Base spec new Suzuki Grand Vitara anything but rock bottom
Opening in the Grand Vitara range has more than its share of merits, but is let down but one aspect.
Suzuki has gone to significant lengths to differentiate the Grand Vitara from its twin, the Toyota Urban Cruiser.
Value for money very much epitomises Suzuki‘s current range of models and why it rapidly leaped up the monthly sales charts to become South Africa’s third best-selling marque behind Toyota and Volkswagen.
GV next in success story?
In fact, a quick glance at Hamamatsu’s product portfolio drives the point home rather dramatically – all but one model carries a price tag of more than R500 000.
That offering in question is the hybrid, all-wheel-drive version of the new Grand Vitara, which returned to South Africa this year as the replacement for the soon-to-be-discontinued Hungarian sourced Vitara.
Made in India as part of the ubiquitous joint venture between Suzuki’s Maruti division and Toyota, the twin of the Toyota Urban Cruiser, sold without the hybrid denoting Hyryder suffix in South Africa, represents a slightly different take on the value for money principle.
Different market approach
Compared to its sibling, the Grand Vitara, or GV as Suzuki refers to it internally, puts spec first in the guise of more features as opposed to only the essentials.
Of course, the knock-on effect is a slightly higher price. In the case of the top-spec GLX without the hybrid drivetrain and all-wheel-drive system, the sticker amounts to R417 900 versus the comparative Urban Cruiser Xr’s R379 100.
Sitting below the GLX, the GL opens the GV range, and despite having more in common with the Urban Cruiser Xs, it is anything but spec bare with a decent amount of kit included on the R359 900 automatic tested here.
Versus the Xs, the GL gets cruise control as standard, along with a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and rather crucially, a rear windscreen wiper.
Fitted with the same engine as the Urban Cruiser, and riding on the Suzuki developed C-platform, the GV’s main caveat is the loss of four-wheel-drive and the low range gearbox added to the go-anywhere appeal and ability of the previous generations.
A designation that has quickly become the mainstay of Suzuki’s trim level denominators though, the GL specced Grand Vitara showed it’s worth during the weeklong stay, albeit with one point of content requiring careful consideration before signing on the dotted line.
Arguably more striking and aggressive than any previous generation, the Grand Vitara’s styling has little contention about it as, in untypical joint venture form, Suzuki has gone to some lengths to distinguish it from the Urban Cruiser.
While the look of the 17-inch wheels is more imitation alloy than real, the overall aesthetic is neat and topped-off well by the chrome grille, satin silver skidplate, colour coded door handles and mirrors, and full LEDs for the head and daytime running lights.
At the rear, the Suzuki is more relatable to the Toyota as bar the design of the LED light clusters, nothing else has been changed to appear different.
Interior functional but not stripped
Step inside, the alternations are even harder to spot as the dashboard and design are identical. In fact, besides spec, only the Suzuki ‘S’ badge on the steering wheel gives the game way.
As experienced on the Urban Cruiser earlier this year though, the interior is still a pleasant place to be as apart from the functional and logical ergonomics, plus the workings of the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, space is impressive with rear passengers especially unlikely to complain much about head or legroom.
While some of the materials do exhibit a cheap finish, buyers shopping at this end of the market are unlikely to be phased much, especially as the plastics feel durable and the silver inserts a welcome addition in offsetting the swaths of black and grey fabrics.
Aside from being spacious, opening the Grand Vitara’s tailgate reveals a capacious boot capable of taking 310-litres of luggage, or as much as 1 147-litres with the 60/40 split rear seat folded down.
Besides the spec items mentioned, the GL’s remaining furnishings comprise a 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster display, keyless entry and push-button start, a height adjustable driver’s seat and steering column, all around electric windows, electric mirrors and automatic air conditioning with rear vents.
In addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the GL’s suite of safety systems include six airbags, rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, Electronic Stability Control and Hill Start Assist.
As on the Urban Cruiser, and indeed the majority of current Suzuki models, the omission of auto lock/unlock doors remains puzzling and in need of a rethink.
When four does not work
It is on the move, however, that the Grand Vitara’s biggest flaw becomes apparent, namely the four-speed automatic gearbox paired to the 1.5 K15B petrol engine underneath the bonnet.
The complete opposite of the sweet shifting and engaging five-speed manual Suzuki has become renowned for, the self-shifter shows its medal in town driving by being smooth, before completely falling apart when the terrain gets hilly or when more power is needed.
Slow to shift when some of the Grand Vitara’s 77kW/138Nm is required in earnest, the ‘box proceeds to go on a truly annoying hunting spree between third and fourth gears due in part to its ratio configuration.
Once at the national limit, the hunting stops and refinement becomes more agreeable as evident by the tachometer laying well under 3 000 rpm.
Tasked with overtaking though, the process repeats itself, complete with a nasty drone as the revs climb the moment third gear is hooked.
Despite the GV being no heavyweight at 1 170 kg, the transmission, whose overdrive function was permanently engaged throughout the seven day stay, does it no favours as the engine’s agreeable pull is all but eradicated the moment “hunt” mode becomes active.
It is an unfortunate blight as the Grand Vitara is an otherwise pleasant thing to drive with enough steering feel for the segment and a supple ride that dampens imperfections with distinction.
Similar to the Urban Cruiser, the Grand Vitara offers-up 210 mm of ground clearance, plus a full-size steel spare wheel underneath the boot board.
The foibles of the transmissions aside, the often lauded standout of many Suzuki products again showed as after seven days and 462 km, the Grand Vitara recorded an indicated best fuel consumption of 6.3 L/100 km, 0.3 L/100 km down on the official claim.
Wandering onto a different route from one familiar and well travelled often comes with a number of pitfalls when done wrong. In the case of the Grand Vitara, Suzuki’s different take on value has worked out favourably.
Excluding its spec, the GL makes a strong case by not only being roomy, but also practical and with sufficient “off-road ability” more than able to embarrass bigger and more expensive SUVs in spite of lacking all-wheel-drive.
Hobbled only by the gearbox, the starting model in the Grand Vitara range is otherwise impressive and while no longer the affordable bundu-basher it once was, a surefooted urban uhm… cruiser worth taking serious note of.