It has been two years since we last tested the Grand Vitara, and as you can tell from our previous test drives in ’99, ’06 and ’07, we have fond memories of the little ‘ute. With the exception of those insipid engines that Suzuki was always so fond of, it has never disappointed, especially off road. I suppose Suzuki got tired of hearing me whine and gripe about it for the last 7 or so years because for the 2009 model they now offer a nicely crafted, smooth-as-silk 24 valve DOHC 3.2 liter V6 that churns out a respectable 230 horsepower and 213 lb.-ft of torque.
Suzuki claimed that the ’09 Grand Vitara is an “All New” model, which is a bit of a stretch. The body is almost identical and the interior isn’t so vastly different. In fact, parked side-by-side (see photo), one could probably not tell the difference between the 2007, 2008 and 2009 models. However, we can pass the red-face test and comfortably say that they have done an excellent job giving the Vitara a welcome facelift in just the right areas – seats are redesigned and more comfortable, the suspension has been upgraded, and that new 230 HP engine is exactly what was needed. So, not exactly an “All New” vehicle, but in this experts opinion, I’m very pleased and pleasantly surprised with what was delivered.
Moreover, in typical Suzuki fashion, they are still able to deliver a high quality, base-level sport utility for under $20,000 – I have no idea how they do it, but it is one heckuva bargain. Speaking of bargains, our test rig was a 2009 Grand Vitara XSport 4X4 with the larger of the two engines offered and came with a sticker of $25,663 –exactly $2,764 more expensive than the same XSport we tested in 2007. Throw in that new, more powerful engine and deduct about 6.7% for inflation and you have the deal of the year.
Interior and Exterior
The interior and the exterior remain largely unchanged for the last few years of the Grand Vitara. The steering wheel is still a three-spoke design, but now has one fewer button on it. It still offers ergonomic controls for the stereo and cruise control. The center stack, with its climate control, stereo and shifter controls, have been slightly redesigned and offer a cleaner, more modern look. The remains of the interior are standard Suzuki fare – not extravagant but very functional with a clean look, superb visibility, and furnish the front seat occupants with excellent hip, head, shoulder and feet room. If leather seats and rear-view backup camera are amenities you fancy, consider upgrading to the Luxury edition of the GV.
What is new?
Aside from that new engine (more on that later), a sunroof is now a standard feature as is a SmartPass keyless entry and starting system, illuminated steering wheel controls and a few other upgrades such as a slightly redesigned front grille, sliding front armrest, a better audio system, visor extenders, upgraded HVAC controls and updated cloth upholstery.
On the outside, the chiseled panels and squatty, aggressive stance seem to say, “Let’s go, already. I am ready to hit the trail!” The energy it exudes is a visual wake-up-call as you groggily drag your coffee and briefcase to it in bleary-eyed fashion each morning.
The front of the vehicle has some nice, angular protrusions on the lower portion of the grill, giving the Grand Vitara a very utilitarian look about it, and as you will read later, it can walk the talk. The rest of the exterior offers nice curves in the all the right places coupled with accent points at the back of the hood and at the stern, giving the Grand Vitara a nice, clean, yet bullish look about it.
The Grand Vitara has two large front doors and two medium sized rear doors, both of which open quite wide, making ingress and egress a piece of cake even for large-framed people. The rear hatch still opens horizontally (to the right) which makes getting camping gear, groceries, soccer equipment or even large, heavy items in and out of the hatch section a breeze – a very welcome option for those drivers that exceed 5’ 5” tall.
Off Road Experience
In our last test of the ’07 Grand Vitara we took the ute to an area that offered little more than a washed out fire road with some moderate obstacles. Considering how the last few Grand Vitaras performed off-road we decided to step it up a notch with this test. Accordingly, we took it to an area that offered tire-swallowing ruts, steep side-hills and more rugged terrain.
Armed with the new, more powerful engine, a limited-slip center differential, hill descent and hill hold control, and a real transfer case offering 4Hi, 4Hi Lock, Neutral and 4Lo Lock, we wasted no time in putting the 2009 Grand Vitara XSport through some serious paces. We started with some formidable off-camber hills that pitched the Suzuki steeply to the driver’s side. As usual for the Grand Vitara, it held its line perfectly and never felt tippy or uncontrolled. Deep, tire-swallowing ruts were next in an effort to drag the undercarriage and cease any forward motion. The Grand Vitara powered its way through the obstacles effortlessly dragging its belly, clawing at the dirt with all four tires. Steep ascents and descents followed with the same results – surefooted ability.
Even for this more difficult trail, the Grand Vitara continues to provide even the most novice drivers with an exceptionally capable, point-n-shoot driving experience. Off road is where the Grand Vitara really shines and the Suzuki does not disappoint – again.
On Road Experience
After our less-than-desirable 2007 Grand Vitara highway experience, we hesitantly started our road test with a quick jaunt down. We cringed as we started to merge onto the high speed Texas toll way, remembering the oh-so-scary experience of ‘07’s grossly underpowered engine. I waited for a large clearing in traffic and then mashed the go-go pedal firmly into the floorboard expecting a lengthy delay to 60 miles per hour. Instead, I was treated with 230 horsepower which got us to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, almost 2 seconds faster than the ’07 model we tested. This put a particularly large smile on my face, as the missing link for the Grand Vitara since its inception has been a powerful engine – it now has one.
The engine seems quieter than previous years, and the new 3.2 liter is silky smooth though throughout its power range. The wind noise in the Suzuki is still higher than we would prefer, but it is an improvement over previous generations.
With a far more pleasant highway experience under our belt we headed off to a remote section of roads replete with tight, twisty turns and rolling hills. The Grand Vitara will take just about anything you can throw at a sport utility and does so with aplomb. There is some body roll and the tires will roll over a bit when you throw it into a sharp turn, but the Suzuki GV handles the hills and turns better than your garden variety small SUV.
In short, the highway experience is now a much more pleasant one given the extra 45 ponies under the hood, city driving is a piece of cake especially with the solid steering radius and excellent visibility, and driving on the back roads is a real treat.
The 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara has raised the bar without raising it out of financial reach for your average Joe. It is an incredibly easy and fun vehicle to drive both on and off road and excels in the “point-n-shoot” driving methodology. With its new, more powerful engine and low price, you’ll smile from ear to ear as you look at your checking account balance, head off road to get away from it all, or make that grinding daily commute back and forth to work.
We would love to get more sound dampening material into the Grand Vitara and have 9 inches of ground clearance instead of the 7.9 inches it now offers, but despite its somewhat limited clearance it handles the trails with ease. The new amenities for the 2009 model, especially the beefier engine, SmartPass keyless system and the sun roof, are welcome competitive features that enhance your ownership experience.
Looking for the Deal of the Year? The competition hopes that you don’t look at the Suzuki Grand Vitara with the upgraded 3.2 liter engine first, because you likely won’t look any further, and neither would we.
2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara XSport – Additional Images