Though not at the head of the pack in the compact SUV market segment, the Grand Vitara has been a steady seller for Suzuki and, though it's a little less sophisticated than rivals such as the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, it has its own charms.
In 2009, two engines were available: a 2.4-litre four cylinder, and a new 3.2-litre V-6. This latter powerplant replaced a 2.7-litre V-6 and came with a five-speed automatic transmission only.
Engine output for the V-6 was a healthy 230 horsepower and 213 ft-lbs of torque, and the 4WD system featured three settings: 4High for moderately challenging conditions, 4High Lock for off-road driving, and 4Low Lock for especially nasty, low-speed terrain. All were accessed via a rotary dial to the left of the shift lever. The Grand Vitara also had an available hill descent and hill start assist control, and, thanks to its relatively light weight (1,633 kilograms), it could more than hold its own if things turned ugly.
The four-cylinder version delivered 166 horsepower, which was enough to move the Grand Vitara along nicely in most conditions. It also delivered slightly better fuel economy in town than the V-6 (11.2 city/8.6 highway versus 12.5/8.6). However, the automatic transmission in the four-cylinder version only had four speeds.
The '09 Grand Vitara's back door was hinged on the passenger side, and did not extend past the edge of the vehicle body when fully open. This made for rather awkward loading when it came to large items, and could be an issue in crowded parking lots. As well, the spare tire was mounted on the outside of the back door. The majority of SUVs in this segment had upward-opening rear doors with their spares located under the rear floor, so the Grand Vitara was old-fashioned in this regard. Still, you could get the usual modcons with the Grand Vitara, as well as leather upholstery, climate control, and a completely redesigned interior for this year.
Inside, there was 1,950 litres of reasonably flat cargo area, with all the seats folded. In comparison, this year of the Honda CR-V was good for 2,064 litres, while the RAV-4 had 2,072 litres.
On the other hand, you can't get a V-6 engine with the 2009 CR-V, nor the same calibre of 4WD system, and unlike most other compact SUVs, the Grand Vitara was actually meant to be taken off-road.
Just one safety recall to report and it concerns four-cylinder versions. The alternator drive belt can have a faulty automatic tensioner that could, if not attended to, fail to keep the right tension on the belt, which could eventually lead to loud squeaks emanating from the engine, and ultimately, an engine stall. Easily fixed.
Similarly, there is just one technical service bulletin from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and it deals with one of the most common glitches in the automotive industry: a wonky sensor on the passenger side airbag mechanism. According to NHTSA, if someone shifts their weight while in the passenger seat or if something is dropped on it, the airbag warning light could go off. Again, easily dealt with.
Consumer Reports doesn't have much to say about the '09 Grand Vitara but does note that the four-cylinder model doesn't have much better fuel economy than the V-6 and that both versions have a "stiff jittery ride" on all surfaces. CR also points out that the Grand Vitara offers better than average protection in a front-end collision and is the best there is when it comes to side impacts.
From a base price of just less than $26,000 in 2009, the Grand Vitara has dropped by almost half to $14,000-$14,500 for the base JA. Four-cylinder models are fetching $2,000-$2,500 less than their V-6 counterparts, and the top-of-the-line JLX with all the bells and whistles, is in the $17,000-$18,000 neighbourhood.
If you want to get into the finer points of the Grand Vitara – for all years – there is a fairly comprehensive enthusiast website at Suzuki-forums.com, and it covers a wide range of topics and models.
2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara
Original Base Price: $25,995; Black Book: $14,875-$17,075; Red Book: N/A
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.2-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 166 hp/162 lb-ft for four; 230 hp/213 lb-ft for six
Transmission: Four- and five-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.2 city/8.6 highway (four-cylinder with automatic transmission); regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Jeep Compass, Hyundai Santa Fe, Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sorrento, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chev Equinox, Pontiac Torrent, Nissan Rogue