2006 SUZUKI GRAND VITARA
Redesigned 3rd Generation Vitara Hits Target
Editor/Photo: Eric Bewley
Vancouver, BC – August found us at the Suzuki North American Press Launch for the new 2006 Grand Vitara. This new completely redesigned model is the third generation of this line of automobile first named the Sidekick in the N. American market which was then changed to Vitara in 1999 with the introduction of the second generation. Setting their sites on the Toyota RAV-4 and the Honda CRV, Suzuki has created a very competent and value packed model that has many improvements over the previous model.
There are some significant changes for the new model which all aid in creating a very civilized and comfortable vehicle but that may leave the off-highway adventure enthusiasts wanting more. New for ’06 is a unibody construction where the traditional chassis on body design is dropped for a more contemporary design of having the rigid structural component formed and welded directly to the body. Engine displacement and power have been upgraded to the 2.7 liter engine found in the larger XL-7 model. This engine is coupled to a new 5 speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. The power is then routed to the front and rear independently suspended axles via a high range all-wheel drive transfer case, “four-mode” four-wheel drive transfer case, or directly to the rear only in a two-wheel drive optioned model.
During the course of the presentation, several positive points were brought forth by the energetic Suzuki executives. Suzuki sales target is to sell 40,000 units in North America with total world wide sales figure of 100,000 vehicles in it’s first year. There will not be a GM version, such as the Chevrolet Tracker, of this vehicle as in the past.
Extensive on-road testing revealed several great improvements. My six-foot five inch frame definitely appreciated the new larger seats and the generous amounts of interior space. The back row of seating also offered great comfort, something that is exceedingly rare and appreciated. Cab noise was very low for the front row occupants. In the rear seats one could hear an elevated, yet very acceptable, amount of tire noise coming from the wheel wells. The trim looks rich and has a nice fit an finish with all gauges, knobs, and indicators fitting together tightly. The new layout is also well thought out placing all controls within easy reach. The new AM/FM/XM satellite stereo with CD/WMA/MP3 has an adequate sound with a good control interface.
In doing a walk around of the Grand Vitara, one notices that the packaging has become even tighter as design elements have definitely constrained the placement of the working bits. The 2.7 liter engine is placed very snuggly in the engine compartment with the radiator placed low and far forward in the engine bay. An electric van has replaced the earlier mechanical unit.
New for ’06 the rear independent suspension is placed fairly low with the exhaust routed underneath the aluminum centered differential.
Early photographs of the Grand Vitara from Japan and the EU had shown the rear equipped with disk brakes. However, the models shown and those to be sold in North America will have drum rear with disk front brakes equipped with ABS and ESP.
Another couple of options available elsewhere are the 4 cylinder gas and diesel engines which hopefully Suzuki will consider bringing into North America. As the gas prices continue to climb, these fuel efficient options will become even more attractive.
Suspension up front is similar to previous models and is protected well with factory skid plates and bracing.
One benefit from the Grand Vitara’s tight packaging is very nice approach and departure angles. There is very little hanging over the front and rear of the vehicle to catch as one traverses obstacles.
The ‘four-mode’ four wheel drive is knob actuated on the dash. Selections include 4H which is a torque split all-wheel drive, 4H diff lock similar to traditional transfer case, 4L is a gear reduced with diff lock, and the forth mode of neutral which is handy when the Grand Vitara is relegated to motor home pushing duties.
Next came the anxiously awaited off-highway testing. Suzuki executives touted, with good reason, the off-highway prowess of the new Grand Vitara. Calling it “off-road athleticism” the Grand Vitara does do mild off-highway tasks exceedingly well. The new full independent suspension soaks up washboards and smaller bumps on gravel roads.The ESP system allows drivers to be aggressive while keeping them on track. Body roll has been greatly reduced, further, the Grand Vitara corners very nicely feeling quite stable and nimble.
As an adventure enthusiast and a self-confessed Suzuki automobile nut, it quickly became evident as we drove on the off-road course that I may be looking for design components and system elements different from what the other editors, writers, and publisher were interested in. For we are looking for an adventure vehicle that can take us out for something as simple as a picnic up in to a secluded forest all the way up to a two-week outback adventure through the back country where even seeing a paved road would be the exception. While the new Grand Vitara delivers strongly on many fronts it may not be a good choice for the avid outdoor recreationalist that, rather than towing or hauling their equipment, wants to use the vehicle itself as their equipment for adventure.
Performance begins to wane when pushing the Grand Vitara. The predetermined off-highway course we drove on demonstrated many positives but was missing a few elements that would be found by anyone exploring the outback such as water crossings, steep incline and declines, and deeply rutted trails.
Nonetheless, we made the most of the course offered and found that Grand Vitara would strike rocks no larger then 8 inches on parts of the undercarriage. We struck many rocks and outcroppings on the front skid plate, lower control arms, and exhaust. The off-camber or side-hilling ability of the Grand Vitara was exceptional feeling incredibly stable at serious off-camber situations.
Probably the most frustrating issue was the fact that Suzuki only offers the “four-mode” four-wheel drive system with the 5-speed automatic which in turn is only found on the higher end packages. We would like to see Suzuki make available the 5-speed manual option with the “four-mode” four-wheel drive system at any one of the trim level packages or price points.
It comes down to what one is looking for in an Sport Utility Vehicle. Suzuki has targeted and admirably conquered the RAV-4 and the CRV besting those vehicles in value, comfort, and driving pleasure. However, if off-highway adventure and trail prowess are what’s desired, the Grand Vitara may not be for you. But then again it is a balance, isn’t it? Finding a favorite fishing spot, getting to the ski resort, hauling motorcycles to the noise park or personal water craft up to the lake would be tasks well suited to this weekend warrior.