If you’ve been following us here at txGarage, especially in the past few weeks, you’ll already know about the annual Texas Truck Rodeo. You might already be tired of us talking about it, but forgive us as we’ll inundate you with yet another story. The Truck Rodeo is a great event that, for the past 5 years, has been held at the Knibbe Ranch in Spring Branch, Texas. Spring Branch is about 40-miles north of downtown San Antonio and is a great venue for this excellent event. It was getting to be time to head out from Dallas to San Antonio and we were looking for a good ride for the trip. It’s interesting that we happened to get the Grand Vitara as it’s been one of my favorite awd-SUVs for a while now, and although it’s gotten a nice refresh for 2013, it’s not entered into the event. So instead of testing it off-road, we’ll be reviewing it as a road-trip vehicle.
Let’s first look at some history of the Grand Vitara. Likely, you don’t know much about this vehicle. You might be aware that Suzuki sells some SUVs and a car or two, but it probably doesn’t even pop into your head as you’re going through its competition. The first generation was built in 1989 and was a shared platform with many manufacturers. If you don’t know of the Suzuki Vitara or Sidekick, you probably have heard of the Geo Tracker or Chevrolet Tracker. In 1999, the Vitara received a refresh and we saw, for the first time, the nameplate Grand Vitara. These SUVs where very small compared to the big SUVs of the time and built quite cheap, like most everything at the time. It wasn’t until 2006, and the 3rd-generation, where Suzuki took over all production and development of the Grand Vitara. This was a much more handsome and capable SUV, and Suzuki fitted it with a really nice interior for the time. Unfortunately, they didn’t feel the need to change or update this for the next 7-years. Besides a few powertrain changes and the addition of a pop-up GPS unit, the Grand Vitara has been unchanged since 2006.
Now we have a refresh for the 2013 model year, but being a refresh, this still contains only minor changes. Looking at this vehicle from the front, it’s easy to spot the 2013 over the previous model year. The front grille has been reworked with two swooping bars behind the Suzuki badge. You also get a reworked front bumper and headlights that are a little more stylized. Besides the front end, as you move around the vehicle, it gets harder, if not impossible to decipher from the previous model year.
Under the hood, you have a powertrain carried over from the 2012 as well. While from 2006-2008 you could pick up a Grand Vitara with a V6 engine, you can now only have it with Suzuki’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine pushing 166-horsepower and 162 lb-ft or torque. This can be hooked up to either a 5-speed manual transmission or an archaic 4-speed automatic. So while we see little updates with the outside, under the hood is still running 5-year-old technology.
Our tester was a two-wheel-drive model equipped with the 4-speed auto, which is rated at 19-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. During our stint down the highway from Dallas to San Antonio, we averaged just over 25-mpg and we averaged just over 23-mpg during everyday driving. These numbers are actually not bad considering the technology you’re working with, but there was still another problem on this front. Although you were able to achieve decent fuel economy, the tank size is quite small for an SUV. Filled to the brim you’re only looking at just about a 300-mile range. That means by the time we were getting into San Antonio, a 288-mile journey, and the fuel light is already illuminated.
Another area of upgrade for the 2013 Grand Vitara is the interior. This SUV has, and has had, a very utilitarian interior. Although the leather seats are nice, you can also have rubber floor-mats and mesh cloth. It’s an SUV made to be able to drive off road and get you to where you need to go to live an exciting life, or so says Suzuki marketing. When Suzuki was trying to move into modern times and decided to add GPS into the Grand Vitara, they chose to add a popup unit from the top of the dash. Some praised this system, but there were many more who didn’t understand. It looked like it was just thrown in, and it kind of was. Now, though, your GPS is integrated into the dash and looks much more purposeful.
The new navigation and audio system features voice recognition and touchscreen input, lane guidance, MP3 playback, available real-time traffic, plus millions of points of interest. You even get Bluetooth hands-free calling. The Grand Vitara is the only compact SUV with all of this as standard and it works incredibly well.
Although our test vehicle wasn’t an all-wheel-drive vehicle, I can still say with confidence that it’s a very capable vehicle when you need it. I’ve been in snow with a 2010 Grand Vitara with awd and it handled immensely well. I imagine that if we had one available, the Grand Vitara could have completed the off-road track at the truck rodeo as well as just about anything out there.
This SUV has one big distinction from most in its class these days. It might play into the fact that the Grand Vitara hasn’t upgraded in the past 7-years, but it’s one of the few SUVs to still be built on a rear-wheel-drive, true SUV platform, unlike most that have gone the crossover route and are now being built on jacked up car platforms. So the Grand Vitara isn’t the best road-trip vehicle thanks to it’s 4-speed transmission, smaller fuel tank, and older technology, but when it comes to looks and utility, for the guy who isn’t looking to go rock crawling but needs a vehicle that can get him to the riverbed or camping site, the Grand Vitara is a great vehicle. Suzuki still has a lot of problems with marketing and getting their name out to the average American, but they make some great vehicles and the Grand Vitara is definitely one of their best.