Suzuki Grand Vitara 2020 Review

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Since its introduction in 1988, Suzuki’s Vitara has become a highly successful car. That’s despite the fact that neither the first-generation car, nor its replacement introduced in 1998, was a particularly competitive on-road performer. Against that they were attractive, well-priced and fairly good off-road.

That’s not good enough these days. The current Grand Vitara has to hold its head above water in a busy sector of the market, and while it offers more in the way of traditional off-roading hardware than its more modern rivals, the trade-off could be a lack of the sophistication now normal in the compact SUV class.

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Granted, most more recent opposition is also more expensive, but the success of the sector shows that people are prepared to pay. This road test features the 2.0-litre petrol version with 138bhp, an engine now supplanted by a 166bhp 2.4. A 127bhp, 1.9-litre, Renault-sourced turbodiesel is also offered.

Launched in 2005, this Suzuki Grand Vitara is some way from the current state of SUV visual art although it’s a great deal crisper-looking than the frumpy device which preceded it (and arguably rather more characterful than Toyota’s woeful facelift of the rival RAV4).

It’s a clean, slightly muscular, almost handsome design which draws few gasps of excitement but equally little derision. We like it. It’s a recognisable and confident update of the vehicle it replaces, which had been on sale since 1998 and was in dire need of pensioning off.

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That car’s engineering was of the off-road old-school. It had a separate ladder chassis and body, a low-ratio transfer ’box and an agricultural feel.

With this new model, Suzuki has set out to lose the farm-machinery air and create a more complete vehicle, with more car-like on-road composure and refinement, while retaining the old car’s off-road credibility. That’s why, in line with all its rivals, it has been given a monococque construction.

Unfortunately, the textures used by Suzuki are a little brittle – there are too few soft-feel plastics, but at this price perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical. Actual quality of build is without question, the action of the switchgear is good and the dials are neatly presented.

Ergonomically it’s mainly fine, too, with nice touches including reclining rear seats that also split and fold 50:50. It’s a good job that they do recline, though: rear headroom is perilously limited in the most upright position, although legroom is adequate. Like those in the front, the rear seats have quite firm cushions and stay comfy over long distances. Three adults can sit comfortably across the rear, while larger drivers will find that the front seats are wide enough, if lacking in lateral support.

The seats cannot be adjusted quite low enough for some drivers and, because the steering wheel adjusts for tilt only, many will have to set the wheel low so they can comfortably reach the top of it. Which would be fine if it didn’t then obscure the tops of the dials. At least the pedals are well spaced: they’re far enough apart for driving in wellies, but not so much as to make driving clumsy.

Standard equipment is just about class competitive, but this is an area where Suzuki has not really moved with the times. Granted, you get electric windows, air conditioning and a CD player, but there are niceties on more recent designs cars that the Grand Vitara does not even offer as an option.

As an example of that diminishing breed, a ‘proper’ 4×4, the Suzuki Grand Vitara gets a low-ratio transfer ’box and locking differentials for its permanent four-wheel drive. But the 2.0-litre petrol engine that feeds them, and is tested here, is not the Grand Vitara’s strongest point. It’s reasonably brisk, posting a 0-60mph time of 10.8sec, and quiet enough at idle, but over 3500rpm it becomes vocal and is increasingly intrusive towards the 6600rpm red line.

Fortunately, it’s at lower revs that it seems to do its best work, as our in-gear figures show: it covers 20-40mph in third just as quickly as it covers 40-60mph. And despite developing peak power at 6000rpm, there’s actually very little point in taking it past 5000rpm unless you’re a noise fetishist. At a motorway cruise of 70mph or so noise levels are respectable, but up the speed and the engine becomes intrusive. Engine aside, and remember here that current versions have grown to 2.4 litres and 166bhp, the Grand Vitara’s mechanical refinement is reasonable.

The gearshift has a long but accurate throw, and if you change gears slowly and deliberately it is not unpleasant to use. However, there’s some driveline shunt at low speeds and, if you attempt swifter gearchanges, it can baulk. A four-speed automatic gearbox is available but best avoided: the shifts are slow and jerky, and the ratios are so far apart that the engine is frequently either out of its powerband or in a raucous kick-down. On both manual and auto versions there is some transmission whine at low speed. It recedes once you’ve moved through the gears, although engine noise (subsequently accompanied by wind noise and tyre roar) then takes over.

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