Driving the 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara feels like going back in time. Its boxy shape hearkens back to truck-based SUVs, before all this crossover-madness hit. A simple knob on the dashboard switches the four-wheel drive between high and locked high and locked low, just a step beyond locking hubs. And the price, at just over $27K for the highest trim, loaded version, takes us back a couple of decades.
But the Grand Vitara isn't being consciously retro like the Chevy Camaro; it just hasn't been aggressively updated to modern standards. The stereo has features that were current 10 years ago, and the automatic transmission only has five gears. To give the car a tech edge, Suzuki integrates a Garmin Nuvi 765T GPS unit into the dashboard, giving it navigation and Bluetooth phone features.
Cabin tech by Garmin
The cabin's hard plastics indicate that the Grand Vitara is an economy SUV, and the Limited trim version's fake wood trim in the door handles, perforated leather, and manually adjustable seats do little to change that perception. Although the rear seat is big enough for three people, legroom becomes nonexistent with the front seat pushed back, which could be a problem for tall drivers with families. Cargo space seems ample, and we like the rear cargo cover.
The stereo doesn't deviate from the economy theme, using a mere four speakers set into the doors. A single-disc player reads MP3 CDs, an auxiliary input sits near the tuning knob, and Satellite Radio is an option. There is no disc changer or USB port, and certainly no onboard hard-drive storage.
Audio quality from this stereo didn't upset our viewpoint of the car; the four speakers sent their muddled sound washing around our feet, with the only saving grace being an amp that could spit out some reasonable bass. Just forget about qualities such as clarity or separation.
Speaking of saving graces, the Grand Vitara, at least in Limited trim, offers a few. Audio controls on the steering wheel keep it from resting on the bottom of the barrel, and a smart key raises it another rung.
But the inclusion of the Garmin GPS unit, standard in our Grand Vitara and branded as Suzuki Trip, keeps the car from being a total tech failure. For a complete rundown of the Garmin's features and performance, read our review of the Nuvi 765T. Suffice to say that it earned 3.5 stars out of 5 in our review, and not only brings navigation and a phone system into the car, but also Bluetooth streaming to the stereo and a digital music player.
What is worth talking about is how Suzuki integrates the device with the Grand Vitara. Set into a plastic binnacle on the dashboard, it pops open on a spring-loaded hatch. The Nuvi 765T rests in a Garmin dock, and can be easily removed, although we found the hatch subtle enough that it wouldn't readily attract thieves. With a second dock, or just a power cable, you could use the Nuvi 765T in other cars.
All audio from the device plays through the Grand Vitara's stereo. We were impressed that, when it played route guidance directions or a phone call came in, the CD paused rather than simply muted. But call quality through the Grand Vitara's speakers wasn't particularly good, with plenty of breaks in the signal.
With its independent suspension, the Grand Vitara should have a carlike ride, but it still leans toward economy. It rocked and rolled us driving along rough asphalt, making every fault in the road felt.