Suzuki Grand Vitara (1999)

  Suzuki Grand Vitara (1999)

Just what is a Suzuki Grand Vitara? Think of it as a cheap (yes, in allsenses of the word) version of the Toyota RAV 4. The basic two-door Vitarastarts at $13,500, while the four-door Grand Vitara that we tested lists at$17,000.

Is the Grand Vitara a great car? No, not especially. But it didn't stinkout loud either. Look at the list price again. What do you want, for a carwhose high-end model is still less expensive than 90 percent of the cars onthe road? You would be remiss to expect anything particularly approachingthe quality of a Lexus.

Styling

Having said that, and realizing that we got into the Grand Vitara with lowexpectations, we actually kind of liked it. It's tall, thin, boxy andutilitarian looking, which is kind of cool in a retro sort of way. We'veheard people say that the Grand Vitara looks like a cross between an SUVand an ambulance, and we wouldn't disagree.

Driving Experience

Our overall impression is that this vehicle is okay...for what it is. TheGrand Vitara feels tight, firm and strong. The driving experience is notall that bad. Because it is an SUV with a short wheelbase, however, theGrand Vitara bounces all over the place and may eventually drive youinsane--and cause severe kidney problems in the process. However, if you're26 years old and road handling takes a distant back seat to a car'sperceived cool factor, then who cares? We've certainly driven worse cars.The Vitara holds the road pretty well and, in terms of comfort andconvenience, it's not appreciably worse than other cars in this price class.

We were surprised to find a six-cylinder engine under the hood, because theVitara seemed to have trouble getting out of its own way from a dead stop.It has insufficient low-end torque, but you could probably drive it at 80mph all day if you wanted to. The Vitara shifted smoothly and has a niceclutch and gas pedal. We didn't note any jerky starts or stops.

Suzuki did not include a center differential in this car, which means ithas "on demand" four-wheel drive. You'll need to understand the pros, consand hazards of four-wheel drive (versus all-wheel drive) before you shiftinto the 4WD position.

Ergonomics

You're up nice and high in the Vitara, so visibility is good in alldirections. The ergonomics are acceptable, with adequate, straightforwardheating and cooling controls. In the back, there's a nice little storagearea with a retractable cover. Tom found enough room back there to toss hisbroken PC (is that redundant?) and a 17" monitor.

Maintenance

After the warranty runs out, servicing might be hassle. Whenever a Suzukicomes into Ray's garage, all the mechanics runs and hide in the bathroom,because nobody wants to work on it. Because there are not many Suzukidealers, it's tough to get parts.

When you do finally get those parts, there's plenty of room in the enginecompartment, despite the V6 engine, and it appears easy to service. Weexpect repair cost to be average, which is good--because we think youshould plan on below-average or well-below-average reliability.

We remain undecided as to whether this car is such a good idea. Suzuki wasthe first one with these little, short-wheelbase SUVs (with the possibleexception of the Jeep Wrangler). We don't like tall, short-wheelbase carsfor a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they ride andhandle poorly. As a new car, the Vitara rode and handled acceptably. But,when the tires and suspension eventually start to wear, a car like this canactually be both unpleasant and dangerous to drive. Ray's willing to betthat he'd hate this car if he had to drive it once it had 25,000 miles onthe odometer.

Overall comments

If cheap is important, and you really have to have one of these littlesport utes, the Grand Vitara will serve your purposes. But, if you canafford the extra bucks, we'd recommend going with the RAV 4. You'll get theToyota name behind it, which means good reliability, and an easier timegetting parts and service. The RAV also includes all-wheel drive--though ithas a four-cylinder engine, compared to the V6 in the Grand Vitara. (By theway, in our humble opinion, the RAV engine has plenty of power.)

Incidentally, the Grand Vitara is bigger on the inside than the RAV, since,unlike the Grand Vitara, the RAV 4, for styling reasons, narrows at thetop. As a result, the inside of the Grand Vitara is more spacious and feelssomewhat like a Honda CRV. The tall roof and the big windshield certainlyadd to this sensation.

For what it was, we kind of liked this car. Why? Perhaps because it's alittle bit retro feeling. It reminds us of being on a Caribbeanisland--where all they drive are cars like this. If you're still in your20s and don't yet have inflamed hemorrhoids or an enlarged prostate, don'tmind bouncing around a little bit, don't have Mom and Dad financing yourcar acquisitions, and swear to us on a stack of Bibles that you won't drivetoo fast around corners...we'd suggest you take a look at the Grand Vitara.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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