Grand Vitara: A new grand design

Closet admirers of Suzuki’s Grand Vitara can finally come out. After nine years of waiting – and with a little help from Renault – a decent diesel has finally appeared in the engine bay.

Coming (as the new diesel does) hard on the heels of a longer, wider and sleeker bodyshell, the faithful must feel quite faint.

Obvious competitors are Land Rover’s Freelander, Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV4, all of which in equivalent spec cost more than £20,000 on the road. Against this, Suzuki’s pricing is keen: a five-door, manual-box 1.9 DDiS – the only diesel offered – is £17,025.

Interior

The new body gains more space and now seats four with legroom to spare. Black is the colour inside, held from oppressiveness by light from a deep front screen and the glint of fake metal inserts. The updated dash is contemporary and easy to live with.

Cloth seats offer reasonable support and height adjustment, the latter only for the driver. Rear passengers get limited support from a 60/40 split bench, but can recline the backrests.

Diesel models come in a single spec with few options. Most of the luxury boxes have already been ticked apart from heated seats, cruise control and a sunroof, while to keep the family safe there’s a full complement of airbags. So, the Grand Vitara looks after you without pampering.

Yet there’s little of the family-friendly stuff that other makers throw in; storage space is average and restricted to the usual selection of boxes and cubbies, plus four cupholders and a shallow, lidded tray in the load area.

The back seats only fold down and forward to make more space, rather than dropping flat. Bay length jumps from 730mm (29in) to 1230mm (48in) as a result to produce dimensions much the same as a Freelander’s.

On the move

Today’s Grand Vitara exchanges a ladder chassis and beam axle for a unitary body and all-independent suspension. The old car hopped and skipped over scarred roads; this one rides with much more suppleness and control.

Handling has also been cleaned up. The new version whisks cheerily through linked bends, its steering quite quick at low speeds and surprisingly on the ball for a 4×4. Body roll is held in check up to moderate speeds but braking generates pitch.

Full-time 4wd is new to the Grand Vitara. The benefit is automatic watchfulness for loss of traction, both on the road and off it; the costs are a small drop in performance and marginally poorer fuel consumption.

Renault supplies the Grand Vitara’s 1.9 litre 127hp common rail turbodiesel. Performance is more adequate than lively (the 0-60 sprint is dispatched in about 13sec), although a true 80mph cruise comes up without stress.

Refinement could be better. Culprits are the engine (louder than today’s norm, especially when worked hard) and tyre roar, although once outside-lane velocity is reached they both fade to passable levels.

Power Farming verdict

A likeable, mid-sized 4×4; something of a bargain, too. Better-looking, better-riding and better-handling than its predecessor, this Vitara avoids innovation in favour of relative simplicity. Give refinement, seat folding and the sideways-swinging rear door a re-think, then it’ll be Grand.