Sensing the market was changing drastically, Suzuki announced last fall it would add a four-cylinder model to its popular Grand Vitara, downsizing one its most popular products at the right time.
Suzuki is no stranger to four-bangers and four-wheel-drive beginning almost 40 years ago with the diminutive SJ410/SJ413. From these two humble vehicles sprang a myriad of offspring sold by Suzuki and by General Motors.
And while the Grand Vitara name has been around for a while, the current generation combines welcome good looks with a proven drive train and proper 4WD, not all-wheel-drive.
To the original V6-powered Grand Vitara was added the new 2.4-litre with variable valve timing that produces 166 hp and 162 ft/lb of torque and can tow up to 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg). Suzuki claims that is double of any of its four-cylinder competitors. The 2.4-litre is fitted with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
Tested here is what is expected to be the most popular/affordable version, the JX four-cylinder with automatic transmission starting at $27,995. In the 2.4-litre versions, Grand Vitara starts with the base JA at $25,995 and goes up to the JLX with automatic and leather seating starting at $29,995.
The JX as tested has standard four-wheel vented disc brakes, automatic climate control, cruise, power windows/doors/locks and heated outside mirrors. Besides six airbags all Grand Vitaras come standard with ABS with electronic brake force distribution and Electronic Stability Control (ESP).
The styling of the Grand Vitara marks it as one of the first Suzukis in a long time to look contemporary. Previously, Suzuki SUVs were long on reliability (they still are) but they just didn’t have the same eye appeal of the competitors like Honda CRV and Hyundai Tucson. That has now been addressed with the 2009 model, but I notice it still retains its signature full spare with cover on the rear, swing-open gate.
The makeover of the interior stands out. Gone are the painfully hard, black plastics and the placement of controls that was almost haphazard. Second, there is finally more than enough front seat travel and, third, the rear seat is one of the longest cushions I can remember. No more numb bum back there.
Grand Vitaras are equipped with a four-mode, dual-range four-wheel system with a centre-locking differential that is controlled by a rotary knob on the dashboard. In 4Hi, the torque is split 47/53, front/rear for normal driving. In heavier going, the differential can be locked in 4Hi-Lock and the torque split is 50/50.
Suzukis have always been known for their engineering be it cars, ATVs, outboards or motorcycles. They built stout and dependable products.
But now that Suzuki has married all that into really stylish offers, like the 2009 Grand Vitara, they look like they’re on the 4X4 road to greater success.
2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara JX
Type: Compact SUV
Price: $27,999 (no options as tested)
Engine: 2.4-litre, inline four-cylinder (166 hp, 162 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: 2.4-litre automatic (as tested), 11.2/8.6L/100 km (25/33 mpg) city/highway
• Proper 4WD?drive
• Modern interior, exterior