Today the Suzuki Vitara is available in three and five door body forms and both body lengths are now labelled Grand Vitara. As part of the latest specification changes to the Grand Vitara Suzuki removed the spare wheel from the vehicle to reduce weight and lower tax gathering CO2 emissions. The ‘spare’ had been carried throughout numerous generations on the rear door.
This move also improved visibility through the rear window but it didn’t meet with the approval of some long standing and new customers.
The Grand Vitara might be a compact SUV but it is a proper off roader with permanent four wheel drive and high and low gear ratios.
An off roader without a spare wheel and no facility to fit one on the door or under the load floor does not seem a sensible move. A definite case of ‘being up a creek without a paddle’. Some soft SUVs have run-flat tyres but they generally unsettle the ride quality on road. Off road driving can result in the tyre walls being split by sharp stones or rocks. The now quite commonplace tyre inflation kit of a tube of sealant and an electric inflation pump will not get the vehicle mobile again and just trying getting the roadside rescue services to recover your off roader from a muddy farm track or field.
However Suzuki GB have now responded to feedback from their customers and soon will be adding a five door variant to the range with a spare wheel mounted back on the rear door. The SZT five door, as it will be called, has the most popular 1.9-litre DDiS 127bhp diesel engine and will cost £22,315 with initially 500 units being available in the UK.
Suzuki GB says demand for the Grand Vitara remains stable at around 2,600 annual UK registrations despite the boom of new models in the new crossover segment and the increase of ‘soft’ SUVs with two and four wheel drive models. The Grand Vitara retains a loyal following despite the increased competition and over 170,000 of them have been sold in the UK since its launch in 1988.
Today 60 per cent of UK Vitara customers buy the more user friendly and spacious five door model and 45 per cent of customer choose the 1.9-litre, 127bhp turbodiesel unit. Thirty per cent of owners favour the 1.6-litre, 105bhp petrol unit and 25 per cent go for the 2.4-litre 166bhp petrol unit mainly because of the automatic gearbox option. The three door version is available with both petrol engines but not diesel and the five door is available with the 2.4 litre petrol and the 1.9-litre diesel units.
Depending on the choice of engine and body style there are currently three levels of mainstream specifications, SZ3, SZ4 and SZ5, the latter one applies only to the top of range 1.9 DDiS diesel version. The additional limited edition SZT five door diesel variant is to be introduced early in 2012.
Prices start at £15,995 for the three door models, £19,270 for five door models and the diesel five door highest spec version costs £23,265. All versions have permanent 4×4 drive but the 2.4 petrol and 1.9 DDiS diesel models have more selectable drive options. 4H high range provides a 47:53 per cent front to rear torque split. 4H Lock is still high range but the centre differential is locked to provide equal torque between the front and rear axles giving optimum traction in deep snow and mud. 4L is low range giving maximum low down power with equal torque split between the front and rear wheels, ideal for serious off road driving. There is an additional N setting which frees the centre differential allowing for less risk of damage to the driveline if the vehicle needs to be towed. All these settings are done in an instant with an easy to use rotary switch on the dashboard. A five speed manual gearbox is standard fit.
The most recent changes to the Grand Vitara models saw an upgrade to the specification, a few minor visual changes, electronic stability programme was added, the 2.4-litre petrol unit had balancer shafts added to smooth running performance and lower noise levels plus the addition of more power and torque. Other omissions from the most common specification items offered by other compact 4x4s is the lack of standard fit rear parking sensors and no automatic gearbox option for the diesel engine which is a popular choice these days.
But the big change, and a significant one for many owners, was the decision to do away with the rear door mounted spare wheel. True the removal of the wheel removed weight from the vehicle and that in turn lowered CO2 emissions and reduced VED road tax costs which still remain relatively high. The 1.9-litre diesel model now has CO2 emissions of 179g/km which means a hefty £315 First Year rate road tax cost which reduces to £210 for the second year onwards.
The five door Grand Vitara’s main 4×4 rival is the Toyota RAV4. This has a more powerful 2.2-litre, 148bhp engine, its faster and much more fuel efficient with lower emissions of 159g/km which means VED road tax costs £165 a year and most importantly for many has a spare wheel but it does cost more at £25,535.
I have always rated the Suzuki Grand Vitara because I consider it to be a proper 4×4 with its all wheel drive system with high and low ratio gearing, strong ladder frame chassis and competitive purchase price. It is a much more accomplished compact SUV off road or in poor on road driving conditions than the modern generation crossovers that dominate this section of the market. It is a genuine 4×4 that can go more or less anywhere and will not bust-the-bank to buy it. The 31.8mpg road test fuel consumption, which fell 10mpg short of the official figure and the high road tax, was not so impressive.
The 1.9-litre DDiS turbodiesel unit is no powerhouse but it gets the job done. The availability of 221lb ft of torque makes it responsive in the low to mid ranges without the need to constantly keep changing down the gearbox, which is just as well because the gearchange is on the heavy side and on my test vehicle ‘notchy’ when the unit was cold. Top speed is a modest 106mph but that doesn’t matter as the legal maximum speed is more than easily maintained on motorways. The acceleration time for zero to 62mph takes a sedate 13.2 seconds.
The latest Grand Vitara looks good and distinctively retains its medium sized 4×4 image. It drives well enough for most people, the steering is sharp and responsive, the handling predictable and its roomy. The ride comfort is not as good as the modern car derived crossovers and neither is the out and out performance, fuel economy or running costs. So owning one, as with all 4x4s, is always going to be a compromise.
Do you buy a tough and durable 4×4 capable of withstanding our poor road surfaces, coping better in Winter weather plus dealing with off road travel without stress, or do you buy a ‘soft’ SUV where style and comfort matters more?
As a country resident it is no contest, I’d choose the tool most suitable for my job – the proper 4×4. That is exactly what I did for the Christmas and New Year holiday period. With places to go, people to see, work to do and with the threat of wind, rain and snow, not to mention potholed road surfaces, a Grand Vitara, even without a spare wheel, fitted the requirements more or less perfectly.
For creature comforts the specification level of the diesel powered SZ5 is pretty comprehensive and consists of alloy wheels, heated front seats, leather upholstery, air conditioning, on-board computer electric front and rear windows and electrically operated door mirrors.
The absence of a spare wheel was the most prominent missing item of specification and that would probably stop me buying one at this stage but mostly in all other respects the Grand Vitara 1.9 DDiS SZ5 five-door was just ‘grand’.
Suzuki Grand Vitara SZ5 5-Door 1.9 DDiS £23,265.
Engine/transmission: 1.9-litre, four cylinder, turbodiesel, 1227bhp, 221lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, all wheel drive, high and low ratio transfer box with locking centre differential, 5-speed manual gearbox.
Performance: 106mph, 0-62mph 13.2 seconds, 41.5mpg Combined Cycle (31.8mpg actual), CO2 179g/km, VED road tax £315 First Year rate then £210 second year onwards, BIK company car tax 28%.
Insurance group: 24E. Dimensions/capacities: L 4, 300mm, W 1,880mm, H 1,695mm, 5-seats, load space 398 to 1,386-litres, braked towing weight 2,000kg.
For: Genuine go anywhere compact 4×4, high and low ratio 4WD system, rugged, smart styling, sharp steering response, handles well, mostly well equipped, .
Against: No spare wheel (until the SZT version arrives) no ‘spare’ is not good for a genuine off-roader, expensive to run in terms of high CO2 taxation cost, 1.9-litre diesel engine looses out on performance against the more commonplace 2.0/2.2-litre engines in this sector, no auto transmission option – a popular choice in this segment.