• Jun 5th 2006 at 11:54AM
  • 22

Fish around in your pants for the Suzuki's fob, punch the unlock button, pull the handle, and clamber inside. Or, rather, you might've, were there actually a need to engage in a bit of pocket-lint spelunking. Not so with the new Grand Vitara. In an unusual move for its class, Suzuki has fitted their compact SUV with a type of keyless entry and start. Oh, there's a fob (a big, chunky one, at that), but you won't need to lay hands on it every time you want to get in or out of the vehicle... that's what those rubberized oval buttons on the two front doors and rear cargo access door are for. Approach the vehicle with the fob somewhere on your person, and the 'Zuki detects its presence, allowing you to open the door (one push on the handle button for your door, two nudges for everyone). It's a system that works well, particularly as keyring-resident box still works as normal. Hidden within is a key for valets and less-than-trustworthy types.

[Click through to the jump for further interior impressions and more than a dozen photos!)

Clamber into the driver's seat, and you're surrounded with a paint-by-numbers small SUV dashboard. On our leather-lined Luxury-spec tester, a meaty, hide-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel makes no apologies for being a Suzuki, with an oversized badge on the steering wheel boss. In front of the driver is a silver-ringed, three-gauge binnacle, 130 mph steering wheel to the center, flanked on the left side by a rev counter, and on the right by a gauge face housing telltales for gas, oil pressure, and a PRNDL readout.

The dashboard is fairly traditional in execution, with ours arriving in a muted tan with some matte-finish brightwork around the 'eyeball' vents and slathered on pair of sizeable vertical endcaps abutting the center console. The dash itself is nicely grained and keeps reflections to a minimum, but somehow looks soft-touch when in fact it isn't. Faux dark wood is kept to a minimum, with bits on the doors and surround the five-speed automatic gearshift selector. Although we can't profess to be fans of fake plastic trees, at least there isn't a forest of the stuff.

A waterfall center-stack houses the usual suspects – HVAC supervision, stereo controls. But hang on a sec-- what's a hardcore item like a driveline selector doing in a cute ute? Well, lo[w range] and behold, the Grand Vitara aspires to off-road credibility, with knob affording low and high range selection, something not likely to be found in competitors like Toyota's RAV4, or even the Chevrolet Equinox, with which the GV shares a limited amount of hardware. Perhaps the only direct competitor in the segment to offer anything other than slip-n-grip all-wheel-drive is Jeep's aging Liberty.

Running top-to-bottom, there's a multi-function display that houses a clock, outside temperature gauge, and an on-the-fly mpg readout of dubious merit. Drop your gaze, and beyond the air vents and the hazard button is a well-integrated six-disc MP3/WMA-compatible changer with XM satellite radio. Its faceplate design is mercifully rational, with just 18 buttons. Hidden throughout the interior are seven speakers, including a pair of tweeters and a subwoofer (lower models must make do with a four-speaker, single-disc setup). For a factory system on a lower-priced SUV, it's a nice piece, though FM reception could be a bit stronger.

Directly below the stereo is the automatic climate control supervision, a two knob affair with an array of buttons fanned out between them. For the most part, the system works well, but we'd have preferred a less style-conscious third knob for directing airflow and an integrated temperature readout. The center console shifter is of the graduated-gate variety, sharing space with a pair of 12-volt outlets and the heated seat activators. A pair of cupholders do their thing adjacent to a smallish armrest with integrated storage, rounding out the center console. Looking for the power moonroof controls? They're sensibly spotted overhead, next to the Homelink buttons.

Ergonomic pitfalls border on the nonexistent in the Grand Vitara, but a few notable omissions do annoy – the power window and lock switches are well-placed, but not all of them are backlit at night. More troublesome is the fact that none of the steering wheel's cruise-control or redundant audio switches are illuminated in the dark, a seriously irritating oversight. Visibility is good all around, with the only caveat that the d-pillars are a shade chunky.

The front seats on our top-rung tester proved quite comfortable even over longer distances, but the cowhide-wrapped chairs didn't offer much in the way of lateral support, discouraging enthusiastic driving over twisty roads. The back row's squabs are even less defined, presumably to more easily accommodate baby seats. This, combined with the lack of a center-position armrest means that back seat passengers are prone to sliding about uncomfortably.  At least there's class-competitive room back there (though it's a bit tight in the hips), and all three perches have adjustable headrests. As they must be raised in order to keep from jutting into a passenger's back, this bothered some occupants, but we think the design promotes proper use of head restraints.

The cargo area is accessed by an off-side hinged door; an inconvenient reminder of the GV's oriental origins that prevents easy loading while parallel parked. Further, the externally mounted spare issues a horrible fiberglass death rattle every time the cargo door is slammed shut – a few additional rubber seals would probably help quell the nastiness a great deal. Unlike some of the smaller entries in its class, there's still room for groceries and/or a few suitcases when the second row is occupied, and the rear seats split/fold/tumble 60/40 to accommodate larger loads, though they do so in a less-than-compact fashion, eating away at valuable space. At least there's a hidden well suitable for valuables and flat objects hidden under our tester's rubber mat.

On the safety front, dual-stage front airbags are standard-fit, with a weight-sensor in the passenger seat. Impressively, full-length side curtains come on even the least-expensive 2WD Grand Vitara, as does electronic stability control with traction control.

