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Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 SZ5 5-door Auto

Click to view picture gallery“Classier looking than most of its
  rivals and sporting a new 2.4-litre
  engine, Suzuki
s face-lifted five-door
  Grand Vitara comes well-equipped
  and well-priced for mid-size SUV
  buyers wanting space, practicality
  and value for money
...

SUZUKI'S LATEST GENERATION GRAND VITARA FLAGSHIP, powered by a new 2.4-litre petrol engine is also available as an automatic as tested here. Fitted with the auto 'box, the top-spec five-door SZ5 costs 18,250 an extra 1,000 over the manual, but is still a pretty good price for a mid-range family-friendly SUV, especially one tough enough to face up to genuine mud-plugging usage should you venture off the beaten track.

The Grand Vitara's four-wheel drive system provides permanent all-wheel drive on- and off-road. A simple rotary switch on the dashboard lets the driver choose between 'everyday' 4H high range permanent 4WD, 4H Lock (for additional traction to power through deep snow or mud) and 4L low range four-wheel drive (again with a locked centre differential) for when the going gets really tough. Also reassuring wherever you're driving is the standard-fit Electronic Stability Programme that includes traction control. Naturally, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist are also standard.

The new 2.4-litre, petrol-fuelled engine produces 167bhp and 168lb ft of torque at 3,800rpm. A new design 'silent' timing chain and balancer shaft help to keep the new engine quiet. The new unit revs freely up to the rev limit and, thanks to the extra power it produces over the 2.0 petrol engine, and the four-speed automatic 'box, everyday driving is far less demanding and much smoother than on any previous Grand Vitara.

Press the A/T PowerShift button alongside the selector lever and you engage a sportier change mode to add a bit more 'zip' to your progress. The benchmark 0-62mph takes 12 seconds although the step-off with the auto transmission feels quicker; real-world 50-70mph acceleration is fine. Maximum speed is 109mph.

CO2 emissions are 225g/km, so a year's road tax at the current rate works out to 210. The automatic's combined fuel economy is officially 29.1mpg (just 2.2mpg down on the five-speed manual) while extra-urban and urban figures are 34.8 and 22.6mpg respectively. Our own test average — with four adults aboard plus a full complement of luggage — and taking in quite a lot of stop/start traffic and low gear driving around narrow country lanes, worked out to 23.2mpg.

Changes to the Grand Vitara's exterior are subtle and as facelifts go, qualify as nothing more extensive than a nip-and-tuck: a revised, clean-cut front-end and new door mirrors with integrated turn indicators inject a dash more visual sparkle. Interior upgrades include chrome and grey wood inlays, better quality switchgear and controls and a new multi-information (external temperature, fuel consumption, driving range and gear position for the automatic transmission) digital display in the main instrument cluster.

“You never have to take
the key out of your
pocket to lock or unlock
any of the doors
or start the engine
...”
Open a door — the handles have a pleasant action and the door doors shut first time with a solid 'thunk'. The cabin is spacious with loads of headroom, and the fascia's smart, well-organised centre stack runs neatly down into the centre console. The instruments are clear and easy to read and easy-to-operate buttons and switchgear are the order of the day and make living with the Grand Vitara a stress-free business. A nice touch is the speedometer needle: at 70mph it is absolutely vertical so checking that you're sticking to the legal limit is no problem. All four windows are power operated although only the driver's glass has a one-shot down feature.

An electrically-operated tilt 'n' slide glass sunroof is fitted and thanks to the one-shot open/close and tilt offers hassle free, one-finger operation. Another well considered touch is the concertina-style side panels on the sunroof that foil draughts when the roof is in its tilt position. A sturdy sun blind ensures you don't need sun-block on the hottest days.

The front seats are well-shaped, upholstered in leather and provide good side support both at the base and the sides. They are also heated — a single setting; but it is both efficient and sufficient. The driver benefits from a commanding driving position with seat height adjustment and height-adjustable front seatbelts are also standard. Although the steering wheel only adjusts for height, it's not a problem. And the leather rim is a comfortable thickness and pleasant to hold. Visibility is excellent — the Grand Vitara easy to place and park because you're aware of all four corners.

