- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Suzuki’s Grand Vitara five-passenger SUV receives welcome refreshment for the 2006 model year. The old model’s exterior styling relied on tacked-on body cladding and disjointed panels to create positive space.

The new design brings integration, as the front bumper blends smoothly into the front fenders, which in turn carry their accent flairs along the bottoms of the doors and back to the rear quarter panels. Glass from the A- to D-pillar appears unbroken by conspicuous pillars, as both the B- and C-pillars are finished in black. Fog lights are housed inside interestingly shaped protruding trapezoids in the lower bumper. Grand Vitara’s wrap-around taillights also reference those of the Equinox.

Although Suzuki offers several different Grand Vitara trims, all versions are powered by a 2.7-liter V6 engine delivering 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. Sophisticated features include DOHC, a zero-maintenance timing chain, variable induction and liquid-filled engine mounts.

Base-level models get a five-speed manual transmission as standard, while up-level Grand Vitaras enjoy a five-speed automatic. Fuel efficiency is slightly better with the auto, with an expected 19 city/24 highway mpg, compared with 18/23 city/highway mpg for manually shifted vehicles. The suspension is fully independent, and the brakes feature standard ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Unfortunately, only the front brakes are discs, as Suzuki still fits the Grand Vitara with drum units out back. Steel 16-inch wheels inside P225/70R16 tires arrive on base models, while 16-inch alloys with the same rubber bolt to the mid-level offerings. At the high end, 17-inch alloys on 225/65 series tires visually enhance the exterior proportions.

Starting at $18.999, base 2WD Grand Vitaras come with power windows/door locks/mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, electronic stability control with traction control, air conditioning with automatic climate control, a CD/MP3 audio system, audio/speed controls on the steering wheel, a 60/40 split reclining rear bench seat and automatic headlights.

For $20,199, a full-time 4WD system with automatic locking hubs and a two-speed transfer case is available. Stepping up to Premium trim ($19,899 for 2WD, $21,099 for 4WD) adds a six-disc and seven-speaker audio system that includes a subwoofer, the 16-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, front fog lamps and roof rails. Opting for the X-Sport 2WD ($21,099) or 4WD ($22,499) model adds the five-speed automatic transmission as standard, plus SmartPass keyless entry and vehicle start that senses the key and hence requires no physical input.

Finally, Grand Vitara Luxury 2WD ($22,999) and 4WD ($24,399) models include 17-inch alloy wheels and tires, a power sunroof, leather seats with heated front units, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, woodgrain trim accents and a universal garage door opener.

Regardless of the model chosen, Grand Vitara arrives with plentiful safety features. The driver’s front airbag deploys in two stages, while the front passenger unit has a cutoff sensor that depends on the weight detected on the seat. Lateral protection for front seat passengers is provided via seat-mounted front side-impact airbags, while standard curtain units protect outboard passengers in both rows. Three-point belts are found at every seating position, and the outboard straps include automatic locking retractors. In the event of a collision, an emergency fuel shut-off device stops the flow of gasoline.

Additionally, electronic stability control that includes traction control uses a variety of sensors to determine the vehicle’s response to the steering wheel input. When a discrepancy is sensed, throttle and braking applications are modulated to keep Grand Vitara in line.

Two 4WD systems are available. The first offering, found on Base and Premium models, is a single-mode setup with a limited-slip center differential. For a more versatile 4WD arsenal, the four-mode system offers a range of settings. In 4High mode, everyday driving is secured via the limited slip differential, while 4High-Lock is designed for deep snow or tough terrain at a higher speed. At a crawl, 4Low-Lock delivers torque for the extra tough conditions.

With a 3,000 lb. towing capacity and cargo volume up to 68.9 cubic feet, Grand Vitara is a capable vehicle, offered at a competitive price. The competent V6 engine, choice of five-speed transmissions and available 4WD systems combine nicely, with the range of equipment. Customers shopping the Grand Vitara should have no trouble finding the proper blend.

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