By on March 18, 2016

Suzuki Grand Vitara

There’s no question that I’m a fan of small, body-on-frame SUVs. For hauling various combinations of human and cargo across various terrains, smooth or otherwise, there is no substitute. In many parts of the world, the average roadway is somehow worse than even the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so a sturdy frame is paramount.

I’ve never been to Iran, but I’d imagine it’s one of those places where a rugged vehicle is required. Thus, it’s no surprise that the last-generation Suzuki Grand Vitara is still built there.

Part-owned by the Iranian government, Iran Khodro has been building cars from Renault, Peugeot, and Suzuki for years. The Peugeot 405, originally introduced in 1987, is still produced by the company, which makes the 2005-vintage Suzuki positively fresh in comparison.

It seems that very few changes have been made by the Iranians to the Suzuki we once knew. The 2.4-liter four cylinder is rated at 169 horsepower, roughly the same as when it was offered in the U.S.

It’s interesting that while Suzuki has redesigned the Grand Vitara for other markets, the older generation truck remains in production in Iran. Perhaps, as we have seen with Nissan’s Tsuru in Mexico, familiarity and ease of servicing are quite important in developing markets, so the creature comforts offered by new designs are inconsequential.

Would such a scheme work for low-cost vehicles here in the U.S.? Likely not. With ever-advancing safety and emissions regulations, the automakers would have little desire to continue production of a low-profit vehicle that would need significant work to come into compliance. Old-model runout vehicles built for fleets, such as the Chevrolet Captiva and Nissan Rogue Select, are the exception.

I’d love to see Suzuki back in the States. They have been making interesting, well-built cars (I really want a new Swift!) for years, but poor U.S. management doomed the company here.

[Image: Iran Khodro]

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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19 Comments on “Foreign Affairs: Suzuki Grand Vitara, Iran...”


  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    ‘I’d love to see Suzuki back in the States. They have been making interesting, well-built cars (I really want a new Swift!) for years, but poor U.S. management doomed the company here.’

    I really hope that last statement is satire. I had a Vitara as a demo years ago when I worked at a store that had Suzuki in it’s line up. I distinctly remember my non car involved wife stating that it had neither sport or utility and was the worst car she had ever ridden in.

    The Grand Vitara was marginally better, and was the best it ever was during the final run when it was a rebadged Chevrolet.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The difference between Vitara, Grand Vitara, and XL-7 always escapes me, and I have to look it up.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        In the US, the Vitara is a 4-cylinder. The Grand Vitata got the V6, and the XL7 is the three-row seven seat version of the Grand Vitara.

        It gets more complicated in other markets, where the Vitara nameplate was used on the previous generation that was sold here as the Sidekick.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike is pretty good, and it’s all paid for with tolls – not taxes. I like it, and drive on it frequently.

  • avatar

    Oh goodie! A new target!

  • avatar
    Feds

    We’re knocking on 40,000 miles with our ’13 GV. It is the dictionary definition of “Just Fine”.

    Goes o.k., rides o.k., handles o.k., has _enough_ space. Mileage is pretty o.k. Nothing stands out, but there’s nothing to hate either.

    As a transportation appliance for Mrs. Feds, it’s perfect. I’ve used it a few times to get in and out of seriously muddy construction sites, and to move reasonably heavy trailers around the yard (heavy enough to need low range to move them) It’s one shade more truck-ish than a typical CUV, which hits dead in the centre of what I need it to do.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Chris, this generation of Vitara is actually unibody, with XJ Cherokee-like reinforced longerons on the underside. BOF it is not. It is also interesting in that it uses independent rear suspension. Early in the run these were still available with a true low-range transfer case, but by the time Suzuki left the US market, they were all a more basic AWD variant.

    My brother has the previous generation Xl-7, those do in fact use a true ladder frame with a separate body on top, and a traditional part-time 4wd setup with manual t-case lever. My brother went so far as to install manual hubs on his. He certainly uses his as intended:

    linkhttp://www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/comment-image/379268.jpg

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    Poor management was NOT the reason Suzuki left the U.S. The blame solely rests on GM. While under the GM umbrella, Daewoos were rebadged as Suzukis. This move ruined Suzuki’s street cred. By the time they were sold to VW, they had a very bad reputation. The Kizashi was a great attempt at keeping things going, however, the recession was bad and things weren’t improving.
    Now Suzuki is on it’s own. It’s vehicles are actually Suzuki’s. If they returned to the U.S. market, I think people would finally get the chance to experience REAL Suzuki’s. They really are great cars.

  • avatar
    Von

    My dad got a brand new Suzuki Swift sometime back in the 90s. The motor blew up within a year and the dealer (after considerable convincing and a letter from a lawyer) agreed to take it back with a close to full refund. My dad was no mechanic, but he took it pretty easy on his cars and always got the oil and fluids changed at the recommended intervals and drove many cars to 100K+ miles and one or two beyond that, which is fairly high for that time.

