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Grand Vitara old, but far from cold


THE SUZUKI Grand Vitara left me with some hefty head-scratching. Even after nine days and almost 500km behind the wheel, I honestly did not know whether to be very confused by it or just appreciate its simplistic charm.

Simplistic charm, you ask? I’ll explain.

The name ‘Grand Vitara’ evokes a Jimny-esque picture in my head. I immediately think of the first-generation model (launched way back in 1989) that just looked like it belonged in the rough or, in the normal Vitara’s case, on a beach. It feels like a car that really - like the Jimny - shouldn’t ever change, because it feels kind of iconic.

But unfortunately I’m in the minority. Suzuki can only keep one legend - after all, Mercedes-Benz has only one G-Class and Toyota has only one Land Cruiser - which means that the Grand Vitara had to change and become a car that could compete in the fiercely competitive compact SUV segment.

Now usually when a test car arrives, we see the things we like more instantly and upon further familiarisation find the little things that we don’t. Unfortunately the Grand Vitara’s spec list (or lack of it) downed the mood immediately. There was no USB port to be found, nor any auxillary or iPod inputs. When I took the car for its first spin, I realised that auto-locking doors, touch indicators and cruise control didn’t feature either.

Granted, we did test the entry-level Dune model, but it retails for R301 900 and even for its age (this third-generation model was launched back in 2005), the lack of these basic specs at that price is inexcusable. A rarity is this class though, it has four-wheel-drive and low range, but that by itself can’t justify the price either.

(On a slight tangent: I took a friend from the Baby Boomer generation for a ride in the Grand Vitara and his response to my moaning about the specs was just to remember that most people his age aren’t used to these features, so it probably won’t bother them.)

There isn’t much else to complain about in the rest of the interior. All controls and buttons are logically placed and easy to use. It’s comfortable and spacious front and back with loads of stowing space in the front and a sizable boot.

Something that Suzuki has managed quite well is, thanks to a few facelifts, to keep the Grand Vitara’s kerb-side appeal current, no mean feat given the that car is eight years old. It doesn’t look out of place or even its age in a car park.

On the move the Suzuki feels like, well, a Suzuki: properly put together, safe and not all that boring. You never feel like you’re in a car that big and, thanks to a surprisingly torquey engine, makes changing lanes quickly easier that it’s probably safe to be.

Given that all four wheels drive the car and that it does cater to off-roading, the ride is quite stiff, but due its nature, going over speed bumps isn’t unsettling and driving over traffic circles (who wants to go around them if you can go over them?)  is actually fun, thanks to the tiny sensation of anarchy this SUV ironically affords you.

So in the end, maybe I confused ‘simplistic charm’ with ‘just plain old.’ But what Suzuki has done was make a car that, was launched eight years ago, age so slowly that it doesn’t feel a whole eight years old. If you want some luxuries at R301 900, you’re going to turn your attention to other and much, much more modern competition, but if you want to rough some tough and don’t care whether you can put some computer stick thingy into the dash, look no further.

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