Suzuki’s midsize towable SUV offers good mileage, seating for five, and a 100,000-mile warranty.
By Jim Brightly, F385406
Suzuki’s TV ads ask, “Are our cars as much fun as our bikes?” Well, I can’t speak to how much fun Suzuki’s motorcycles are “” unfortunately, I haven’t forked a two-wheeler in this millennium “” but I can speak to how much fun the Grand Vitara is. It’s truly a kick in the head to drive!
Its 185 horses really give you a kick in the pants, too, and you’ll have to train your right foot “” especially after towing the vehicle with your motorhome “” to go easy at each green light. Not only is the Grand Vitara peppy to drive, its manners on curves and corners on both macadam and dirt are easily among the best I’ve experienced in an SUV.
In addition, the Grand Vitara’s EPA mileage estimates (19 mpg-city/23 mpg-highway) are as close to the real world figures as I’ve seen. During my test, I added more than 300 miles to the SUV, covering more than 200 miles on the open highway at 70 mph, 50-plus miles on dirt, and the rest in city traffic. The overall average fuel mileage for the test was an excellent 20.7 mpg, which I was able to monitor while driving via the Grand Vitara’s dashboard electronics.
The Grand Vitara is factory approved for flat towing behind a motorhome (with either five-speed transmission “” manual or automatic). For this particular towing test, Suzuki contracted with Berea Automotive in Berea, Ohio, to equip the 2007 SUV with a Blue Ox BX3520 base plate, BX8869 wiring for the towing lights, BX8806 safety cables, and an Aventa LX BX7446 ball-type 10,000-pound tow bar (which might be considered overkill for the 3,800-pound vehicle). An M&G auxiliary braking system also was installed on the Suzuki, which normally would be attached to the towing motorhome’s onboard air system. Since in this case the Allegro motorhome used in the tow test was not equipped with an air brake system, I employed a Blue Ox Apollo portable “brake-in-a-box” auxiliary brake that connects to the towed vehicle’s brake pedal to apply its brakes. All this equipment is why we tested a 2007 model rather than wait for a 2008. However, we did double-check with Suzuki officials about any changes in the model-year 2008 Grand Vitara, and the only change of note is a slight price reduction (less than $100); so, all the equipment and handling capabilities of the 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara will remain the same as those of the 2007 model.
Setting up the Suzuki for towing is a bit different from other SUVs. Since the driver doesn’t need to put the key in the ignition to start and operate the engine “” but it must be in the vehicle at the time for its “smart key” to work “” it took a bit of thinking to make sure the Suzuki’s driveline and steering were free to follow. (On some cars, the ignition key can also unlock their doors electronically so that the driver never has to remove the key from his pocket or her purse; on the Grand Vitara, the smart key had to physically unlock the doors via the remote.) In order to unlock the steering, the key must be inside when you twist the ignition to the “off” position, but it doesn’t have to remain in the car while towing. It must again be in the car when it’s started or the steering is relocked. To disengage the driveline, the transfer case control switch on the dash must be twisted all the way to the left, pulled out slightly, twisted again counterclockwise a bit, held until the neutral light is lit, and released. Prior to doing this, the owner must carefully read all the instructions for this operation in the owner’s manual, and then constantly refer to the manual while performing this task.
I also strongly suggest that you practice the task several times without having the Suzuki attached to the motorhome, until you’re sure that you’re actually disconnecting the driveline before attempting to tow it. Once you’ve attached the Grand Vitara to your motorhome, with the engine idling, test its driveline disconnection by running the five-speed automatic transmission through the gears a few times to make sure that there’s no indication that the engine/transmission is still connected to the axles; then leave the shift lever in “park.” I’m sure the task will become easier with each hookup. The Suzuki’s slim lines tuck in behind the motorhome without disturbing its airflow, and the vehicle then follows the coach like a dog’s tail follows its body.
To sum up, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is fun to drive. It’s comfortable, can carry five folks (although I wouldn’t recommend the backseat for above-average adults for any length of time), and you can believe the EPA miles-per-gallon estimates on the window sticker. You’ll enjoy its seven-year/100,000-mile, nondeductible, fully transferable warranty, and it’s equipped with a dual-speed transfer case for those who like exploring off-the-beaten-path locations (just watch the ground clearance).
For more information and a video tour of the Grand Vitara, go to http://www.suzukiauto.com/.