IT'S EVIDENT THE instant you get off the clutch. This 2.4-litre petrol engine is now the Grand Vitara’s strongest point. It’s got a massive 43bhp up in a package that weighs only 20kg more — enough to make it bound past the 100kph mark in 11.7 seconds, a nice 2.3sec faster than the now-discontinued 2.0-litre Vitara.
But first, a bit of history. The earlier Vitara was never a Grand performer on the showroom floors. It wasn’t too quick, had an interior that didn’t quite live up to its price and also had the unenviable reputation of being quite a guzzler. Maruti hopes to make a comeback with this, the ‘new’ Grand Vitara.
This Grand Vitara’s got a bigger 2.4-litre engine, makes 163bhp and 23kgm of torque, has disc brakes on all four wheels and costs Rs 16.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), Rs 2.5 lakh more than the earlier car. As there is very little in terms of extra equipment or features, it is safe to say that the price increase is mostly for the engine. So is it worth it?
The engine is a development of the earlier 2.0-litre unit. At 90mm, its stroke remains the same, but the bore is up from 84mm to 92m. It also gets variable valve timing and the balancer shaft is now built into the oil pump to save space. It’s brisk, it’s got a strong midrange, a frantic top-end and performance that will put a smile on your face.
Throttle responses have improved over the entire rev range and the Vitara now feels gutsier than the old one ever did. In fact, it’s a lot friendlier than the old Vitara in traffic too. It’ll pull cleanly away from 1000rpm in third gear but there is an irritating boom in the cabin as the engine works its way to 2000rpm. The engine is quiet enough at idle and when cruising, noise levels are respectable but the engine becomes vocal when it crosses 3500rpm. So, it’s not as refined or smooth as a CR-V motor. The gearshift is notchy — it works better when eased through the gate and baulks when you try and rush it. And, we don’t expect economy to be any better than the 2.0-litre, because it’s still got that full-time four-wheel-drive system.
You can see a ghost of the Vitara’s lineage (read Gypsy) in the way it rides. It’s stiff-kneed in town and there are a lot of sharp vertical movements over bumps and potholes. The suspension is unrefined too. Don’t get us wrong, it’s never extremely uncomfortable like a Gypsy is but it’s not entirely settled either. The CR-V definitely rides better.
The Vitara handles very well though, especially in the wet. That full-time 4WD system gives it a vice-like grip on the road and it never threatens to catch you out. The hydraulically assisted steering is nicely weighted and linear and there’s good body control. It’s pretty capable off-road too, with its low range transfer case and the centre locking differential.
The rest of the Vitara we know well. It’s a clean, slightly muscular, handsome design and now with the bigger 17-inch wheels, looks taller and beefier than the CR-V. Apart from the wheels, there’s little to distinguish it from the discontinued 2.0-litre Vitara. You’ll have to look for the VVT badges and a very slightly updated grille. Interior quality is not what it should be in a Rs 16-lakh car. The plastic quality is not great and it borrows too many bits from its cheaper sibling, the SX4. The Grand Vitara’s ergonomics are generally fine though, with nice touches including reclining rear seats that also split and fold 50:50. The front seats, like in the Swift, are very comfy. A new climate control system and a trip computer, and an in-dash CD-changer round off the interior upgrade. There are a few gripes though. There’s more black in the cabin than a coal bin and there’s no AUX input port.
Should you buy one? Well, the new Vitara costs a whopping Rs 7 lakh less than the CR-V and is much cheaper than the Outlander too. It’s the stepping stone into the small petrol SUV segment. It’s still no CR-V beater but at this price, it’s the more affordable and practical option.