Review after 6 months

This site is all about Reviews for the Suzuki Grand Vitara SQ series from 2003. This page represents the 6 month ownership experience. Just remember that there are many different Grand Vitara variants throughout the world.

Context

This review has been written after approx. 1500km on easy dirt/muddy roads, 3000km on normal roads over 5 months AND a 5500km trip in the period of 6 days !

Engine

After the extended drive the engine had freed up noticeably.  As you've read previously, it is a very tight engine when new.  Apart from that it hasn't given me any problems or concerns. 120-130 seems to be the best cruising speed.  (I do live in the NT)  The engine is very smooth - probably due to being mounted on the frame.

The engine is still very smooth, at the traffic lights there are not any vibes through the seat or steering wheel.

As the engine is now run in it reveals a traditional twin-cam 16 valve nature, having a distinct power zone and torque zone.

Other Tech

The Grand Vitara has differential breathers front and rear !   Hence water crossings and driving about is mud that are higher than the axles are mechanically safe to do. 

All diffs have a supposed one-way hole in them so the oil can expand contract etc...  If your  car does not have extended diff breathers, in certain circumstances, the diff may suck water or dirt in hence damaging the diff over time breathers are missing on the RAV4, CRV and iO.  Most normal cars don't have them because by the time their diffs are under water their electrics would be water logged anyway. 

The Alternator is at about 3/4 height too so a 60cm water crossing should be possible without any problems.  I haven't bother locating the air intake just yet.

Fuel Consumption

The interesting thing is the consistency of fuel usage.  Always 10-11 litres regardless of city travel of highway travel.

For longer trips : Top speed is 165kph however it uses significantly more fuel.  On one higher speed stage it was at least 15 ltrs.  Average speed probably around 130-140kph for this run.  Outside temperature was between 40-50 degrees centigrade.  Between Alice Springs and Barrow Creek to be exact.  However I suspect it wasn't entirely the usual quality of   Unleaded...

Regardless of whether the air-conditioner was off or on did not influence fuel consumption.  In the cooler temperatures fuel consumption despite speed did not make a noticeable difference.  Kept at speeds under 110kph the fuel consumption is as expected, around 9 litres per 100kms.

Transmission

Since I have a manual the gearbox, the recent long drive (5000+kms) it has certainly freed up and much easier to shift.  However the gears don't like being rushed (notchy).  I have gotten used to it.  I would recommend that you seriously consider the automatic if driving mainly in a city environment. It's really smooth.  Both Auto and manual do not seem to have any transmission knock backs of note.

The gear ratios are pretty wide in High-Range mode (normal).  In Low Range I dare say, would do a sports car justice !   However you can only use Low-Range in 4WD mode.  I don't think the High-range ratios are perfect for normal roads, being a tad too high. However I think 5th could be higher whilst 1 to 4 could be lower. But they seem perfect on dirt roads and even better in High-range 4WD. 

Interior

As I've said earlier, pre-2003 models have the original '98 interior which was fine back then but was looking dated. Quality of materials are very good though dated. 

Thankfully the new 2003 interiors exceed expectations.  It has a Euro feel with a Lexus touches.  Silver and black seats with chrome highlights and woodgrain on certain models. Sit in one and you'll be impressed. 

Pre-03 models have a weird switch workings Ie. Push the Up-central locking button to Lock and Down to unlock.  It also has Auto-power windows down but you have to hold the switch to with up ?  I don't get it.

The rear seat is pretty comfy, it does have an adjustable back rest and enough cushioning.  Foot room and space is ample for normal sized people. 

Handling - Based on Bridgestone Duelers

No change in characteristics to date.  Prone to crosswinds more than a normal car.   High speed handling over 110kph is fine however the brakes do need a bit more power.  Again I understand that 2003 models rectify this.  In dry conditions the body lean in corners can be countered slightly by higher front tyre pressures.  The normal is a mere 26psi which is pretty low.

Maybe its just me but after about 1000k's of dirt roads I have noticed that the dampers have softened.  The car does not see saw that's for sure and it is still harder than a normal car.  I do not know if the suspension setup is different for different countries.

In the dry overall the handling of the 4WD SGV is lower than a normal car in some ways.  If a normal car had the balloon tyres like the SGV and 10cm higher centre of gravity I would expect things would be more equal.  However don't notice it cruising around the city.  Only pushing it will you discover this.

