UPDATED WITH REVIEWS:
Special Wednesday Walkaround: Two new models coming from American Suzuki – the all-new 2009 Equator pickup and the refreshed 2009 Grand Vitara.
Suzuki hosted this press launch in the Texas Hill Country at the historic Knibbe Ranch.
Click on image for video.
At a time when truck sales – all truck sales – are struggling, Suzuki is bolstering its 2009 lineup with a bold move into “troubled waters” by launching a midsize pickup model as well as making the very utilitarian sport utility Grand Vitara a bit grander.
There are, perhaps, more folks who know Suzuki for its recreational vehicles (ATVs, street bikes and dirt bikes) than do for the passenger vehicle segment, so it seems a natural fit for the automaker to want to offer these consumers the choice to fill their entire garage with the Suzuki brand.
American Suzuki Motor Corporation launches these new vehicles as it extends its product portfolio looking to deliver some 200,000 units total by 2012. Under the banner of “Travel light and live fully,” Suzuki positions this pair as “lifestage” vehicles, not move ups or move overs.
For the new pickup, named Equator, Suzuki is taking Nissan Frontier trucks and replacing the front end and badging with its own. Everything else is pure Nissan, right down to the spray-in bedliners and powertrains. And, Suzuki throws in that great seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
As to Grand Vitara, most of the big news is under the hood, with a four-cylinder engine added to the fleet and enhancements to the V-6. Other changes are mild cosmetics and such.
We tested both new vehicles in the Texas Hill Country recently, at the Knibbe Ranch. Suzuki had a nice offroad trail cut through the undeveloped “back 40” of the 22,000-acre property with some very technical portions designed to demonstrate the range of capability of both vehicles. I was impressed to see both models allowed on the same difficult course that included plenty of rocks and a couple of water hazards involving the Guadalupe River (and a few surprised kayakers).
Both Equator and Grand Vitara demonstrated that they are not restricted to the boundaries of a paved society. Even the professional quad racing team on hand enjoyed a trip around the offroad course in the new trucks.
An equal amount of time on the offroad trail involved listening as it did driving – listening to the vehicle to see if it was enjoying itself or screaming in pain. No screaming. No rattles, no creaks, no squeaks – nothing but the sound of the motor enjoying the great outdoors.
The 2009 Suzuki Equator will be available by December of this year and offered in both extended and crew cab configurations in rear- or four-wheel-drive. Trucks with 4WD will offer a shift-on-the-fly electronically controlled two-speed transfer case along with offroad traction system that includes four-wheel active limited slip traction control, electronic locking rear differential, vehicle dynamic control, hill descent control and hill hold control.
Equator is powered by either a 152hp 2.5-liter I-4 engine (backed by either five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission) or a 4.0-liter V-6 mated to the automatic. The latter is rated at 261hp and 281 lb. ft. of torque.
A variety of trim packages (base, premium, sport and RMZ-4) are available on Equator’s short and long bed chassis.
No pricing is available just yet but fuel economy should run somewhere around 19 mpg city for the four-cylinder engine with manual gearbox (15 mpg city for V-6 models) with up to 23 mpg on the highway.
Equator proved itself in the Texas Hill Country and will soon be ready to haul your favorite Suzuki toys.
I remember the first time I drove a Grand Vitara. Suzuki was just introducing it at my first Texas Truck Rodeo with the Texas Auto Writers group and the little Suzuki was a surprise of its class as it stole the show for compact SUVs.
It was a no-nonsense vehicle that was easy to drive, very comfortable and quite capable when leaving the paved parking areas.
Fast forward to last week and I find little has changed. Grand Vitara is quite the little competitor equally at home whether on road or off. Styling has improved over the years and for 2009 Suzuki has made some significant enhancements to the powertrain.
First and foremost is the new 166hp 2.4-liter engine offering, which we found to be very capable at tackling rugged and rocky terrain in our time behind the wheel.
While we drove only four-wheel-drive models, GV is available in rear-wheel-drive as well. The new I-4 can be mated to either five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic. We enjoyed the latter in our time behind the wheel, in vehicles with the new Four-Mode fulltime 4WD system that offers 4H, 4H Lock and 4L Lock. The “Lock” modes lock the center differential, a feature not normally found in this segment of vehicle.
The new 3.2-liter V-6 offered on the Grand Vitara replaces the 2.7-liter unit and bumps horsepower to 230 with torque rising to 213 lb. ft., and despite the increase in power, fuel economy is raised and the new engine burns 20 percent cleaner than the 2008 model it replaces.
Best fuel economy figures for the I-4 are 19/26 and 18/24 for the V-6.
The 2009 Grand Vitara is offered in four trim lines with two engines and three driveline choices. It should begin arriving in dealerships in late October or early November but Suzuki has not released any pricing info for it either.