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No Caption YOSHIKAZU TAKEDA

Suzuki Vitara 2WD road test

GIVEN its moniker, the "Grand" Vitara garners lofty expectations.

Suzuki lays claim to being the pioneer of the now booming compact sports utility vehicle market, yet the competition has put the squeeze on the Japanese carmaker.

The Grand Vitara has recently been given a facelift and more features to improve its armoury in a challenging battleground.

But the biggest change comes under the skin. Giving a nod to the modern-day SUV buyers who rarely step off the bitumen, the Grand Vitara is now available as a two-wheel drive.

It's the marque's first two-wheel drive based on an off-roader since it was first launched as the LJ50 back in 1974.

While the key rivals may still have the Grand Vitara covered in terms of features and styling, the Suzuki's trump card is the powered two-wheels are at the rear - maintaining towing prowess and improved drivability with weight in the back.

Comfort

Tweaks have been made to the trim and some finishes within the cabin. The look and feel is much the same, with reasonable support in the pews.

Plastics are used throughout the cabin, the hard stuff is used on the doors and centre console but softer materials adorn the dash, although its overall ambience is pleasant.

Dials and operations are basic, the Luxury model we tested had the sat nav and entertainment touch-screen system.

You don't get baffled by an array of buttons and the driver has a clean layout of three binnacles featuring all the vital gauges.

Given the rear dimensions are square by comparison to others in this genre, there is good head and leg room front and back. Three adults across the back would be a stretch, but achievable if they aren't too sizable.

On the road

Agile with a reasonable turn of speed, the Grand Vitara performs well in varying conditions.

On the highway it cruises at about 3000rpm with little engine noise or road rumble - although it feels like it could do with another cog with the four-speed automatic transmission.

The self-shifter was a reliable partner to the 2.4-litre petrol engine which always managed to find the right gear during our test.

Despite being a two-wheel drive it still feels surefooted and there is good peripheral vision - although parking sensors would be a worthy addition to the reversing camera.

What do you get?

Available in Urban and Luxury trims, they are essentially the same but the latter gets alloys and the touch-screen sat-nav CD stereo system (which includes continuous map updates).

Other standard gear includes stability control, Bluetooth connectivity, reversing camera, electric windows and cruise control with steering wheel controls.

Other options
 

The competition is tough, but none offer rear-wheel drive only. The Vitara's drive-away pricing looks good compared to the retail prices for the Nissan X-Trail (from $28,490), Mazda CX-5 (from $27,800), Subaru Forester (from $30,990), Honda CR-V (from $28,090), Toyota RAV4 (from $28,990), Jeep Cherokee (from $28,000) and Kia Sportage (from $26,990).

Practicality

Boot space is impressive, with good depth. Drop and roll the rear seats, which fold in a 60-40 configuration, and you have an excellent cargo carrying space.

We fit in an adult's bike without removing any wheels and still had room for one cherub in the back. The child seat anchorage points are at the base of the seats which requires the back rest to be folded for installation.

With the spare tyre on the back door you also have a handy space under the floor in the boot.

Up front there is excellent storage with two bottle holders near the gear shifter, a deep centre console and a good-size glovebox.

Running costs

Surprisingly, we managed to equal the claimed average fuel consumption figure of 9.5 litres per 100km. Matching the manufacturer's figure is often fanciful.

Suzuki has a good dealer network, solid resale and servicing or insurance shouldn't leave a hefty dent on the bank balance.

Funky factor

Most would struggle to spot the difference between old and new models, with a different grille and bumper, along with darkened headlamp recesses.


It's not the most alluring of the sports utility vehicle genre, but then again it's no ugly duckling either.

The lowdown

Given most SUV buyers have no real need to drive all four wheels, paying $4500 less for a Grand Vitara which still does the job will make ample sense to many buyers.

The towing capacity remains at 1850kg, easily looking after many boats and caravans.

What the Grand Vitara lacks in modern looks and cabin pizzazz it makes up for in practicality with a spacious cabin - along impressive carrying capacity and seat-folding flexibility.

VITAL STATISTICS
Model: Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban 2WD Luxury.
Details: Five-door compact sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 124kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 227Nm @ 3800rpm.
Transmission: Four-speed automatic or five-speed manual.
Consumption: 8.7 litres/100km (manual); 9.5 litres/100km (auto).
CO2: 203g/km (m); 224g/km (a).
Towing capacity: 1850kg; tow ball down pressure max 150kg.
Bottom line, drive-away: Urban (m) $26,990; Urban (a) $28,990; Luxury (a) $31,490.



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