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2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara Xsport – Click above for high-res image gallery

When driving a vehicle for review, we always keep a list of pros and cons. At just a glance we can see which list is longer and instantly know if it's a vehicle that we'd personally drive. At the end of the evaluation we throw in a few verbs, several random adjectives and some technical jargon to make us all sound knowledgeable and it's a review! Just kidding. A little, at least.

The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara Xsport that just left the Autoblog Garage didn't fit the mold. Our cons list outnumbered the pros, but we just can't give this one an automatic thumbs down.

The ride was unsettled by even slightly uneven pavement, which then caused the dash panel to creak and rattle. And the squeaky horn sounded more appropriate for one of Suzuki's econoboxes than a 4,600-pound SUV. And there's that funky side-opening rear cargo door. But from the pro list, we got a powerful V6, a fairly roomy interior and an impressive drivetrain warranty.

Our 2WD tester arrived wearing Quicksilver Metallic paint and cloth seats. The 2.7-liter V6 is standard, as are side curtain airbags, ABS, stability and traction control, fog lamps and 16-inch wheels. The Xsport trim level includes a few "comfort and convenience" options like a power sunroof, keyless entry and start, power windows and doors, audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel, a 6-disc AM/FM with six speakers and a subwoofer, and power mirrors. Total sticker price before shipping and handling was $22,349.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

The silver-toned exterior design made it on our pro list. The Vitara's straight lines, chunky bumpers, squared-off headlamps and rear-bumper-mounted spare tire took us back to a time when SUVs were masculine-looking machines made to take on the most intimidating terrain. While other SUVs like Mazda's CX7/9 go for sports car looks, Vitara keeps it real. And unlike Buick's glued-on chrome portholes-to-nowhere, Suzuki chose to make its vents black, plastic and, if not functional, at least actual holes.

The Suzuki's rear hatch, though, made it onto our con list. It's a hulk of a door (made heavier by that spare tire), that swings open left to right. Parallel park on a city street with cargo to load, and you will quickly despise the novelty. Park too closely to the car behind, and you'll be walking around the front of your car with every armful.

Luckily, though, filling the back of the Vitara with stuff isn't difficult. The floor-height doesn't require lifting bags above your waist, and unloading doesn't require a lot of bending over. A cargo cover attached to the back seat keeps big valuables out of view, while a shallow, covered divot in the cargo area is convenient for stashing items. Finding a light behind the rear seats isn't a surprise, but we'd prefer it came on automatically. It's no fun fumbling in the dark for that tiny switch. The rear seats also tilt up easily for moving even more of your junk, and in that position the Vitara passed our stroller test, even holding the Graco and groceries with a little room to spare.

Once inside, you're greeted by black and gray soft-touch plastics accented with brushed-aluminum-looking plastic trim. The black seat fabric felt more like athletic wear than upholstery, but will probably withstand years of abuse by adults and kids alike. Most of the interior, including the color-combination, fit-and-finish and spaciousness, got a pro-side listing. The driver's gauges in particular were appreciated with their white numerals on a black background in chrome-accented openings. They made for quick, easy reading on the road. At night, the red needle was as brightly lit as the numbers, but we also found negatives after the sun set. The driver's window switch on the driver's door is lit, but no others. Neither are any of the door lock switches or the cruise control switches on the steering wheel.

The Xsport-level Vitara gets an in-dash, 6-disc CD changer with six speakers and a subwoofer. We didn't appreciate being teased by the head unit advertising "XM" in large letters with a tiny "ready" disclaimer below. And the CD/AUX button did nothing but piss us off when 30 minutes of searching turned up no auxiliary port. That meant spending an entire week listening to advertising-intensive FM radio. Seriously, Suzuki. How much could it cost to include a 1/8" plug for the iPod? .50¢? $1? Make it $10 for your trouble and add .35¢ to my monthly payment. And we'd suggest an entry in the owner's manual on how to unplug that impotent little subwoofer. It's mounted right under the driver's seat and is more of a distraction than an enhancement.

