One last hurrah before an emotional goodbye As a car guy, and especially working in this field, I run into car guys on a regular basis. It seems that everybody has some or the other anecdote about a Suzuki product.
What feels like nearly a decade ago, I had the chance to borrow a fully-loaded Suzuki Kizashi was my first official media test car. Since then, I have driven hundreds of brand-new vehicles and have been given the opportunity to compare them to everything else on the market. Each and every manufacturer our team has dealt with has been supportive, helpful, and most of all, friendly to deal with. Despite this, Suzuki was my first, and that makes them special.
When news got out that Suzuki will be pulling out of the automotive market after the model year 2014, I was saddened, but saw relief in the fact that 2014 is still a ways away. That is, until arrived at Suzuki headquarters to pick up the 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban. Upon my arrival, I was informed by our press fleet rep that the press fleet is being pulled and the cars are being sold off. The two remaining bookings we have for July must be cancelled.
The first vehicle I ever drove was a Suzuki product. It was an Indian-market Maruti-Suzuki 800; powered by an 800cc engine with 37 horsepower. Yes, 0.8L of fury, mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. I rather liked the thing. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t all that safe, and it wasn’t good by any standard. What the 800 did have though, was a cool factor. There’s something about driving a ridiculously slow, beat-up car at its limits that became almost…exhilarating.
As a car guy, and especially working in this field, I run into car guys on a regular basis. It seems that everybody has some or the other anecdote about a Suzuki product. Though Suzuki cars never sold as well in Canada as other Japanese brands (Toyota and Honda products have been on bestseller lists for decades), they are all but gone. Old Esteems, Swifts, and Sidekicks continue to flock the streets in their rusty splendor. Though ratty and neglected, these old Suzukis drive around sporting a aura of pride that other cars of the same vintage just don’t have.
The Grand Vitara? When compared to other compact SUVs on the market with their 6-speed automatics, turbocharged engines, and modern styling, Suzuki’s SUV is pretty much archaic. This particular generation was introduced in 2005 and has soldiered on virtually unchanged. The up-level JLX-L is available with niceties such as leather upholstery, a sunroof, and the signature Grand Vitara spare tire on the rear cargo door; it’s not exactly as bare-bones as an Esteem from 1998 was.
At first glance, my 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban tester appeared almost… sad. It was as if it knew that it was past its expiry date; the lack of a spare tire on the back made the rear of the SUV look incomplete. The rest of the styling is simple and inoffensive. The interior is just as simple; all buttons are where you expect them to be, and because the Urban is the base model, there are a few blank spots where buttons should go. The Garmin-based navigation system is identical to the one in the Kizashi, and is standard on all 2013 models.
The 2.4L 166-horsepower 4-cylinder engine of the Grand Vitara is actually not that out of date. If the 4-speed automatic had been bumped to a 5 or 6-speed unit, the powertrain of the little ute would be right in-line with everything else in its class. Power isn’t anything to rave about, but the Vitara scoots around town with ease. Its 4-wheel-drive system gives it an edge off-road, too. Because of the 4-speed, fuel economy on the highway suffers. I couldn’t manage any better than 10.6L/100km in combined driving. This is taking into account that rather than drive it like a bat out of hell, I drove the Grand Vitara like it’s meant to be driven; slowly and steadily.
The funny thing is; despite all of the Grand Vitara’s flaws, I somewhat liked it. It has character; something that vehicles in its class tend to lack. Suzuki’s problem wasn’t quality. Every single modern Suzuki I’ve driven (and I’ve essentially driven their entire current lineup) has been built decently well. They’re all reasonably competent and very average. The Kizashi has been the only vehicle they’ve made for as long as I can think of that has had an edge; its all-wheel-drive makes it stand out from the rest of the segment. The rest of the lineup consists of the Grand Vitara and the multiple variants of the SX4. If Suzuki had stepped up their game by modernizing and refreshing the entire lineup, their fate may have been different. In our eyes though, their press vehicle spot-checks, their 9-page waiver, and their meticulous detailing will not be forgotten. I personally am genuinely upset to see them go. Sayonara, Suzuki.
2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban Gallery