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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Suzuki’s road-
  friendly Grand Vitara
  was voted Compact
  4x4 of the Year 2007.
  Don’t be fooled —
  it’s perfectly at home
  in the City...

'SOFT-ROADERS' ARE AN ACCEPTED PART OF THE URBAN LANDSCAPE these days, particularly in the road-friendly class that includes vehicles such as the Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe. Suzuki's Grand Vitara is another that fits comfortably into this group. Most buyers of these urban SUVs will never venture off road certainly not on anything more challenging than a wet and muddy field. But should you need to, the Grand Vitara will be happy to oblige.

In fact, earlier this year it was voted Compact 4x4 Of The Year 2007 by Germany's leading off-road magazine, AutoBild allrad. In doing so, the Grand Vitara beat off the challenge of 19 other competitors, vindicating Suzuki's philosophy of providing a combination of genuine off-road competence — permanent four-wheel drive with a lockable centre diff (selected by a rotary switch on the fascia) and low range gears for serious off road excursions — and comfortable on-road performance.

The Grand Vitara is available as a three- or five-door. Three-door models use either a 1.6 petrol or a 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine; the five-door can be had with a 2.0-litre petrol or the 1.9 diesel unit. We tested the five-door fitted with the 138bhp 2.0-litre petrol and automatic transmission. You may not like the 'school run' but, like speed cameras and ill-thought through 'traffic calming' measures that often make the roads more — instead of less — dangerous, it's an inescapable fact of on-road life. You'll want to know that this specification Grand Vitara will certainly be on the shopping lists of Mothers Who Do!

Mothers, understandably, prefer these high-riding vehicles for family 'taxis' primarily because they feel their children are safer in a SUV than a 'normal' car. So they, in particular, will be pleased to learn that Grand Vitara scored highly in the latest Euro NCAP results, earning a four-star rating for adult occupant protection and a three-star rating for child occupant protection. It also achieved a three-star pedestrian rating — making it only the third small off-roader to be awarded three stars, the highest pedestrian rating so far awarded in this category.

While we're on the safety topic, a key element in Grand Vitara's NCAP performance is its unique monocoque construction incorporating, as
it does, a 'built-in' ladder frame — a series of strengthening elements incorporated into the body which provide the passenger cell with exceptional rigidity and prevent deformation. Impact absorbing crush zones direct impact energy away from the cabin. Pedals are also designed to minimise protrusion into the footwell, and a head impact protection structure supplements the curtain airbags.

Commendably, all models come as standard with a full complement of airbags: front, side and curtain for front seat passengers; curtain for those in the back. ISOFIX child seat anchors are standard on the rear seats. Front seatbelts are height adjustable and incorporate pre-tensioners and force limiters. ABS and electronic brake-force dist-ribution are standard, although there is no ESP system as such but it does have permanent four-wheel drive.

And it's nice to know that pedestrian protection measures include an energy-absorbing front structure for enhanced injury mitigation, and
a bumper that uses energy-absorbing materials to help reduce the possibility of serious leg injuries.

The Grand Vitara 2.0 is priced at 15,675 (add 999 for the automatic transmission) and for that you get generous kit that includes climate control air conditioning, tinted glass, front and rear electric windows, reclining rear seats, an integrated radio/CD player with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, tilt-adjustable steering, heated and powered door mirrors, alloy wheels and front fog lamps. Plus, of course, all the safety kit already mentioned.

And it's all packaged into a natty-looking body that during our week's test turned quite a number of heads. Finished in a very attractive Kashmir Blue pearl metallic, it certainly looked the biz with 'sculpted' wheel arches, contemporary clamshell bonnet, front-end styling touches and cast-effect alloy wheels with polished 'spoke' faces. Inside there's an inviting and liveable cabin with the CD-player and its big easy-to-use buttons all neatly integrated into a gently curved centre stack that also houses the knurled no-nonsense rotary-style climate control switchgear.

Remote hi-fi controls are mounted on the steering wheel and the clear dials — central speedometer flanked by a rev-counter to the left and, on the right, by a fuel/coolant temperature/'gear selected' gauge. All three are ringed by heavy silver-finish bezels, and Arctic white graphics ensure clarity at all times. A digital display on the fascia keeps you advised of your average mpg as well as the time and the temperature outside. Build quality is more than satisfactory and the cabin looks tough enough to shrug off 'family' grade wear and tear. In addition, there are enough cubbies (many with quality 'damped' lids) and cup-holders to go round as well as three 12-volt sockets: two on the fascia and a third in the boot.

There's plenty of space for passengers, too, who can enjoy excellent head, leg and shoulder room and — thanks to generous glass areas — an airy cabin affording good views out. Decent seats, upholstered in
a smart 3D-effect fabric, provide long-distance comfort (a 250-mile round trip with no fidgeting is always a sure sign of supportive seats) and you sit high for a typical SUV driving position with a commanding view of the road ahead. In these days of melting icecaps and clammy British summers, decent AirCon is an absolute must: thankfully the Suzuki's climate control air conditioning is very efficient. Smooth-swivelling any-which-way eyeball air vents ensure that cold (or hot)
air accurately reaches its target.

The steering wheel only adjusts for rake/height but this isn't a problem as there's a good range of seat height adjustment for the driver along with a roomy footwell that, should you ever need to, lets you drive in heavy boots. The longer 5-door wheelbase means that there is plenty of room in the back. Worth a special mention are the 10-position re-clining rear seat backrests. Combined with amazingly generous, almost limousine legroom (really!) and a centre rear armrest that's set at just the right height, they make travelling in the back seats a pleasure to be fought over. Another nice quality touch is that the rear windows drop fully out of sight into the doors.

And there's more than enough room for luggage. Fold and tumble the 60:40 split rear seats and you get a flat-floored load bay that extends the 'standard' 398-litre boot to 758 litres. In addition there's a useful storage compartment under the boot floor.

Access from the rear is via a wide side-opening tailgate that — a practical touch this — opens easily to 65 degrees where it is 'checked' so there's no risk of it swinging wildly open in windy weather. From a safety point of view this also means that the tail lights can still be seen by motorists approaching from behind while you're loading. Pull harder, and the tailgate will pass the safety detent and open to its full ninety degrees. Also pleasing to use is the clever three-section lug-gage blind that, when not needed, sits neatly out of the way on the boot floor.

Once aboard you'll find that the Grand Vitara is an easy drive. In fact, it's actually just the right size for today's roads and traffic conditions — neither too big nor too small, yet sizeable enough to handle a variety of tasks from school run kid-carrier to part-time removal van (helping a colleague move home was a breeze) to easy-going everyday transport. The steering is light and accurate and the Grand Vitara's all-independent suspension has been specifically set up for UK roads. As such it offers a decent ride quality with responsive handling that reacts remarkably well (for a tallish vehicle) to the smart three-spoke wheel. The brakes are nicely progressive and offer strong stopping power in that 'you-hardly-notice-them' kind of way — push the pedal and you stop without further ado.

On motorways it's refined, reassuringly stable and perfectly happy to keep up with quick 'average speed' traffic, cruising at 75-85mph with no problems. You definitely don't need 'low-pro' rubber on a SUV — the Grand Vitara runs chunky 65 profile 225 section Bridgestone tyres and they do a great deal for comfort. City drivers will be pleased to know they take the sting out of speed humps and kerbs when there's no other way through.

The 2.0-litre engine revs willingly and coped easily with the numerous steep hills on our test route while returning an average of 28.6mpg — close enough to the official combined figure of 30.1. The four-speed automatic transmission works fine, and there is a power switch that activates a simple 'sport' mode; holding upshifts until further up the rev range for some extra tractability. The Grand Vitara may 'only' have a top speed of 106mph, but it will easily run very close to its maximum if you let it. For the record, it takes 12.5 seconds to hit the benchmark 62mph from standstill.

If you're looking for a well-priced compact 4x4, then you don't have to look much further than Suzuki's Grand Vitara. It looks perfectly at home on city streets, is comfortable and refined and provides practical and personable on-road motoring. Should you choose to venture off-road, then it's equipped with all the right off-roader features — permanent 4WD, locking centre differential and a low-range transfer 'box, as well as the short overhangs necessary for good arrival and departure angles — to put on a good show over harsh terrain. The best of both worlds: a 'soft-roader' that performs satisfactorily both on and off the road.

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Suzuki Grand Vitara 5-door 2.0 Automaic | 16,674
Maximum speed: 106mph | 0-62mph: 12.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 28.6mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 135lb ft

CO2 228g/km

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