Foreign Affairs: Suzuki Grand Vitara, Iran

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
foreign affairs suzuki grand vitara iran

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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  • Sjalabais Sjalabais on Mar 19, 2016

    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: 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.

  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Mar 23, 2016

    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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