    Seeing a brand new, well taken care of car just up and die and the hassles it caused really made an impression on me. It probably shaped my thinking about reliability; that and getting stranded a couple of times, in other cars.

    • 0 avatar
      JimInRadfordVA

      My brother-in-law had a similar vintage Suzuki Esteem. They had a problem in the manual transmission. The car was laid up for months since the repair parts were unavailable.

      Twice.

      Based on this anecdotal experience, I avoid any Suzuki with more than 2 wheels.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    “Iran Khodro has been building cars from Renault, Peugeot, and Suzuki for years.”

    Interestingly, all three brands failed in the USA. What does this tell us?

    I dunno.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    In ’97 I inherited my Grandfather’s ’97 Dodge Stratus ES, after he passed away. I drove it for 10 months with nothing but problems. So, I traded it in on a ’97 Suzuki Sidekick Sport 5 door JLX 4X4. It was a great SUV. I drove it for 6 years, up to 76K miles. I never once had a problem…other than regular maintenance. I really should have kept it as a second vehicle, after purchasing my second Mercedes. I would get another new SUZUKI for everyday use again…if only they would come back. The last REAL Grand Vitaras were in ’05…and most I find are abused.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I’m pretty sure that looks like a nightmare I once had. I think my 2002 Saturn Vue had the highest cost of ownership of any car/truck I ever had. I know that some of the Suzukis were full of Saturn components and the chevy captiva was a rebadged vue. I really liked Suzuki vehicles but don’t think I could stand the pain of driving one of the rebadged GMs.

    YMMV and I wish you smooth sailing.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      This Vitara shares exactly nothing with any Saturn that I know of. Entirely of Japanese design, a unique chassis.

      The final fat bastardized XL-7 was on the GM Theta platform, and was a total abomination.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I would clearly be interested in a Jimny.
    It even has a ladder frame!

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    A colleague of mine has the newest Vitara in a very beautiful burnt orange colour. When we went on a job trip together, I thus entered the car with great positivity. I went out again thinking I wouldn’t want to buy it for all the wrong reasons: All the plastics inside are FisherPrice-grade. Everything has a somewhat simple, bulky appearance, and the trunk is much smaller than it should be – as is the case with almost every post-2005 car I’ve been in. Most manufacturers just build in their trunks too much, leaving too little actually useable space.

    The only Iranian car I’ve seen was a Samand:
    http://sjubbdubb.kinja.com/the-cool-cars-of-st-petersburg-1742088836
    The Peugeot 405-based cars they have in Iran are pretty dull and utilitarian-looking, but that is a philosophy I respond well to. Would be awesome to try and drive one of these once.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Outside Iran, Japan and Australia, the generation of the Grand Vitara in question ran from 2006 to 2014. It continues to be made in Iran and Japan, and sold in at least the Middle East, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

    The generation before that started with the 4-cyl Vitara and rebranded Tracker. Eventually a 6-cyl Vitara was added as a Grand Vitara. About the same time, a stretched and upscale version of the Grand Vitara was sold as the XL-7, until 2007 or 2008. All of these were true body-on-frame, with low ranges and skid plates. The XL-7 was then replaced by an XL7 that was larger than the 2006 Grand Vitara, and amounted to an awd minvan. It bombed and vanished in a couple of years. The Grand Vitaras sold in North American were made in Japan, and have accumulated a commendable repair record. Our 2006, bought new, and despite being a new model year, is by far the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned.

    In 2006, only the most expensive Grand Vitara had the low range. Over the years, at least in Canada, the low range became standard even on the most basic model. The US had a 2wd Grand Vitara, never sold in Canada, and which obviously would not have had a low range. A 2-door version of the Grand Vitara was sold in all Suzuki markets except North America. These 2-doors held their own against factory-prepared Porsche Cayennes in the Trans Siberia Rally.

    While the auto chattersphere is full of praise for vehicles such as the Toyota Hilux as being excellent for certain uses, the same is true of the Grand Vitara as a more off-road capable small suv than the other small suv’s. Yet the Vitara seldom gets the same sort of recognition for what it’s good for. It is the ideal vehicle for us, and friends whose vehicle use pattern is the same as ours, feel their ’08 Grand Vitara is vastly superior to the Subaru it replaced. The low range in particular gives it a strong advantage in certain situations over all the other small suv’s. And the perfect weight distribution combined with full-time awd results in remarkable sure-footedness that only gets more superior as the conditions get worse.

    Apparently Suzuki plans to continue making the 2006-2014 Grand Vitara into 2017 or 2018, and then replace it with a new design. The current 2015+ Vitara is a smaller, less capable cuv, more like the SX4. And the Vitara will continue parallel to the Grand Vitaras in production.


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