1999 Suzuki Vitara
Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away
When I pulled into our driveway in the Suzuki Vitara
sportcute, 11-year-old Patrick said, "Didn't we already have that
"That was the Grand Vitara," I replied. "This is just a
"What makes this one less grand?" he queried.
Good question. The two vehicles are, in fact, nearly identical
under the skin. Even the skin is virtually the same, too, apart
from lower body side cladding on the Grand. Both of our testers
were also silver.
The major mechanical difference is under the hood. While the
Grand uses a sweetheart of a 2.5 L four-cam 24-valve V6, the
non-Grand has an all-new twin-cam 16-valve 2.0 L four cylinder,
producing 127 hp at 6000 rpm, and 134 lbft of torque at a
remarkably (for a multivalve engine) low 3000 rpm.
While these numbers are 28 and 26 lower respectively than the
V6, the four actually propels the little truck along very nicely
thanks to the low torque peak.
Lady Leadfoot said, "The only time I missed the V6 was coming
up the hill on the Sixth Line." There really is no replacement
for displacement, even if Suzuki's four still has more torque,
and at lower revs, than the Toyota ,1,0 RAV4, and gets better
fuel economy, too.
The engine revs freely, sweetly and quietly, not even becoming
unpleasantly loud as it approaches its peak revs. Nice.
My tester was equipped with the four-speed automatic
transmission, which shifts well. There is a power/economy
switch, which allows the driver to choose the bias the
transmission is supposed to assume.
Some of the newer autoboxes make this function automatic as
well, basing their electronic judgment on the aggressiveness
with which you hammer on the loud pedal.
Overdrive is locked out by means of a thumb button in
practice the quickest and easiest way to do this. It's helpful
in hilly country when you often want the extra pulling power of
the lower i.e., third ratio.
On the road, the tall (height) but short (length) little
Vitara is sensitive to side winds, as was its more powerful
brother. The light, quick steering helps you stay in your proper
lane, and makes the truck easy to handle in town and in parking
Ride quality is excellent for the breed, thanks in part to the
multiple linkages to the solid rear axle.
Our tester was solidly built, with no squeaks or rattles
emanating from the body in our three-plus weeks of testing.
The doors close with a satisfying "chunk," and the materials,
apart from a few plasticky hard-trim bits, seem of good quality.
The Vitara comes only with a shift-on-the-fly part-time
four-wheel drive system, allowing you to slide in and out of 4×4
mode at speeds up to 100 km/h with a flick of the wrist.
The front hubs lock automatically when you need them, but
there are no locking or limited-slip differentials in Suzuki's
system. Offroad freaks will mourn this, but for most, it simply
limits just how deep and far from home you get stuck.
ABS brakes are optional on Vitara (ours had them), standard on
Inside, the Grand and less-Grand are also virtually identical,
apart from a few trim items and the radio specs. Someone had
inflicted upon our tester a Clarion singleshot CD-equipped
radio, with the same infuriating face plate as my Hyundai
Tiburon last year. Teeny push-buttons, and an unfathomable single
rocker control for station tuning and volume that defies
operation at anything but a dead stop. Repeat after me: "Large
There's decent room inside — lots of height, of course, and
enough total leg room that front and rearseat riders should be
able to negotiate a reasonable compromise.
The seats have longer cushions than most Asian products and
are comfortable to the backside.
The spec sheet says the rear seatback splitfolds in 60/40
The pair of head restraints in the back must be removed to
fold the seatbacks down — or if you want any hope of seeing out
the rear window.
To me, the minuscule safety advantage they may or may not have
in a rearend crash is vastly outweighed by the safety
disadvantage of the diminished visibility.
The right-hinged rear door opens wide and easily, assisted by
a gas strut, and is held open by a light detent. The cargo area
isn't terribly long, but it can handle a lot of gear thanks to
A removable window-blind cargo cover is included, but it spent
most of its time in our front hall.
The less-Grand Vitara comes only in what Suzuki calls JX trim.
This brings dual airbags, variable intermittent wipers, a rear
window wiper, full instrumentation, power steering with tilt
column and a pair of roof rails. The sticker is a reasonable
$19,995 for the four-door model.
The only available factory options are automatic ($1,500), air
conditioning ($1,350), and ABS ($800), which our truck had, an
AM/FM stereo cassette ($450; our CD unit was, presumably, a
dealer-installed extra. Don't let them do this to you) and
aluminum wheels, which ours didn't. No loss; these always seem
odd to me on a sportute, considering that these things are
supposed to be offroad-capable.
Conspicuous by their absence on either the standard or
optional equipment lists are things like power windows, locks
and mirrors. My, don't we get spoiled. To get those goodies you
have to migrate to the Grand Vitara, which starts at $23,495,
which also brings you the V6 motor and the ABS.
If you also check off the JLX trim level box on the Grand
order form, you'll get the aircon, the AM/FM/CD radio, the alloy
wheels, plus cruise control and add another three grand to the
Any of these represents pretty good value in this segment.
Simply choose between what you must have and what you can
Regular readers know I'm not much of a fan of sportutes. But
if you do want the TallBoy/TallGirl seating position and
four-wheel drive capability, any of the Vitara line at least
offers these attributes in a reasonably sized, reasonably
fuel-efficient, not terrible-to-drive vehicle which poses far less
threat to our environment and to other road users than the
typical SUV mastodons.
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on
driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.
Email:jbkenzie @ interhop.net
1999 Suzuki Vitara JX
Vehicle type: 4-door sportutility 4×4
Engine: DOHC, 16-valve, 2.0 L 4-cylinder (127 hp)
Transmissions: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic Brakes: front
ventilated discs, rear drums
Standard equipment includes shift-on-the-fly 4WD, with auto
locking front hubs; dual airbags; power steering, with tilt
column; variable intermittent wipers; rear window wiper; roof
Options include automatic transmission, 4-wheel ABS, a/c,
upgraded stereo, aluminum wheels Fuel efficiency (manual
trans.): 10.4 L/100 km city, 8.5 L/100 km highway
Warranty: basic and powertrain, 3 years/80,000 km; rust
perforation, 5 years/unlimited km
Base price: $19,995 ,5
As tested : $23,644 + tax