The Suzuki Grand Vitara has been a good go to vehicle in Costa Rica for over 20 years. The combination of durability, quality and value makes it a good choice, particularly for those who don’t want to break the bank for transportation needs. Read on to find out more about the different generations and their characteristics.
1999 – 2004 Introducing the Suzuki Grand Vitara
Building on success with their earlier models, Suzuki introduced the Grand Vitara in 1999. The Grand Vitara is a very similar chassis to the earlier Sidekick (aka Geo Tracker), but it has more the interior room. The Grand Vitara retains the same off-road capability, and also keeps the sturdy chassis and suspension. This means that the vehicle can go almost anywhere in Costa Rica.
The engines in the early Grand Vitara are most commonly v6, particularly in versions imported as used vehicles from the US. They are less fuel efficient than the 4 cylinder versions, but offer more power on the highway. They are common in manual transmission and automatic. The automatic transmission versions feature a “power” setting, this increases the RPM shift points for each gear, by about 300. It is very convenient in hilly areas, which is most of Costa Rica! When going downhill it means you brake less, because the engine does a lot of braking for you. When going uphill you mostly eliminate the tendency of shifting up right when you are passing that big truck, so you don’t lose power and acceleration when you need it most. Since the transmission is just 3 speeds (plus reverse), this flexibility improves the performance on the highway significantly.
These versions also have an overdrive, which can be thought of as the reverse of the power setting. If you ever find a flat highway where you can go 100 kmph (60 mph), then you can engage the overdrive, which lowers the engine RPM at high speeds, increasing fuel economy and reducing engine wear. The new road to Liberia is almost the only place you might need this, although some stretches on the 27 toll road could also be a good fit.
Most Grand Vitaras have a decent amount of extras, like power windows and door locks, but there are some economical versions with less features than others. In general the automatic transmission v6 will have more, while the manual 4 cylinder versions less.
2006 to 2011 – Super Size Me
The body style changed significantly in 2006, and also the interior design was updated to a more techno look. Upholstery took on a mesh look that is touted as more resistant to rough use. The v6 was eliminated and the injection system improved, so these year models have a more efficient 2.0 liter engine, which gives a nice combination of power and fuel economy.
The Grand Vitara retains it’s rugged roots though, all 4×4 models have the low setting. So you can still go anywhere, and you also retain the beefy chassis and suspension. The body is also wider and larger, so the 2nd row seats are more comfortable for the 3 passengers, they also have more cargo space in the rear area.
2012 to 2019 – the Song Remains the Same
These versions are mostly cosmetic changes, except Suzuki began offering the option of the economical 2000cc engine, or the more powerful 2400cc. This would be the better engine combined with an automatic transmission. While the 2000cc with a manual transmission provides superior fuel economy.
Suzuki Grand Vitara Summary
The Grand Vitara ages well and this is a great entry level vehicle for Costa Rica. It has room for 5 passengers, plus a small amount of gear in the rear cargo area. Fitting these SUVs with a luggage rack or carrier maximizes the vehicles potential. The rugged suspension and chassis will stand up well over time to rough roads, so you won’t have to replace suspension parts and linkages as much, if you commonly travel gravel or worse roads.
Suzuki parts are high quality and not expensive, they are a great value. Suzuki vehicles have been popular for a long time in Costa Rica, and most mechanics will have multiple clients with the same model car, so getting the maintenance and repairs done is easy.
The v6 engine isn’t very economical compared to similar size 4 cylinder engines, and not as powerful as other v6 engines. If that is a concern, then you would want to go with the later 4 cylinder models. But if you want the automatic transmission, on the older models, then the v6 engine is the way to go. And the smaller body size and weight make it more economical than larger 6 cylinder SUVs.
Pros: The Suzuki Grand Vitara is an excellent value compared to other models, it’s the only SUV in this class with true 4×4 with the low setting. So you can use it in rural and coastal areas with no disadvantages at all. The small size is great for parking, or narrow mountain and rural roads. It’s a vehicle that will blend into the local scene easily, so is less of a target for unscrupulous characters. You will pay less for the Grand Vitara than some other models in this class, and get the same or better quality.
Cons: The Suzuki Grand Vitara seats 5 adults, the 2005 and later models are wider, so they are a bit more comfortable. But long trips won’t be comfortable for 5, especially in the early models. Likewise, the rear cargo area isn’t ample, it has good height but it lacks depth. So if you commonly carry 4 or 5 people plus gear or luggage, you almost certainly need a larger SUV.
The short wheel base is an advantage in extreme off-road conditions, likewise the ladder type chassis construction. But these are a disadvantage in handling and highway driving. It feels like a truck, kind of the French Bulldog of the SUV world. But some people don’t like the boxy look and truck-like feel. If you don’t need the 4×4 low capability, then other models in this class have better handling on good roads and more capacity for passengers and cargo.
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