The 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara looks like a mainstream, compact sport utility vehicle designed for paved roads. But it's a capable off-roader, too.
Adding to the appeal, the Grand Vitara -- 14.7 feet long with a truck-like ladder frame, as well as four-wheel drive with locking center differential in uplevel models -- comes with a 100,000-mile/seven-year limited warranty on its powertrain. The warranty is fully transferrable to succeeding vehicle owners.
Best of all, a new Grand Vitara has a starting retail price of $19,894 with 166-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and two-wheel drive.
The lowest-priced Grand Vitara with automatic starts at $21,544, while the lowest starting retail price for a four-wheel drive Grand Vitara is $22,994. Only an automatic transmission is offered with four-wheel drive.
The Grand Vitara with uplevel V-6 engine is much pricier, with a starting retail price of $26,344.
To compare, Hyundai's Tucson SUV has a starting retail price just below the Grand Vitara -- $19,790 with four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and two-wheel drive. Honda's 2010 CR-V has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $22,255 with four-cylinder engine, automatic transmission and two-wheel drive.
2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited V-6 4WD
- BASE PRICE: $19,099 for four-cylinder Premium 2WD with manual transmission; $20,749 for Premium 2WD with automatic; $22,199 for Premium 4WD; $22,649 for Xsport 2WD; $24,149 for four-cylinder Limited 2WD; $25,549 for Limited V-6 2WD; $25,699 for Xsport 4WD; $25,799 for Limited V-6 4WD; $25,799 for four-cylinder Limited 4WD; $27,199 for Limited V-6 4WD.
- AS TESTED: $27,994.
- TYPE: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact sport utility vehicle.
- ENGINE: 3.2-liter, double overhead cam V-6.
- MILEAGE: 17 mpg (city), 23 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 126 mph.
- LENGTH: 177.2 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 103.9 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,876 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Japan.
- OPTIONS: None.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $795.
The Japan-built Grand Vitara is a bit of a throwback to earlier days when SUVs were designed for rugged, off-road use.
Most competitors moved away from this positioning over the years as they refined the ride and comfort of their vehicles and transformed them into tall-riding, family-friendly station wagons.
Suzuki, though, retained some of the basic off-road-capable architecture of the Grand Vitara. Officials combined a rugged ladder frame with unibody construction, maintained generous ground clearance and styled the vehicle with short overhangs so bumpers and body panels don't get damaged in tight wilderness terrain.
Suzuki improved the Grand Vitara's ride and suspension, too, and reworked the interior with more comfortable and supportive seats. It also added amenities, including a segment-first standard navigation system that's even in the base, bargain-priced 2010 Grand Vitara. It's a small, removable Garmin unit attached to a flip-up cover atop the dashboard. A driver can remove the nav system and take it out of the vehicle for use elsewhere.
This compares with typical navigation systems sold by carmakers today that are built into the dashboard, where they include a larger, integrated display screen.
The first thing I noticed about the test vehicle was how spunky it felt. This was a top-of-the-line Grand Vitara Limited with four-wheel drive, leather-covered seats, heated front seats and off-road aids like hill descent control and hill hold control.
In earlier years, the Grand Vitara's V-6 had been anemic. But last year's upgrade to a 3.2-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with variable valve timing changed all that.
The Grand Vitara Limited, weighing less than 3,900-pounds, would surge forward as the 230-horsepower V-6 kicked in. Peak torque of 213-foot-pounds came on by 3,500 rpm, which made this SUV very drivable in traffic as well as off road.
Engine sounds were decent, too. But I wished for more sound insulation as road noise from the tires, plus wind noise at higher speeds and a low-level background of engine sounds came through to the interior. I found myself having to adjust the radio volume often.
The base Grand Vitara engine generates 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm for a less powerful ride.
Note the four-cylinder engine is available with a five-speed manual, which is something many other SUVs have done away with. Alas, the manual shifter is available only in two-wheel drive Grand Vitaras, so there's no opportunity for an old-style four-wheeler.
And the automatic tranny for the four-cylinder engine has only four speeds, so government fuel economy ratings are disappointing -- 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway for a two-wheel drive model.
This is nearly the same rating that a Toyota RAV4 gets with a V-6 engine.
Suzuki's V-6 disappoints, too, vis-a-vis the competition, even though it's linked to a more modern five-speed automatic transmission. The federal government rating of 17/23 mpg for the V-6 test model meant I could only go some 330 miles before filling up the 17.4-gallon gasoline tank.
Suzuki offers five seats in the Grand Vitara, and rear-seat legroom of 37.2 inches and back-seat headroom of 38.2 inches make for comfortable space.
Rear cargo room behind the back seat totals 28.4 cubic feet. While rear seatbacks don't fold down all the way flat, maximum cargo space is a useful 70.8 cubic feet.
The rear cargo door is a door that swings open like other car doors. Because it swings to the right, this door becomes an obstacle when loading the cargo area curbside on a street.
A spare tire is standard on the Grand Vitara and is mounted on the rear door, but it doesn't impede rear vision.
All safety equipment on the Grand Vitara is standard, including curtain air bags, electronic stability control and traction control. But the vehicle only earned four out of five stars in frontal crash testing by the federal government. It got five out of five stars in side crash testing.
Many competitors earned five out of five stars across the board.