Friday, April 12, 2013
Long renowned for its benchmark offroad capability in the compact SUV class, the Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban Navigator trades bush-bashing prowess for – as the name suggests – a focus on urban utility, being only two wheel drive.
As the badge also suggests, the Urban Navigator gets satellite navigation as standard equipment, in addition to climate control, both unique features for an SUV that retails with a standard automatic transmission for $29,990 driveaway.
Although the Urban Navigator sends drive to just two wheels, unlike the rest of the compact SUV cohort that power only the front wheels, this Suzuki Grand Vitara is rear-wheel drive.
That means no wheelspin when quickly moving away from the traffic lights in the rain, but equally it doesn’t translate to the sparkling dynamics for which the rear-wheel-drive layout is commonly known.
The 2.4-litre four cylinder petrol engine is the same unit used in the Suzuki Grand Vitara Sport and Prestige four-wheel-drive models, producing 122kW of power at 6000rpm, and 225Nm of torque at 4000rpm – about average for this class of car.
Many two-wheel-drive rivals costing about $30,000 utilise a smaller 2.0-litre engine in the entry-level model, including the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander. All of the engines in those entry models lack power to push what are fairly heavy cars, affecting performance, refinement and economy.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara has its own driveability issues, however. The 2.4-litre offers stronger performance than its smaller-capacity rivals, but it is a coarse and noisy engine that needs to be worked hard to deliver adequate response, even around town.
It is also the only SUV in its class to be tied to a four-speed automatic transmission. All rivals either get a six-speed auto, or a continuously variable transmission, both of which are markedly superior. Even using Power mode, gears aren’t held when the throttle is lifted, resulting in regular ‘hunting’ through ratios and flaring of revs.
The Grand Vitara Urban Navigator weighs 1561kg, or 44kg less than the all-wheel-drive Sport, so performance is improved compared with the offroad-oriented models. But we still recorded a disappointing fuel consumption average of 11.7L/100km during a mix of urban, freeway and harder-style driving on a mountain pass.
Despite being only two-wheel drive and wearing ‘Urban Navigator’ badges, some of the Grand Vitara’s traditional offroad characteristics come through on the road.
It feels solid and tough, yet that also means a suspension tune that is occasionally too firm around town. Really big potholes and ridgelines affect the Grand Vitara’s composure and reduce occupant comfort levels, but on smooth roads the Suzuki is settled and quiet.
Its steering system is slow – resulting in lots of arm-twirling when navigating into a shopping centre carpark spot – and lacks immediacy just off the centre position. But it is also reasonably direct off centre and consistently mid-weighted, being neither too light nor arm-achingly heavy.
A competent stability control system keeps the Grand Vitara controlled through corners, because the chassis moves around quite a lot when driving enthusiastically. It is quick to lose grip at the front end, yet equally keen to snap into oversteer – where the rear end steps out – under little provocation.
Once accustomed to its keen cornering traits, the Suzuki can be quite fun to drive with intent, but its behaviour isn’t as planted as most compact SUV models.
Just as the four-wheel-drive Grand Vitara is known for its offroad prowess, the two-wheel-drive model doesn’t alter the fact that the Suzuki is one of the least dynamic cars in its class.
Inside, the Grand Vitara Urban Navigator rivals the sprawling space of its roomiest rivals.
Its back seat is set high, slightly higher than the front seats, which when combined with a low waistline presents rear seat passengers with a commanding view of the world.
Seat comfort is fine, and the backrest tilts to further enhance comfort for rear riders. Legroom is competitive for the class, but headroom is limited and rear seat air vents are not available.
Further back, the boot offers a class average 398 litres of space – less than a RAV4 and CR-V, but about the same as CX-5 and Forester.
It extends to 758 litres with the rear seat folded over, or 1386 litres with the rear seat flipped up against the front seats.
The side-opening rear barn door is heavy, though with a full-sized spare wheel attached to it, if you get a flat kerbside you won’t have to drive at 80km/h to the nearest tyre repair centre like most rivals with a space-saver, speed-limited spare tyre necessitate.
Up front, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is very basic, but it also covers the basics well.
The driving position is fine, despite the steering wheel only adjusting up and down, not in and out, and the colour touchscreen is as simple to use as the straightforward climate controls.
The cabin design betrays the seven-year vintage of this generation of Suzuki Grand Vitara, however. Hard plastics and basic cloth trim are reminders of the sub-$30,000 price tag, but all similarly priced competitors also have a higher standard of fit and finish. Our 2000km-old test car featured an ill-fitting glovebox and squeaky air vent controls.
Available for less money in three-door spec, and slightly more for all-wheel-drive or with a diesel engine, the Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban Navigator is perhaps the sweet spot in the range.
It may lack the offroad capability for which the nameplate is renowned, and most rivals offer greater polish in key areas, but this Suzuki Grand Vitara offers decent practicality, impressive standard equipment and expected Japanese reliability.