Comfort is not restricted to the front row either, with those seated in the back benefiting from adjustable rear seat backrests that have ten recline settings. Recline them as far back as they go and you can really stretch out in the rear. There's also plenty of leg- and headroom, and the low central tunnel also makes it easier for a third rear passenger to sit comfortably in the middle position.

The 'stadium' rear seats are set about six inches higher than the fronts, so rear passengers also enjoy interesting views out while travelling. A well-sited centre rear armrest and outer armrests in the rear doors all help make long trips as enjoyable as possible. As is becoming the norm, the three rear headrests all slide down out of the driver's sight-line when not in use.

You'll also find a good measure of storage space dotted around the cabin, including two handy lidded cubbies in the central tunnel, a fair-sized lockable glovebox, deep front door pockets, sunglasses holder, cup-holders and, beneath the boot floor, a hidden storage box for valuables. Also in the boot are four bag hooks, usefully set at two different heights.

The range-topping SZ5 comes well equipped for the money: standard equipment items include 7-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/60 SP Sport tyres, leather upholstery, heated electric door mirrors, heated front seats, automatic climate control air conditioning, electrically-operated tilt/slide glass sunroof, electrically-operated windows and mirrors, power steering, central locking, fog lamps, tinted glass, rear privacy glass, a 6-CD player with 7 speakers and an MP3-friendly radio with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control (operated by buttons on the steering wheel), roof rails, split/fold rear seats and High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights.

Also standard fit are driver and front passenger airbags, side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags are standard along with Isofix child seat mountings with top-tether anchor points on the rear seats.

Suzuki's Keyless Start system is also fitted to SZ5-spec models, so you never have to take the key out of your pocket to lock or unlock any of the doors (including the tailgate) or start/stop the engine. And a nice little labour saver it is too!

As a no-nonsense family hold-all the Grand Vitara makes the grade. We took four adults (and four individual cases) on a weekend-away trip to Rye and although filled to the brim with additional items such as walking boots, wet-weather coats and even a large cat carrier box (without the cat!), the boot took every last piece of baggage — which left the neatly laid out cabin completely clutter-free and more than able to make four adults feel totally at home.

For the record, the boot is 398 litres with the rear seats in use; fold them down and tumble them forwards so they stack behind the front seats and this increases to 758 litres.

Access to the wide load bay is through a side-hinged tailgate which adds to the ease of use when packed tightly (as was the boot of our road test Grand Vitara) as it can be opened gradually to prevent items falling out. A self-supporting damper helps open the tailgate; then keeps it open while you load up. More good news: the boot floor is above knee height so no back-breaking leaning down when loading heavy items.

Another thoughtful feature is the folding segmented luggage blind that's much easier to use than the more common roller blind types. Having a full-sized spare wheel mounted externally on the back door also frees up more storage space plus, should you ever have need of it, you don't have to empty the boot first.

On the road there's more than enough grip and, despite its genuine SUV DNA, the Grand Vitara is well behaved through the bends. At first acquaintance the steering is light-ish (appreciated when parking or driving around town) but it's also accurate enough to let the driver hurry along if need be. Do so, and there's less body roll than you'd expect. Ventilated front and rear disc brakes ensure stopping is done without any drama.

This Suzuki handles competently and driving it — either on short shopping trips or long motorway journeys — is never a hardship. Ride comfort is pretty good — despite some not-so-good country lanes, not one single complaint from my three passengers (whose regular transport is a four-door BMW 1 Series). While the firm-ish suspension limits body movement for more composed handling, it does let you know when you're travelling over poor quality, pot-holed tarmac.

All in all the new Grand Vitara is a decent car and you certainly don't have to live in the countryside to appreciate it. However, those who use it simply for the school run and never get its wheels dirty off-road are definitely missing something. Wherever you drive it, the Grand Vitara feels at home; you and your passengers will also feel 'at home' — and the auto 'box adds that extra veneer of smoothness to the driving experience. — MotorBar

Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 SZ5 5-door Auto
| 18,250
Maximum speed: 109mph | 0-62mph: 12 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23.2mpg | Power: 167bhp | Torque: 168lb ft
CO2 225g/km