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EXTREME MAKEOVER

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Oct 13, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

EXTREME MAKEOVER By ROY NAKANO

The 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara gets my vote as the most improved vehicle of the year. The old one wasn't a bad vehicle. It did, however, look like it was penned by the crew that created Disneyland's Toon Town. It was the closest thing to a cartoon SUV since, well, the old Suzuki X-90. For 2006, the Grand Vitara has undergone an extreme makeover. It's so unrecognizable from the old model that one wonders why they bothered to keep the same name. Make no mistake: This is no cartoon vehicle. The old jellybean curves have given way to a more serious, slab-sided industrial look, with a hint of Range Rover and VW Touareg mixed in for good measure.

The makeover also extends to the interior, which looks convincingly upscale. The hardware used is first-rate, and the fit and finish is right up there with the best-in-class. It also helps that the overall interior design is pleasing to the eye. The changes are not just cosmetic, however. The new standard 2.7-liter DOHC V6 has 20 more horsepower than last year's model, while torque is up by 22 pound feet. All Grand Vitaras now come with a Double-DIN AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA XM Satellite Radio-ready audio system, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, automatic climate control and micron air-filtration system, electronic stability program with electronic brake-force distribution, side-impact airbags, a weight-sensing front passenger airbag, and front and rear side-curtain airbags.

Suzuki chucked the truck-like body-on-frame design of the old Grand Vitara in favor of a unibody design. This makes the new Grand Vitara ride and handle more like a car. Unless you spend a great deal of time off-road, this is a good thing. Nonetheless, a ladder frame welded into the unibody helps keep the Grand Vitara strong enough to withstand off-road use. The on-road driving experience is a big improvement over the previous Grand Vitara. Not only does the new Grand Vitara ride and handle better, it also has a great deal more room to stretch out in. Rear passengers have a whopping 6.6 inches greater leg room. With the seats folded down, there is an additional 18.7 cubic feet of cargo area. Even with the seats up, the new Grand Vitara offers plenty of cargo room in back for luggage or runs to the local mall.

At $18,999, the V6-equipped Grand Vitara offers a level of refinement heretofore unheard of at this price. For a few dollars more, you can up the refinement even more with the available Luxury Package. Our $22,999 Luxury Package-equipped Grand Vitara comes with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and a seven speaker system that includes two tweeters and one subwoofer, a SmartPass keyless entry and start system, a HomeLink wireless control system, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, heated power side rearview mirrors, and leather seating surfaces. The five-speed, electronically-controlled automatic transmission comes standard on the Luxury Package-equipped Grand Vitara. Two things keep the new Grand Vitara from being a grand slam. One is the gas mileage, which is just average for its class. In this day of $3.00 per gallon gasoline, it's an important factor. Thankfully, premium gasoline is not required. The second glitch is more an annoyance than a deficiency: The swing-to-the-side back door seems to rattle a bit when closed (probably a byproduct of the spare tire attached to it).

Considering the humble beginnings of the Grand Vitara, this vehicle has come a long way. If you can resist the temptation to load up the car with extra-cost items, you'll end up with a highly refined V6 SUV with virtually no competitors in this price range. Add Suzuki's industry-leading warranty into the equation, and the new Grand Vitara reveals itself as a compelling buy. SUMMARY JUDGMENT Suzuki hits a game-winning triple with the new Grand Vitara.

For more information on Suzuki products, go to www.suzukiauto.com.

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara 2WD with Luxury Package Price: $18,999, base $22,999, as tested Engine type: 2.7-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V6 Horsepower: 185 at 6,000 rpm Torque: 184 lb.-ft. at 4,500 rpm Drive configuration: rear-wheel-drive (four-wheel drive optional) Transmission type: 5-speed, electronically-controlled automatic Front suspension: independent MacPherson struts, coil springs Rear suspension: independent multi-link with coil springs Electronic Stability Program with Traction Control Wheels/tires: P205/60R16 tires with aluminum alloy wheels Brakes: Front ventilated discs with solid rear discs Anti-lock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution Overall length: 176 inches Overall width: 71.3 inches Overall height: 66.7 inches Curb weight: 3,452 pounds EPA mileage: 19 mpg city / 24 mpg highway

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