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Driving the 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara feels like going back in time. Its boxy shape hearkens back to truck-based SUVs, before all this crossover-madness hit. A simple knob on the dashboard switches the four-wheel drive between high and locked high and locked low, just a step beyond locking hubs. And the price, at just over $27K for the highest trim, loaded version, takes us back a couple of decades.
But the Grand Vitara isn't being consciously retro like the Chevy Camaro; it just hasn't been aggressively updated to modern standards. The stereo has features that were current 10 years ago, and the automatic transmission only has five gears. To give the car a tech edge, Suzuki integrates a Garmin Nuvi 765T GPS unit into the dashboard, giving it navigation and Bluetooth phone features.
Cabin tech by Garmin
The cabin's hard plastics indicate that the Grand Vitara is an economy SUV, and the Limited trim version's fake wood trim in the door handles, perforated leather, and manually adjustable seats do little to change that perception. Although the rear seat is big enough for three people, legroom becomes nonexistent with the front seat pushed back, which could be a problem for tall drivers with families. Cargo space seems ample, and we like the rear cargo cover.
The Grand Vitara's rear door is side-hinged.
The stereo doesn't deviate from the economy theme, using a mere four speakers set into the doors. A single-disc player reads MP3 CDs, an auxiliary input sits near the tuning knob, and Satellite Radio is an option. There is no disc changer or USB port, and certainly no onboard hard-drive storage.
Audio quality from this stereo didn't upset our viewpoint of the car; the four speakers sent their muddled sound washing around our feet, with the only saving grace being an amp that could spit out some reasonable bass. Just forget about qualities such as clarity or separation.
Speaking of saving graces, the Grand Vitara, at least in Limited trim, offers a few. Audio controls on the steering wheel keep it from resting on the bottom of the barrel, and a smart key raises it another rung.
A Garmin GPS device, branded as Suzuki Trip, serves for navigation and Bluetooth.
But the inclusion of the Garmin GPS unit, standard in our Grand Vitara and branded as Suzuki Trip, keeps the car from being a total tech failure. For a complete rundown of the Garmin's features and performance, read our review of the Nuvi 765T. Suffice to say that it earned 3.5 stars out of 5 in our review, and not only brings navigation and a phone system into the car, but also Bluetooth streaming to the stereo and a digital music player.
What is worth talking about is how Suzuki integrates the device with the Grand Vitara. Set into a plastic binnacle on the dashboard, it pops open on a spring-loaded hatch. The Nuvi 765T rests in a Garmin dock, and can be easily removed, although we found the hatch subtle enough that it wouldn't readily attract thieves. With a second dock, or just a power cable, you could use the Nuvi 765T in other cars.
All audio from the device plays through the Grand Vitara's stereo. We were impressed that, when it played route guidance directions or a phone call came in, the CD paused rather than simply muted. But call quality through the Grand Vitara's speakers wasn't particularly good, with plenty of breaks in the signal.
With its independent suspension, the Grand Vitara should have a carlike ride, but it still leans toward economy. It rocked and rolled us driving along rough asphalt, making every fault in the road felt.
The steering is tight and responsive, but we almost wish it were dialed down. As the suspension reacted to rougher pavement we had to make constant corrections, not something we want to do for hours at a time driving down the freeway.
Although the Grand Vitara is not particularly tall, it does feel a little tippy when going around corners, so we wouldn't recommend if for lead-footed drivers. That said, it does have stability control standard, which should help keep it upright
A dial on the center stack lets you choose the four-wheel drive mode.
Suzuki opted for a relatively small engine in the car, a 3.2-liter V-6 making 230 horsepower and 213 pound-feet of torque. Though it's no powerhouse, it proved perfectly adequate for the Grand Vitara, with reasonable fuel economy at an EPA-rated 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. During our testing on city and mountain roads, and freeways, we came in at 20.3 mpg, right in the middle of the EPA range.
That engine is mated to a five-speed automatic, a slightly primitive gearbox that occasionally hunted for the right gear. This transmission doesn't allow manual shifting, but it does have three low ranges.
The only place where the Grand Vitara gets interesting is in its four-wheel-drive system. With a dial on the dashboard, you can lock the center differential and choose between high and low modes. Descent control is also available at the push of a button.
Locking the four-wheel drive and descent control helps the Grand Vitara out off-road.
We put the Grand Vitara through a small dirt course that incorporated mud puddles, deep ruts, descents, and ascents. With highway tires, we didn't expect it to climb walls, and the suspension isn't built for serious articulation, but the four-wheel drive did what it was supposed to.
Even with partial traction loss in a mud puddle, the loose wheel continued to dig in as the other wheels helped push the Grand Vitara through. Up a dry, rutted road, the car scrambled, maintaining traction reasonably well. Using the descent control, the Grand Vitara built up a little more speed than we would have liked, but it stopped without much slip when we put on the brakes.
We had the top trim 2010 Grand Vitara, a Limited model with 4WD and a V-6 engine. At the bottom of the lineup is a rear-wheel-drive model with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, starting at $18,999. As the fuel economy improvement is only minor with the smaller engine, we would recommend the V-6, and there is little point to the car unless you get it with 4WD.
As for cabin tech, the Grand Vitara would have scored very low if it wasn't for the borrowed tech of the Garmin 765T. However, that Garmin unit isn't the best we've tested. It is well integrated with the Grand Vitara, although we still favor true in-dash systems. The stereo was mediocre, and this SUV really could have used a backup camera.
The power train doesn't take advantage of any new technologies, but we do like that Suzuki went with a smallish V-6, to optimize fuel economy. A five-speed transmission is almost difficult to find in this era of six gears and beyond. We give the Grand Vitara credit for its four-wheel-drive system, which goes beyond merely shunting torque between front and rear axles, actually giving you control for rugged terrain.
|Model||2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara|
|Trim||Limited V6 4WD|
|Power train||3.2-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.3 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||n/a|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, auxiliary input, SD card reader in navigation unit|
|Audio system||Four speaker|
|Price as tested||$27,523|