Canadian-built five-door variants arrived in 1998 and were sold alongside the existing Japanese and Spanish made Vitaras, which were slowly phased out.
Soft-tops were launched in 1999 and the three-door hard-top hit UK showrooms in 2000. The Shogun-rivalling XL & long-wheelbase sold from 2001 onwards and is available as a five- or seven-seater.
Prices now start at £4,700 for early 2.5 V6 models, but all versions offer good value. A reasonable level of equipment and a strong market for 4x4s means there is no shortage of buyers for Grand Vitaras. It also helps that five-door models (the XL-7 in particular) make good value tow cars.
Grand Vitara is one of a handful of lifestyle 4x4s that are good performers off-road. There’s four-wheel-drive, adequate ground clearance and a low-ratio transfer gearbox. It’s quite able on-road too, with minimal bodyroll and a compliant ride.
The interior looks disappointingly cheap, with lots of grey and black plastic, and twee seat material. The driving position is good – high up, with good visibility. The steering wheel height can be adjusted and most have seat-height adjustment.
All major controls are logically placed and easy to reach.There’s limited luggage space on the three-door, although the rear seats do fold and tumble to increase the load area. Five-door has more space and still has folding seats. Five-seat XL-7 is best. A large hinged door means loading shopping can be difficult when you’re parked-up.
The smallest unit is a 1.6 petrol. It’s quite perky, suitable for town and motorway driving and delivers adequate fuel consumption, but the 2.0 is better suited to the large body of the Grand Vitara. The 2.5 V6 comes with automatic transmission as standard equipment and is quite smooth.
Five and seven-seat XL-7 models have a 170bhp 2.7 V6. 2.0 TD is of the old school of oil -burners – noisy, harsh and underpowered.
Three-star Euro NCAP rating is below average, but all new cars have ABS with EBD and dual front airbags. ABS was optional on some models before this date. Immobiliser and central locking only.
An alarm might be wise for buyers living in the town.