Hauling a two-year-old in the Grand Vitara took little effort, though. Child-seat installation was simple and quick. The LATCH attachment points were easily found, and the center headrest was removed without a fight. Removal was even simpler. Getting the wiggly, impatient toddler into the seat was another issue. The rear door opening was shorter than some of the SUVs we've reviewed, and made getting a child into and out of a center-mounted safety seat a chore. My wife said if the vehicle were ours, she'd be tempted to install the seat in an outboard position. And for adults, there was enough headroom, legroom, hiproom, etc. to comfortably hold front and rear passengers, and the front and rear cup holders easily held a 1-liter water bottle.

Under the Grand Vitara's hood is that 185-hp, 2.7 liter V6 we mentioned earlier. It's at the top of the positives list, and singlehandedly erases several negatives. Press the fast pedal closer to the floor, and you can't even hear that annoying subwoofer any more. I've read other reviews that said the Vitara's engine is unresponsive and even sluggish. Either Suzuki listened to the complaints and made improvements or I'm just easily pleased. The car accelerated nicely with some lovely music coming from the little V6. The rush almost (almost) made me forget how much dinosaur juice I was burning. Most of the week was spent commuting in light city traffic and we burned 11.7 gallons of regular over 177 miles. That's an average of just over 15 mpg for the week. I've been accused of having a lead foot, but that's 2 mpg lower than the EPA city estimate and just within the "expected range" of 14 to 20 city.

But there are two other positives in this SUV's drivetrain. First, it's got an automatic transmission, not a manumatic or a sequential automatic. It's a true, old-school PRNDL, and that makes me happy. We've yet to meet a manumatic we enjoy using (dual clutch units notwithstanding). Good ones may exist, but at this price level, either simplify the automatic tranny or install a clutch. Thank you, Suzuki, for simplifying.

Here's one simplification we can't understand, though. While Honda's CRV, Toyota's Rav4, and Chevrolet's Equinox all get a full set of disc brakes, Suzuki puts disc on front, drums in back. Drum brakes? On a 2008 model vehicle, let alone a big, heavy one? Seriously?

The drivetrain's superb warranty is its third pro. Suzuki backs up its mechanicals for seven years or 100,000 miles with no deductible. Even better, the warranty is transferable, instantly boosting resale value.

In the end, the negatives did outweigh the positives for the 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara Xsport. Don't bother counting, some were just too personal and trivial to bother listing. But overall, we still like the Vitara and it's one of the major reasons the Japanese brand hit 100,000 sales in the U.S. last year. It's just an "honest" vehicle. From its boxy exterior to its functional hood vents, it's not trying to be something it's not. But a more fuel efficient engine, modern brakes and a plug for my Pod would go a long way toward making me buy one.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      The 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara has a very high rpm-idle speed on a cold engine start. Even if outside temperature is warm and in high 70's F. Concerned about piston wear during first minute prior to oil circulation. Dealer says unable to fix because is all electronic. Any factory solutions?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Isn't this car thae same as the Chevy Equinox? Isn't the Chevy Equinox the same as this car? Isn't this the sam..........etc. etc. Either way, both have the gas filler door on the wrong side....
        • 7 Years Ago
        Nope, your thinking about the current generation XL7, which is now based on the extended Theta platform shared with the Equinox.
        • 7 Years Ago
        No, the Grand Vitara is Japanese. The XL7 is based on the same platform as the Equinox/Torrent. However, Suzuki builds the engine in Japan and has the length of the vehicle extended 10 inches in addition to a slew of differences. Suzuki and GM own 50% of the CAMI in Canada factory these vehicles are made in.
      • 7 Years Ago
      We drove our new Vitara home last night with a big smile on our faces and not one regret for trading in our RAV. Untill we got off the freeway and on our local country roads, we have to share the right of way with LOTS of Whitetail Deer and more than a few Ahmish buggies with lights that are so dim they look like a car about 4 miles ahead. Heres the BAD part, the headlights when on dim have a blinder or sheild on the top part which puts a DARK shadow on the road about 50 yards out in front and just bareley lets light in the ditches, the Deer stand in the fence line waiting for you to get close enough so they can comite suicide. If it was still 1943 and we were in a Jeep on the front lines in Europe this might be a good thing. No I am not that old and I can see pretty well. All joking aside this is the worst safety issue I have ever been subjected to. If we cant find a light without the blinder I will be forced to give it back to Zukie and suffer the financial burden, its better than getting my wife or I killed or killing some poor Ahimish kids. Somebody take your Vitara out in the country some night and tell me if I am right or just a big sissie la la.
      • 6 Years Ago
      We own a 2007 and the brakes are biggest problem. We finnaly got relief after a year battle with the local dealer. They finnaly did a complete brake job on the rear brakes. The horrible noise is now gone and our gas milage has increase by 3 mpg in town. I have not checked it on a trip. I kept telling the dealer it was like driving with the brake on. It wore out the rear tires while the front ones with discs were fine. Their is a flaw in the design of the drum brakes. Watch out.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Seems about right, I've always felt Vitaras to be honest, rugged, dependable trucks. Though not as hard edged as the SJs and Jimnys. Indeed my old 1.6 Vitara was rough around the edges, but it was charismatic and fun in its own way. The warranty's nice too, and I feel like this would be more of a rambunctious puppy than the XL7, which is decidedly more "contemporary," albeit not as trucky.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I still like the GSX-R better. (Yes, I know it's a motorcycle)
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why does the 'Read' button take us to a picture of the shifter?
      • 7 Years Ago
      4,600 lbs? IS that right?
        • 7 Years Ago
        cars have gotten so fat and heavy again. some blame things like boxed frames and safety equipment.
        my last 'compact' (now mid-sized) pickup was 4150lbs dry. when i told them at the dmv the girl's jaw about his the ground, she did my registration estimate based on 3200 lbs for a previous 'compact' truck.

