Despite its humble origins, the Suzuki Grand Vitara has gone steadily upscale over the passing years. Slowly but surely, it has gotten bigger, more luxurious, more powerful and, yes, more expensive.
In 2006, Suzuki continued with the upwardly mobile progress of its most popular SUV by doing away with the previously standard-issue four-cylinder engine. All models now came with a 2.7-litre V-6 taken almost intact from the larger and even more upscale XL-7.
It developed 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Transmission choices were a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
For its just-under-$25,000 base price in 2006, you got the fairly well-equipped JA model with a manual transmission, power windows and door locks, tilt steering, satellite-ready MP3 player stereo and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
If you wanted things like air conditioning and an automatic transmission, you added another two grand for the JL. The top-of-the-line JLX, which came with leather interior and all the usual power modern conveniences, started at just under $30,000.
All models came with safety equipment that included dual front airbags, dual front side airbags, side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and a vehicle stability program with traction control.
Grand Vitaras of this vintage also came with four-wheel-drive as standard issue. The base models had a high-range, all-wheel-drive setup of the so-called "slip-and-grip" variety and, for serious bushwhackers, there was a four-mode, full-time, four-wheel-drive system that featured a locking centre differential. With this setup, you could choose from everyday high range, "four-high locked" for slippery conditions, and "four-low locked" for serious off-road boulder-hopping.
There was also a Neutral setting for those who liked to tow their vehicle behind their motor home, and all four settings were accessed via a console-mounted rotary knob beside the shifter.
The 2006 model also saw significant progress from Suzuki in terms of interior layout. With tastefully styled round analog gauges and a well-designed centre console, all controls and knobs and buttons were easy to get at and easy to understand. One nice little feature was a centre armrest that could be moved forward and back.
The 2006 Grand Vitara was also the biggest one yet and, with all the seats folded flat, there was some 1980 litres of storage room. Five adults could fit, with room to manoeuvre, and this iteration of the Grand Vitara was wider, taller, and longer than its predecessor.
One fairly controversial feature was the rear door-mounted spare tire. The rear door itself was a one-piece affair that swung to the passenger side of the vehicle, and having the spare mounted on it freed up interior storage space and prevented it from getting covered up with road crud as spare tires stored underneath were prone to do.
Most other vehicles of this ilk had two-piece affairs, with the spare mounted under the vehicle or tucked away inside. Some folks liked Suzuki's arrangement, others didn't.
Transport Canada had mixed feelings about the Grand Vitara, with two fairly significant safety recalls on file. One concerned a flawed gearshift interlock lever that could, once the ignition key was removed, slip out of Park and allow the vehicle to roll away, while the other involved a possibly leaky rear differential that could eventually run dry and cause the rear diff to seize. The former glitch also applied to 2007 models.
The U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has these problems on record too, as well as 16 technical service bulletins. Many of these are fairly trivial in nature - an update for headlamp bulb mounting procedures, for example - but there are also warnings about "harsh" gear downshifts, loose front or rear axle hubs and manual transmissions that can possibly pop out of first or second gear.
Consumer Reports gives the 2006 Grand Vitara a "worse than average" used-car verdict, singling out the drive system, suspension and body integrity as trouble spots.
Market research company J.D. Power observes that this vintage of Grand Vitara is less "truck-like" than before and more suitable perhaps than it used to be when it comes to things like dealing with the urban commute. Nonetheless, it receives average or less-than-average ratings in every area, according to this organization.
Prices seem to range from about $10,000 to somewhere in the $17,000 neighbourhood for a three-year-old Grand Vitara. The base JA appears to be $2,000-$3,000 cheaper than the top-line JLX, and buyers should bear in mind that this is a purpose-built off-road vehicle and may have been put through its 4WD paces on a fairly regular basis.
2006 SUZUKI GRAND VITARA
Type: Compact SUV
Original Base Price: $24,495; Black Book Value: $14,975-$17,075; Red Book Value: $10,800-$12,875
Engine: 2.7-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 185 hp/184 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual/automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/9.3 highway (automatic transmission); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Saturn Vue, Pontiac Torrent, Chevy Equinox, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda Tribute, Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson