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Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 SZ5 5-door

Click to view picture galleryA New Year and a new flagship for
  the 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara
  range — the smartly-styled, well-
  equipped, mid-sized 4x4 with a new
  2.4-litre petrol engine comes at a
  price that
s very nice...

SUZUKI IS STARTING OFF 2009 IN STYLE, with a new Grand Vitara flagship. Powered by a new 2.4-litre petrol engine, it's available in three- and five-door version body styles with new SZ3, SZ4 and SZ5 levels of specification.

The Vitara and Grand Vitara have always sold on their three major strengths: right size; right price; and Suzuki's renowned build quality. Customers love them, and in the UK 85% of Suzuki sales are to retail customers — and the repeat purchase loyalty rate is just as high.

Given that SUV sales are falling and diesel is by far the most favoured source of power in this sector, I'm not convinced that the new 2.4 petrol range is entirely in tune with what customers are going to buy in a difficult and competitive market. That said, Suzuki owners — most of them private buyers — are a loyal bunch, and low mileage users will like the smoother and more powerful petrol engine with higher grades of equipment.

Prices for the new 2.4-litre petrol models range from 13,800 in three-door, SZ3 trim with manual transmission up to 18,250 in five-door form with the top SZ5 specification and an automatic transmission. My test car, the 2.4-litre manual five-door with SZ5 trim and equipment, costs 17,250 — very competitive in this mid-range SUV sector.

The latest Grand Vitara 2.4-litre variants retain the monocoque construction with its in-built ladder frame chassis and added built-in strength to provide the rigidity needed for serious off-roading. The suspension is independent front and rear with coil springs and dampers and the relatively low upper body weight allows for a low centre of gravity, which improves off and on road driving safety.

An electronic stability system is fitted as standard. The four-wheel drive system provides permanent all-wheel drive with a torque sensing limited centre differential distributing power to the wheels with most grip. A simple rotary switch allows the driver to move from normal use 4WD high-range to 4WD lock or 4WD low settings for heavy off-road work.

The new 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine is claimed to be smooth, quiet and refined and produces 167bhp of power in five-door models and 164bhp in the lighter three-door variants. Torque is 168lb ft at 3,800rpm for five-door versions and 166lb ft for the smaller 3-door model. While there's more power and torque than the current 2.0-litre petrol unit (from which it is derived), tailpipe emissions are unchanged at 208g/km for the five-door and 205g/km for the three-door derivatives. However, this does mean they all suffer a current Band F road tax rating costing 210 now and 215 from this coming April.

Officially, the combined cycle fuel economy is 32.1mpg for the three-door and 31.3mpg for the five-door although my test car only mustered 26.3mpg, and that without being pushed hard at all. Automatic transmission options will see the fuel consumption suffer but they all remain within the 225g/km banding so the road tax remains the same. Top speed for my 5-door test model is 115mph, with 0-62mph taking 11.7 seconds. Other versions vary a little.

The exterior styling for 2.4-litre Grand Vitara models, which will be rolled out to the entire range soon, has mild visual changes with sharper lines and integrated door mirrors and indicators. Inside, there are subtle changes and the dashboard now looks simpler and smarter as well. Revised controls are easier to use and include a new multi-information display and air-conditioning control panel.

All models include as standard equipment items such as alloy wheels, air conditioning, electrically-operated windows and mirrors, central locking, 6-CD sound system and front, side and curtain airbags. The top-of-the-range SZ5 versions have, in addition, leather upholstery, heated front seats, electrically-operated glass sunroof, high intensity headlights and larger 18-inch alloy wheels.

In practical load carrying terms, the luggage space for the five-door models is 398 litres with the rear seats in position; but fold them down and this increases to 758 litres. Be aware, though, that the rear load door is side hinged, not a tailgate, and that the height of the load floor is, being an off-roader, higher than most estates or MPVs.

For those Suzuki owners who tow boats, caravans and trailers, the five-door Grand Vitara with this engine has a maximum braked towing capacity of 1,850kgs; the three-door models pull 1,600kgs.

As a well-priced, smartly-styled, well-equipped mid-sized 4x4, the 2.4-litre Grand Vitara will suit both retail and business customers. Although it sets no new standards in this sector, it is better than most car-derived SUVs because it can handle pretty daunting off-roading — and it has price on its side.

It does have faults: I'm not sure the 2.4-litre petrol engine will be the wisest buy because of fuel use and road tax costs; road and wind noise is intrusive; the ride is firm-ish; the suspension doesn't cope well with potholes; and the five-speed manual gearshift is stiff and not very precise. There's also a harsh ride with the large 18-inch wheels.

Offsetting that, the latest Grand Vitara is the right size at the right money, the new engine is smooth, it has smart new looks along with a high level of specification and it handles well. — David Miles

Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 SZ5 5-door
| 17,250
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 11.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 26.3mpg | Power: 167bhp | Torque: 168lb ft
CO2 208g/km