        4600lbs converts to quite a bit of mass, and in turn force. good thing it would prob hit something like a 4000lb mercedes c class or maybe a 3800lb honda accord.

        gone are the days of the 1800lb crx hf
        • 7 Years Ago
        No, it's incorrect among a bunch of other info posted as factual in here. According to their website the vehicle maxes out at 3704 fully loaded. Starts at 3452 base.

        Also, "XM Ready" isn't Suzuki trying to trick you with the logo. That's the standard XM Ready logo that any XM ready device will have. Just buy the accessory and you'll have XM. The same process as many other cars out there. I'm sure an iPod hookup kit is available too.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Zukes have long been a favorite of mine. The old ones (we have a 94 4-door in the family) are mostly too simple to break. The mileage, though dismal, doesn't surprise me- 20-21 on the EPA75 test is normal for these. Driving stingy with the manual trans makes a big difference though.
      The rear door is heavy, but not as bad as the one on the RAV, curling in at the top edge. On road dynamics cant match the competition anymore, but for those who see value in still having a genuine trucklett, this still fits the (small) bill. Wanna go fast and get fair milage- get a RAV. Good handling- buy a car. If you have no opinion at all other than wanting a small suv- the CRV patiently awaits you. If going for a romp on the dunes or pulling boats up a ramp with the family hauler is your intention, this might work really well for you.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Too bad the 'powerful' v6 is about 18 years late. The 2.7 l pales in comparison to even a 1990 nissan 3l twin cam, and is only slightly better than the venerable vg30e (from 1984).

      Some great looking vehicles that are just too far behind the times.
      • 7 Years Ago
      according to cars.com (which uses a major automotive data content provider)

      GVWR: 4,630lbs.
      Curb weight: 1,600kg (3,527lbs)

      gvwr is your gross combined (max'd out)
      1100lbs is respectable in a world of 700lb capacities (4 150lb adults and 100lbs luggage)
        • 7 Years Ago
        That sounds like a lot more logical number. 4600 seemed way to high for the weight of the vehicle alone.
      • 7 Years Ago
      We had a similar complaint about the cargo area door on the Toyota RAV4. It's a gigantic "fridge door" that requires you to park quite a way out from the nearest obstacle, weighs even more when the spare tire is mounted out there, and it's hinged on the wrong side for LHD countries.

      After how many generations, you'd think they'd engineer it so they could flop the door hinges to the other side. Like a refrigerator.

      The other factor that knocked the Grand Vitara out of the running in our recent new-car search was that it's ONLY available with that tiny V6, which is surprisingly thirsty given its power and displacement numbers. This would have been a contender for us were it just a LITTLE more efficient.
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