-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, wood grain trim and an electric sunroof. Safety features include front and rear curtain airbags, front-passenger side airbags and adjustable headrests for all five passengers. As tested, our Grand Vitara's sleek new lines looked more expensive than its $24,399 price tag.

An electronic stability control system is also part of the package, which can be disengaged by pressing the big round "ESP OFF" button on the dash for at least 3 seconds. This shuts down the program until the vehicle reaches 19 mph, at which time it turns itself back on. The low-speed disengagement is really only helpful if the truck is stuck in sand or snow, or according to Mike Anson of American Suzuki public relations, "if you want to do burnouts."

In the driver seat

In our slalom testing, this 66.7-inch-tall SUV showed surprising sportiness. It skipped through our 600-foot slalom at 61.5 mph. The last RAV4 we tested achieved 61.3 mph in the same test.

The Suzuki's power-assisted rack and pinion steering is quick and exact and its overall handling is more carlike than its trucky forerunner. This new version features unibody construction enhanced with ladder-frame design elements which Suzuki claims makes on-roading more bearable but still allows for off-roading when you just gotta get up that hill.

Independent MacPherson strut front suspension and independent multilink rear suspension keep the Grand Vitara's nose from diving but allow its haunches maneuverability. The athleticism is appreciated, but the Suzuki has a bumpy ride, which can get tiring after long periods.

Deceleration is also very good. At the test track, ventilated front disc brakes and rear drums brought the vehicle from 60-0 mph in just 125 feet, which is average for the class. Braking remained consistent run after run, but by the end of our testing day the drums were starting to squeal.

Driving out loud

All Grand Vitaras are equipped with a 2.7-liter, six-cylinder engine with 24 valves and four camshafts. Maximum output is 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, which is well behind the 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque made by the RAV4's V6.

In our acceleration testing, the Grand Vitara lumbered noisily from zero to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, more than 2 seconds slower than the Toyota. The quarter-mile is managed in an equally sluggish 17.2 seconds.

So it's not quicker than a speeding bullet but the engine responds well to throttle inputs and is game on the highway. Above 60 mph, the five-speed automatic downshifts without much prodding, which gives the Vitara better passing power than the acceleration times would indicate. Still, if Suzuki wants the Vitara to keep up with the best-selling RAV, it needs to add power to its package.

Drivetrain complaints are limited to the transmission's annoying tendency to downshift abruptly when you're braking moderately on slight downhill grades. It's rough enough for passengers to comment, but not so bad that we didn't get used to it. Fuel mileage is also iffy. We averaged under 17 mpg, but were admittedly heavy-footed during our week with the little truck.

We did a fair bit of off-roading with the Grand Vitara's four-mode four-wheel-drive system. The 4H mode is for navigating the highways and byways of everyday driving. The 4H locking mode locks the center differential when conditions get slippery. The 4L Lock mode is for tackling seriously muddy, rocky hills. In this mode the differential is always locked and was reassuring when coming back down our muddy hill. The fourth mode is Neutral, which allows you to tow the vehicle on all four wheels without racking up mileage.

Feels roomy

Suzuki has added about 6 inches to the Grand Vitara's wheelbase and 11.5 inches to its length. Although it's still shorter than the CR-V and RAV4, the Grand Vitara is now slightly wider than both.

For being a so-called small SUV, the interior feels roomy. Rear legroom has increased by almost 7 inches and front hiproom has increased by 5 inches. Some rear passengers would have appreciated a little more headroom, which is down an inch from last year, but the reclining rear bench doesn't feel cramped. Although the front bucket seats aren't exactly plush, they are supportive and comfortable.

Luggage capacity is significantly smaller than its rivals at just 23.8 cubic feet, but fold down the Grand Vitara's second-row 40/60-split-folding bench and get 67.3 cubic feet of total cargo capacity. That's an increase of 17.5 cubic feet over last year and comes fairly close to the competition.

While the rear door swings open to the right making curb access difficult, the door is easy to open and close and saves interior space by housing the spare tire on its back.

Spiffy on the inside

Along with added people room, Suzuki spiffed up the look and feel of the cabin. Attractive, well-positioned gauges with brushed aluminum accents, heated leather seats and spare usage of wood grain trim are pleasing to the eye. It's not quite as luxurious as the name of the package suggests, but it is fairly comfortable for an inexpensive off-roader.

We found some minor annoyances that bear mentioning. Interior storage is especially stingy and the mpg counter, which updates your fuel economy every second, is useless. We think miles to refueling would be more helpful.

We also found that while reaching for the brake, we kept hitting our foot on the plastic overhang above the pedals.

Conclusion

The 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Luxury strikes a nice balance of on-road comfort and off-road ability. Suzuki has added size and power to its package, while keeping its price below a top-of-the-line CR-V and RAV4. As a result, it's much better equipped to climb uphill in this competitive market segment.

Posted Image

Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...rticleId=109809

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