Towing the Grand Vitara

June 1, 2000
Filed under Dinghy Towing

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WHEN SUZUKI INTRODUCED THE SAMURAI, a diminutive four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle in
the mid-1980s, it was easy to tow on all fours and quickly caught on as a natural
tag-along, even though the first models lacked a few creature comforts and were a little
hard on one’s back after tooling around solo for 100 miles or so. But times have certainly
changed; the latest generation of Suzuki vehicles are highly refined, comfortable and
capable of being towed with automatic transmissions and no drivetrain modifications. While
there are a number of vehicles in the Suzuki line, the Grand Vitara is the flagship
nameplate. The test vehicle — a four-door, four-wheel-drive (4WD) JLX+ model — is just
one step from the top and has a sticker price of $21,499, which includes no options. The
long list of features, including a 2.5-liter V-6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission,
4WD with a two-speed transfer case, air conditioning and a full array of power accessories,
is standard. A limited edition Grand Vitara, with special trim and features, is the
company’s most luxurious model. With a curb weight of 3,197 pounds, the Suzuki fits nicely
within the capacities of most hitch receivers and tow bars. The spunky V-6 has 155 ponies
to move it along nicely at highway speeds; torque is 160 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. Setting up the
vehicle to tow is a very simple process, although the owner must follow a few extra
instructions for the 4WD models. The test Grand Vitara was towed behind a Winnebago Journey
motorhome and fitted with Blue Ox’s ultralight Aladdin tow bar, which is designed to be
mounted to the motorhome’s hitch receiver. Once the Suzuki is secured to the motorhome, the
owner moves the transfer-case lever to the 4H position to verify that the 4WD light is
illuminated in the instrument cluster and that it goes off when the lever is shifted back
to the 2H slot. This is to verify that the automatic locking hubs are disengaged before
towing. For towing, the automatic-transmission shift lever is placed in the Park position
and the ignition switch is turned to On. Then the transfer case shift lever is moved to
Neutral. At this point, the 4WD light in the dash must not be illuminated. Finally, the key
is turned to the ACC position, the parking brake is released, and the vehicle is ready to
be towed. Suzuki recommends that towing speed be limited to 55 mph and that the vehicle be
stopped every 200 miles to circulate lubricant in the transfer case. To do this, the owner
simply starts the engine and shifts the transmission lever into Drive (with the transfer
case still in Neutral). The engine is revved for about one minute to circulate the oil. The
shift lever must be returned to the Park position and the key to the ACC position before
continuing to tow. While leaving the transmission in Park may seem disconcerting, it’s
important not to overrule the instructions in the owner’s manual. During our extended test
trip, the Grand Vitara tracked beautifully behind the Journey under all conditions. Since
we prefer not to travel more than 200 miles without stopping anyway, we found the little
exercise to circulate the oil posed no real inconvenience. When we were set up in camp, the
Suzuki provided comfortable transportation for up to five people. Obviously, the Grand
Vitara is nimble to handle due to its compact overall size, but the cabin is surprisingly
roomy. Up front, the driver (as well as the passenger) has plenty of legroom and is
surrounded with controls and instruments that are ergonomically arranged. The back seat has
limited legroom when the front seats are extended all the way back; when folded down, it
exposes a 44.6-cubic-foot cargo hold. With the seat in place, there’s still 21 cubic feet
of space, which is plenty for shopping bags and a few supplies. Access to the rear is via a
one-piece, side-opening door. Performancewise, the fuel-injected six-banger does a pretty
good job, with the expected slowing on steep grades. Traveling highway speeds netted 22.5
mpg, but keep in mind that most freeways and interstates allow speeds up to 75 mph, so the
mileage, while high-speed cruising, is pretty decent. Although the Suzuki is very
civilized, its off-highway capabilities should not be overlooked. An independent MacPherson
Strut coil-spring front suspension with stabilizer bar and the five-link coil-sprung solid
axle out back provide very good manners on or off road. The body-on-frame design gives the
vehicle plenty of strength and rigidity for most driving situations. It’s hard to compare
the new Grand Vitara with the Suzuki of yesteryear. As a refined 4WD sport-utility, it’s a
vehicle that provides driving fun and a controlled ride with plenty of stability. Add the
long list of amenities and creature comforts that rival its medium and large cousins, and
it very well could qualify as one of the best buys for an automatic-equipped, versatile
sport-utility that can be towed on all fours. Article by: Bob Livingston Photos by: Bob
Livingston

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