There is just enough feedback to adjust the steering of the car easily, much better than your normal car.  That said when cornering hard or faster, on normal roads the front end does give the impression of floatyness, again due to the low recommended tyres pressures, but using the accelerator provides the extra feel and fun factor.  Try it and see what I mean !

The Wet - Based on Bridgestone Duelers

I have finally uncovered a major weakness with the handling of the SGV.  It is to do with its wet weather handling.  Simply put its not up to par.  Straight ahead and moderate corners are fine but when turns tighten handling deteriorates noticeably.  The front end seems acceptable but the rear end is troublesome.  The rear doesn't feel to grip as well, it seems easy to provoke a slide, although I've never actually done it when pushed and cornering doesn't feel very secure at all.  Think of the way an unladen truck handles in the wet and it is a similar sensation but not as bad.  This is all the opposite of the car's dry weather traits.  I do not know if it is the same as the other variants as mine is the SWB.  I have reduced the rear pressures and it does feel much better now.  Previously when I discovered this trait the pressures where left high due the long distance trips at about 34psi.  Reduced to 28psi the handling is better but still not car like.

Note that I hadn't the the opportunity to sample proper wet handling as I was in NSW during the summer months and Darwin in the start of the dry.   Only on my return did I realise this.

Anyway, I looked into what the cause of it was.  First point is the tyres again !  Yes they look like road tyres and go like road tyres in the dry, but testing the softness of the tyres with my hand revealed that they are actually quite hard rubber, presumably for good tyre wear.  Judging from the tread wear they can easily last in excess of 30,000-40,000kms or more if properly maintained.  Softer rubber would help in the wet stakes.  In all honestly the standard tyres are at best only very average in most road circumstances.  And not that great in the dirt.  Note too that the older the tyre the harder the rubber gets.
Next issue to look at was the weird tyre pressures 26psi in the front and 31psi at the back.  An unloaded car with lower front pressures and high rear pressures would logically cause the experienced handling.
Next was the rear axle technology, it's a traditional solid rear axle, great for toughness but well known for similar characteristics.  The current Landcruiser and Patrol and most proper 4wds still use them.
Next is the suspension issue.  It's a 4wd so the suspension is harder than most cars, lack of initial springiness doesn't help put power to the road easily.
Last is the engine characteristics.  Max torque is reached at 2900rpm for the I4 and at 3500rpm for the V6.  Considering that (in particular the 4 cylinder), you'll probably be driving with the engine putting out close to or at maximum torque levels.  Since (based on the standard setup) there is the limited tyre grip and too high pressures its another easy way to lose traction.

Solutions to handling in the wet besides to slow down is to reduce the rear tyre pressures, but not too low cause too low pressures is unsafe too ! (My preference is 28psi) or change tyres to a better model.  Remember that under inflation is also dangerous so don't take it to the extreme cause it also reduces grip and water dispersion ability.  Mind you pressures that are too high will also have the same impact !

Remember to check out the Update Pages for the tyres I chose to replace them !  Gives prospective to this older review.

Modifications

Over this period I have added the new security/stereo system and wheel locking nuts. 

The door trim is a one piece design I recall only 2 screws to undo and pull out.  The trim itself is made of heavy duty plastic and the plastic lugs that hold the trim are strong.  Requires a bit of effort to pull the lugs out.  Start from the bottom of the trim and work your way up.

Standard speaker wiring is pretty good unless your planning on having a huge AMP.  Beware the short electrical wiring plug for the power windows but it easy enough to unplug.

I expect to add a bull bar and spot lights over the next 6 months.

General Summary

The Grand Vitara is capable long distance cruiser.  It does not induce fatigue by transmitting rattles or vibrations and there is plenty of space to move around inside.  The front seat base is still too hard although the back rest is very good, probably due to the lumber support.  In 2002 models the front cup holders are too far back again this has been fixed for the '03 models.

It may not be as good other bigger vehicles such as the LandCruiser et al. but certainly quieter than the comparable CRV or Mazda versions.

The compromises in design seem directly related to its 4WD nature, ie road handling etc...  The compromises can be forgiven cause it can be a fun car to drive most of the time.  I genuinely like the car, its perfect for what I chose it for.

 

 

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This is a personal website completely unrelated to Suzuki Motor Corp.
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This site went live during January 2003.