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The Suzuki Grand Vitara Retro Review

Stephen Rivers

Here’s our review of the Suzuki Grand Vitara from its birth as a seriously capable Sidekick off-roader to its life as a popular & impressive small SUV.

Remembering the Grand Vitara

2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara - netcarshow.com

2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara – netcarshow.com |  Shop Suzuki Grand Vitara on Carsforsale.com

The Suzuki Grand Vitara was a plucky little SUV that, for a time, gave a boost to the Suzuki brand here in North America. Sales of the small but mighty 4×4 ran from 1999 until 2013 when the entire brand closed up shop and left the United States market. In that short time, the Grand Vitara made a significant dent in the hearts of many. Its small footprint made it easy to drive, its 4×4 capability made it a viable option for those who often found themselves on less than sure footing, and the low price tag made the Suzuki a popular alternative for Jeep fans.

The Foundation For Something Grand

1996 Suzuki Sidekick - carsforsale.com
1996 Suzuki Sidekick - carsforsale.com

Before the Grand Vitara, the Suzuki Sidekick was a big hit in North America. The formula was a simple one, build a capable, small, and inexpensive vehicle that could go anywhere. It proved to be a smash hit and even today the Sidekick is well regarded among off-road enthusiasts despite its age.

In 1998, the Sidekick was redesigned and given a new name, the Vitara. As mainly a 4-door off-shoot of that badge, the Grand Vitara was born with more features than the Vitara and more space. To add even more value, the Grand Vitara was given a larger 155 horsepower engine and a base model with only rear-wheel drive.

Coming To America

2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.5L V6 - carsforsale.com
2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.5L V6 - carsforsale.com

Entering the American market with a roomier SUV in 1999 proved to be a winning move for Suzuki who recognized that trend before it became widely accepted. The Vitara would see sales slowly but surely start to dwindle as its larger counterpart took more and more of the attention. Since this was ultimately the second generation of the platform, it came to America as a much more refined vehicle than other companies like Daewoo who debuted an all-new platform for the first time when trying to gain ground in the North American market. The 2.5L V6 engine found in the Grand Vitara offered 155 horsepower and 160 lb-ft of torque. Power was transmitted via a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual.

1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara - carsforsale.com
1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara - carsforsale.com

A vast majority of Grand Vitara models were equipped with an automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel-drive. This made the Grand Vitara a hit among those living in snowy climates or those in rural areas. While not a luxury car by any means, this small Suzuki is still well known for a robust powertrain that stands up well to abuse and age.

The Grand Vitara offered buyers what could be described at the time as a 4-door Jeep that had a Suzuki badge on it. While it was a hardtop and not a convertible, it offered similar power, more space, and nearly identical off-road prowess. At the same time, what Suzuki really did well was create an interior that was more soft and comfortable than a Jeep of the same time period. This opened the door to many who didn’t want to suffer a rough ride found in other 4x4s. As sales of the smaller Vitara dwindled in the early 2000s, the company shifted its focus fully to the Grand Vitara and brought an all-new version to go on sale in 2004 as a 2005 model.

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2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara - netcarshow.com
2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara - netcarshow.com

The new Grand Vitara took everything that buyers loved about the old car and improved upon it drastically in all but one area. Suzuki found that the majority of buyers simply wanted a reliable, roomy, and comfortable SUV. So, that’s what they built. The new Grand Vitara lost some of its off-road chops in the transition though. Gone was the old-school ladder frame in favor of a new unibody design. The base model still sent power only to the rear wheels, but the rear suspension was now independent as opposed to a solid axle.

2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara I4 - carsforsale.com
2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara I4 - carsforsale.com

While enthusiasts bemoaned these changes, it provided a very practical option for more traditional drivers and one that was well-received. In addition, the Grand Vitara could still be had with full-time 4WD, so it was still far more capable than most other small SUVs of the time. A 4-cylinder engine was available for the first time and, thanks to it making slightly more power than the outgoing V6, it was well-liked. Another V6 option was also available making 230 horsepower and 213 lb-ft of torque.

On the outside, the new Grand Vitara was more striking and angular. Gone were the soft lines of the old SUV. It grew too, adding a bit more size in every direction which allowed for a more spacious interior and a more luxurious feel. Pairing that space with upgraded interior features, design, and components made this Suzuki feel much more expensive than it really was. This upscale design heavily influenced the larger XL7 as well, making both SUVs well regarded in their day. In 2012, Suzuki decided to leave the North American market altogether and production of the Grand Vitara halted with the 2013 model as the final edition.

Is the Grand Vitara Still a Good SUV Today?

2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara - netcarshow.com

2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara – netcarshow.com |  Shop Suzuki Grand Vitara on Carsforsale.com

Looking back on the history of the Grand Vitara, it’s easy to see that it’s not a vehicle for everyone. It’s not going to make passengers feel particularly special or insulated from the road, it’s not going to have the same robust aftermarket that Jeep does, and it’s not going to have the same replacement part support either. Nevertheless, for some, it’s the perfect small, inexpensive, and capable SUV that it has always been. It’s not hard to find a Grand Vitara in great condition for well under $10,000. If that’s your cup of tea, then a used Suzuki Grand Vitara could be the perfect vehicle to take deep into the woods this weekend.

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Stephen Rivers
Stephen Rivers

Stephen is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion. In his free time, he’s usually at a hockey rink, walking his dogs, or on a road bike. His automotive tastes lean towards cars that oftentimes seem to take a pound of flesh for the ethereal pleasure they provide: things like the Lamborghini Diablo, TVR Cerbera, and a C4 Corvette turned into a street-legal go-kart. He drives his Bugeye Subaru WRX in Autocross, Rallycross, and track day competitions throughout the year and daily drives a twin-turbo BMW 535i.

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