2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara 4WD Test Drive and Review

The "S" is for "Superb"

Suzuki has put their own stamp on the "cute-ute" mold with modern-looking sharp creases along the hood line, fender flares and bumpers. photo © Jason Fogelson

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The 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara took me by surprise. With a great list of standard features and a very reasonable bottom line, the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara 4WD with Luxury Package is a great entry into the cute ute sweepstakes. Grand Vitara prices start at $19,199 for the base 2WD up to $24,399 for the Luxury 4WD (price as tested). The Suzuki warranty runs for 3 years/36,000 miles (basic) and 7 years/100,000 miles (powertrain).

EPA mileage estimates for the V6 are 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

First Glance

A compact, car-based SUV, the Grand Vitara bears a close resemblance to the competition -- Toyota's RAV4 and Honda's CR-V. Suzuki has put their own stamp on the mold, though, with modern-looking sharp creases along the hood line, fender flares and bumpers. Like CR-V and RAV4, Grand Vitara wears its spare tire on its back gate under a weather-resistant hard shell. And like the others, its back gate is hinged on the right -- the wrong side for US driving.

Short overhangs front and rear contribute to the Grand Vitara's muscular, ready-to-off-road look, though a close look reveals modest 7.9" ground clearance -- not enough for serious off-roading.

Fit and finish on the Grand Vitara's exterior are excellent. Nice paint, secure trim pieces and chrome, good fit on all the body pieces. Grand Vitara is assembled in Japan, unlike some of Suzuki's other offerings, which are assembled in South Korea.

The difference in quality is astounding. Grand Vitara absolutely measures up. My favorite feature on the Grand Vitara is the shape of the taillights. They follow the lines of the body, wrapping around the rear corners from the SUV's beltline to its bumper. The shape is unique, attractive and totally organic to the Grand Vitara's design.


In the Driver's Seat

Suzuki's good work continues inside the Grand Vitara. I found the driver's seat to be a good fit for my bulky 6'2" frame. Quality leather seating surfaces are part of the Luxury Package, along with a nice level of standard equipment. Suzuki has thrown a few tricks into the mix, including keyless ignition, a feature usually reserved for higher end luxury. Heated front seats, power seats, windows, locks and sunroof, 6-disc CD changer and XM Ready stereo, cruise control and Homelink system are all included. The steering wheel is adjustable for tilt but not for reach, and features audio and cruise control buttons. Grand Vitara's gauges are big, round and clear, a theme that is echoed in the climate controls and radio.

Grand Vitara's back seat is roomy and comfortable enough for two adults. The back seat headrests nestle into the seat when they are not in use, preserving sight lines for the driver. It's easy to fold the seats down to increase cargo space, but they don't fold flat into the floor -- they leave a bit of an uneven load surface. There are plenty of cubbies and storage spaces scattered throughout the Grand Vitara, a great utility feature. A light duty cargo hold cover is included -- don't put anything heavy on top, though.

On the Road

I wish Grand Vitara's 2.7 liter 24-valve V6 cranked out more than 185 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque -- it's not enough to give the SUV any real zip. Oh, performance is adequate, but just adequate. It's the part of the tradeoff to get 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway, I guess. At least the five speed automatic transmission does a good job of keeping the engine in its power band, without much hunting or shifting. I wanted more power to motivate the 3682 lb vehicle. Towing capacity is 3,000 lbs -- so leave that yacht hooked up to your F250.

Grand Vitara's ride is good, with body roll and handling at car-like, rather than truck-like, levels. Independent front suspension with MacPherson struts (is there any other kind?) and rear multi-link soak up the bumps. Front disc/rear drum brakes are equipped with ABS, traction control and stability control.

Front and rear curtain airbags and front side airbags are standard. A 17.3 gallon gas tank can take you as far as 400 miles before you have to fill up or call Suzuki's 24/7/365 Roadside Assistance (included in the sale price).

Driving the Grand Vitara is not exhilarating, but it is satisfying. The SUV has a solid, planted feeling on the road, and a classy ambiance. This is a really nice compact SUV.

Journey's End

The big Suzuki "S" on your grille has not stood for "Superb" for quite a while. The 2006 Grand Vitara is out to change that. With a great array of standard equipment and a very reasonable bottom line, Grand Vitara may lure buyers who have never given Suzuki a second look. Before you buy a Grand Vitara, though, you owe it to yourself to check out the competition.

The Toyota RAV4 was newly redesigned for 2006, and it is stiff competition indeed. Honda's CR-V is a little smaller, a little lighter-duty than RAV4 or Grand Vitara, but it has quite a following and is a fine little SUV. Hyundai's Tucson brings a lot of standard features to the party. The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner offer a more American take on the compact SUV, with a lot of option packages available including hybrid gas-electric powerplants. Don't forget the Kia Sorento or the Saturn Vue -- both are well-priced, if a little less luxurious than the Grand Vitara.

If you choose a Grand Vitara, you can save a little money by selecting a lower level of trim, and there's a 2WD version available. Whichever Grand Vitara you choose, you'll be getting a unique, attractive SUV with a lot to offer.

Hopefully, the glow from Grand Vitara will expand across the Suzuki lineup.

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Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.