Saturday, July 18, 2020

2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara - An Obscure, Reliable, Desirable SUV

This is not a typical JaCG post. This is by no means a collectible vehicle. It's not oddly engineered. It's NOT unreliable (far from it). It is somewhat rare, however. At least in North America.

Suzuki's history in the U.S. is a story of bad luck and bad marketing. Not all of that was their fault. North America first became aware of Suzuki cars / trucks in 1986 when they introduced the Samurai. (We knew about their motorcycles for many years before this.) The Samurai was a pint sized Jeep Wrangler type vehicle. It was amazing off road. It went through or over anything in it's way. But, Consumer Reports didn't like it's on road handling characteristics, and in 1988 wrote a scathing article about it. Lawsuits followed and in 1995 Suzuki dropped the Samurai from it's U.S. lineup. Despite that bad publicity, Suzuki managed to sell around 200,000 Samurais in the U.S. Today, because of its incredible off road prowess, the Samurai is rapidly becoming a collector's item.

But, the Samurai wasn't the only vehicle Suzuki was selling in the U.S. They were also selling the Cultus. Never heard of a Suzuki Cultus? That's because it was sold here as the Chevy Sprint. They eventually started selling the Suzuki Sidekick here, but the same vehicle was being sold by GM's Geo brand as the Geo Tracker. The short lived Geo brand was sold through most Chevy dealers and outsold the Suzuki branded cars. Suzuki was actually selling quite a few cars in the U.S. but most people didn't know that as they were not Suzuki badged.

In 2004 GM dropped the Geo brand. Suzuki added a few models and things were looking up for them. In 2006 they redesigned the Grand Vitara. In 2007 they introduced Suzuki XL7 and the all-new Suzuki SX4. (A car that I will write about at some point, as I believe certain specced SX4s are genuine automotive bargains these days.) Later on they introduced the highly regarded Kizashi

But at the same time they also added some Suzuki badged Daewoos. Suzuki was involved with GM at the time and GM (along with Suzuki) owned Daewoo. The idea was to "give cash-strapped Daewoo a source of income and broaden Suzuki's model line." In that regard, it worked. The Daewoo built Forenza became Suzuki's best selling car in the United States. Unfortunately for Suzuki it was an awful car. Completely unreliable. The Daewoo cars (which also included the Reno and Verona) killed Suzuki's reputation. Their JD Power score fell to near the bottom of the list. As Suzuki board member Hirotaka Ono bluntly stated "One reason for this, to be honest, is because we added (GM Daewoo) cars."

But, along side the awful Daewoo cars Suzuki was selling some really good cars. I mentioned the SX4 and the Kizashi, but there was also this this SUV; the Grand Vitara.

You may have never seen a Grand Vitara. You may have seen one and not noticed it. Suzuki didn't sell many here and the styling doesn't stand out.

The Grand Vitara used unique unibody on ladder-frame design. The idea was that it gave the vehicle a car like ride and decent off road prowess. For the most part it worked. The ride isn't quite as smooth as a similar era CRV or RAV4, but it's not bad and, based on my experience driving a friend's Grand Vitara, it feels much more sure footed in snow and mud than the CRV, RAV4 or even my X3 does.

The only engine choice in the later Grand Vitaras was a 2.4-liter I4. It's rated at 166 HP. At times it feels like a small six and is more than capable for street driving.

Given its original price point, the Grand Vitara is very well equipped. The interior is well laid out. Everything is logically placed and has a good feel to it.

Except for the headlight bulbs, which burn out quicker than on any other car I know, the Grand Vitara is amazingly reliable. And that's a good thing as the one major drawback to owing a Suzuki Grand Vitara is parts availability. OEM parts are close to unobtainable in North America. Common consumable parts are available through the aftermarket, but trim pieces and obscure Grand Vitara specific parts are going to be harder to find and may have to be bought from Europe (where the Grand Vitara is still sold) or Asia.

As I wrote in the opening paragraph, this is not a collectible car. What it is is an obscure, reliable, SUV bargain. If you're looking for a very capable SUV and don't mind occasionally hunting down parts (something I actually like doing), a Grand Vitara is worth looking at.

There are a few for sale across the U.S.. I picked this one as it's a 2013, the last year the Grand Vitara was available here. It has 65,000 miles on it and an asking price of $8900.00. Located in State College, PA, click here to see the Autotrader ad.

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