All-in, our Luxury Package Grand Vitara appears to be a pretty compelling piece. But until we turn a wheel in anger, we won't be able to render a verdict on Suzuki's latest and greatest. Stay tuned for Day 5.

(Missed out on the Grand Vitara's first installment? Check out Day 1-2 here)

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Greg A.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Re: comment #2, about the keyless entry and start making door lock and ignition cylinders unnecessary:

      The ignition cylinder is needed for the use of the valet key. (By the way, does the valet key lock and unlock the glovebox? If so, that's not ideal.)

      Without door lock cylinders, you can't get in if the vehicle is locked and the battery is dead.
      • 9 Years Ago
      "-So are you telling us, everyone does it?!"

      No, I don't know of any GM DASHES like that. I simply mean if GM and Ford add something out of place or just for the sake of breaking up the monotony like say the plastic on the side of the Grand Am as a great example. Adding that extra layer to the dash is like adding side molding to the last style Grand Am GT. That's all.

      So no Ryan. I didn't state, "When GM and Ford do this" I stated "something like this".

      Get some rest.
      • 9 Years Ago
      What's scary is how identical the interior looks to a Mazda 6!

      The door, HVAC vents, buttons on the steering wheel, buttons to the left of the steering wheel, the e-brake and cup holder placement... insane!

      Not a bad thing at all, just weird.. when I saw these pictures, I thought "Wow if I need spare interior parts I could also buy these ones..."
      • 9 Years Ago
      Mercedes charges over $1,000 for keyless access and ignition, and used to charge twice that. Not that I don't believe the hardware costs $30. That's German option pricing for you.

      One thing I forgot to mention earlier: I don't think the Grand Vitara shares anything with the GM Thetas. The new XL-7 will be a Theta, but it's a totally different vehicle. The GV is a real truck with a longitudinal powertrain.
      • 9 Years Ago
      "With what they save pulling 2 door locks and an ignition lock out of the equation, manufacturers come out ahead."

      A friend of mine just bought one of these last week and has the keyless entry system. There is an ignition lock and you have to turn it to start the vehicle. I can't tell you how bizarre it is to see an actual ignition cylinder being turned with *no key inside*!
      • 9 Years Ago
      I haven't driven this car yet, but did poke around the interior of one at the SF Auto Show and it is indeed impressively upscale. The Saturn VUE comes close for styling sophistication, but neither it nor the Escape, Equinox, Torrent, or Liberty come anywhere near in terms of materials quality or consistency.

      Granted, we're talking subtleties that much of the public might not even notice. But the details add up. Since the VUE was mentioned, for example, its column stalks snap loosely from side to side, while the Suzuki's click like a Lexus's. The VUE's panel gaps are wider and less consistent. And its glovebox and storage lids close with nasty clunks.

      Yeah, so I sound like a Consumer Reports review... but given previous Vitara interiors, the new one is a revelation. Hopefully it's a harbinger of the quality of products we'll see from Suzuki in the next few years.

      Oh, and I'm not sure how the Vitara's dash looks any more "melty" than the new VUE's. I don't prefer one or the other, but aside from the mold lines atop the center stack, the Suzuki's dash is more angular and upright than anything from the Big Three (especially the Liberty's circle-themed, even cartoony dash).
      • 9 Years Ago
      Having seen this vehicle first hand at an auto show I was blown away by the giant leap forward Suzuki has taken in quality and refinement. This vehicle easily competes with Toyota and Honda hands down. Now if only Suzuki can get away from the Korean made vehicles and start importing it's own JDM models like the Swift. Subaru was in the same boat with cars not quite up to the standards of Honda or Toyota but now look at them. Legacy, Tribeca and soon to come next gen. Impreza. Soon all the Japanese manufactures will be considered 1st tier.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Can you confirm that the double-din stereo is indeed a standard size 4" double-din? I want to install a Pioneer AVIC-D2 navigation system right there in the center console, but all the online websites are telling that that unit will not fit in the 2006 Grand Vitara.
      • 9 Years Ago

      By melted plastic I mean in the straight on dash pic look between the center dash and the gauge cluster overhang. And look at the center dash and the little bit you can see in front of the passenter seat. The VUE doesn't have this "extra" layer. In the full shot of the dash (which isn't on here) it looks a little better than this pic here.

      The radio is still uglier than the VUE's.

      The dash in black looks very VUEish...
      • 9 Years Ago
      I haven't reviewed this vehicle yet....but I must admit, it's low on my list. I hate to change the subject, but I have to say I drove the Hyundai Sonata the other day and was most impressed! I take back what I said about Hyundai being crap.


      (Review on Tuesday, the FX-45 is up)
      • 9 Years Ago
      Where is day 5???
      • 9 Years Ago
      Regarding comment #20, the drivers door handle has a keylock. So the keyless system saves only 2 cylinders, and you can open the car and use it with the key.

      An oddity I should point out, since no reviewer will find this, is that the low beam headlights have very sharp "cut" lines at the top of the beams. This looks neat, but when following someone at night, this line moves up and down over their mirrors. The difference in brightness is so great they sometimes think you are flashing your lights at them. Cases of retaliation have been reported, two of which happened to me.

      I don't know how common this is, but the low beams stay on when you use the high beams.
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