Familiarity can sometimes offer warmer comfort than those fresh-faced things embracing reinvention. That may well be an underlying feeling for those who’ve bought any Suzuki Grand Vitara in the past decade and who’ve just climbed into the 2016 version. Essentially, it’s the same car – the 4×4-savvy SUV that’s Grand in name but no longer quite so grand in size is still planted in the generation that launched back in 2005.
In fact, one of the first cars a fledgling CarAdvice reviewed back in our formative 2006 was a Grand Vitara of what still remains, essentially, the current generation. That’s a good innings – five different prime ministers have been through The Big Chair in this Grand Vitara’s lifecycle. And with no planned replacement for “the only true 4×4 in the medium SUV segment,” as its importer describes it, in lieu of Australia’s recent political track record, you’d be inclined to suspect themid-sized Suzuki may still be around once PM Turnbull moves his personals out of The Lodge.
That’s some staying power, though it’s not as if the Grand Vitara mould has been perpetually set in stone. There’s been some newness and freshness introduced in the past 11 years: some modernisation to the styling, equipment updates, a bit of ‘range consolidation’ to trim the line-up and ageing engines lost to the march of progression, all in efforts to keep up with the times. All the while the Grand Vitara has traded off its tough old cloth – proper multi-mode 4×4 running gear strapped to a monocoque-integrated ladder frame backbone – as a counter to rivalling newcomers of a more soft-roader persuasion.
So how does the old dog with new-ish tricks fare in 2016? Importantly, how does it fare in times where buyer tastes are increasingly tending towards more urban-friendly, Tarmac-favouring ‘soft road’ pretensions?
Our tester, the flagship Grand Vitara Sport, is the freshest face in the three-variant stable, introduced in 2011 to sit above the three-door 4×4 GV3 Navigator ($25,990 plus on-roads) and the five-door 4×2 Urban Navigator ($27,490 plus on-roads) versions as the one to get if you need both full-size space and proper off-roadability.
And there’s not a whole lot in medium-SUV land that can rival the Sport for such credentials for its $30,990 list price in manual form (the auto adds $2000). In fact, when you consider a top-spec petrol all-wheel-driven Kia Sportage or Hyundai Tucson lists for $43,490, or a five-door Range Rover Evoque Si4 HSE Dynamic asks for a lofty $81,410, a tenner less than $31k for the manual Sport looks absolute bargain basement.
However, given the properly opulent, leather-trimmed, $38,990 Prestige version got axed during the last facelift in 2014, today’s top-rung Sport’s spec and equipment levels perhaps aren’t quite as brimming as some range-topping SUVs. So you get cool-for-school grey finish 18-inch wheels, but the headlights are halogen. There are fog lights but no DRLs. There’s a rear-view parking camera but no front or rear parking sensors. There are six airbags and electronic chassis aids aplenty – including hill-hold and hill descent controls – though not much to write home about with active assist systems. Half of the seat trim is leather, half is cloth. Even down to the body finishes, there’s a nice quartet of whites/greys/blacks but forget it if want a splash of colour in your driveway.
The point is that, on gear and niceties as a measure of value, the Grand Vitara Sport is glass half full or half empty affair depending on the buyer’s particular wants and whims.
The same goes for the interior design and packaging. Frankly, Blind Freddy could see the ‘air of Nougties’ that anchors the cabin styling back in last decade, though what it lacks in contemporary flash it makes up for in honest simplicity and unfussy ease of use. The surfaces in most areas are plasticky yet hardy enough to cop collateral damage from dirty weekend activities.