Minggu, 08 Juni 2008



By admin

Novice violin students using the "Suzuki method" aren't allowed to touch their instruments for months. Aspiring musicians who aren't driven insane by repeatedly fingering cardboard cutouts often go on to make beautiful music, once allowed. Too bad Suzuki doesn't practice Suzuki; we could have all avoided the underpowered and funny-looking last gen Grand Vitara in favor of the infinitely more accomplished 2006 model. Despite obvious improvements since the Vitara's dress rehearsal, the question remains: is the new Grand Vitara finally ready for Avery Fisher Hall?

To make the Grand Vitara a headliner, Suzuki's engineers stripped their mid-sized ute to the frame and started afresh. While the new Grand's exterior is a radical departure from the old two-toned, plastic-clad and dimpled Subaru wannabe, it's still a deeply conservative design. Super-spy stealth touches — sleek rails that rise ever so slightly from the roof, black-trimmed wheel wells, black side gills on the hood — add a welcome touch of aggression. Sure, some clunkiness remains. The side mirrors are a dress size too big for the cute ute, and the huge tail lights give the rear end a decidedly dated demeanor. But they're the only flat notes in an otherwise harmonious composition.

Inside, Suzuki added a bit more stylistic flourish, like the circular design motif and seriously grippy Speed Racer seats. The clever, honeycomb-esque pattern inside the Vitara's round heating vents almost makes you forget the cheap-looking plastic surrounding the shifter. The audio controls are as easy to play as Ed Grimley's triangle, and the silver sound source buttons are as inviting as a major seventh on a sunny spring day. For Suzuki, the aesthetic exuberance marks a welcome change from its penchant for Seattle weather interiors. For some reason, the Vitara's turn signal indicators are sotto voce; at least the same holds true for the cabin at speed.

A slim three-panel display (set back at the top of the dash) sings silent volumes about a subject dear to the hearts of many an SUV owner: fossil fuel. The first two panels show the time and outside temperature, the third, instantaneous fuel economy. The lack of an average fuel economy calculation is annoying, but not surprising. The never sluggish Vitara's 2.7L V6 drank about a gallon of refinery juice every 18 miles. Compared to its mates in the small SUV class, the Vitara doesn't have a Jared pre-Subway size appetite, but it's still not the kind of noise Suzuki wants its drivers to put into heavy rotation.

For truly anemic gas mileage, just fill-up Vitara with stuff. The skimpy tailgate opening is a bit mean, but the the 60-40 split rear seats help facilitate a proper CostCo expedition. Should you and five mates decide to relieve the store of it mayo supply, a trailer might be in order. The Grand Vitara can tow 300 ten-pound jars of salad gloop– a figure that tops Honda's CRV by a good 50 jars. While this factoid might be irrelevant (not to mention disgusting) to the vast majority of Vitara lifestylers, props to Suzuki for keeping it macho real in the cute ute set.

Rev the Grand Vitara's V6 sharp and firm and it growls like a prone-to-grumpiness cat being woken up after its fourth nap of the day. Once rousted, the Vitara's autobox is a bullish conductor: the five-speed shifter arpeggiates the gears upward like a fleet-fingered prodigy. Bringing the Vitara down from contralto is another matter. The engine occasionally palpitated, with the transmission slipping into an awkward stutter. It might have had something to do with our test model's 7k mileage (press car's odometer readings should be calculated in dog years). This may also account for the fact that the first time I used the brakes I thought I'd stepped on SpongeBob SquarePants.

In general, my ute cornering expectations hover somewhere just above my interest level in Kenny G's latest release. Despite the ladder-framed Vitara's high center of gravity, it negotiated the turns with admirable panache. Winding through the twisties, the Vitara's tip factor was subdued enough for reasonably spirited progress. Sensibly, Suzuki trumpets the Grand Vitara's off-road prowess rather than its cornering capability. I gave the Vitara as thorough an off-road test as contractual obligations allowed and found the SUV to be a stalwart performer. During a winter rainstorm, it hit multiple high notes on pockmarked, winding dirt roads, without once losing its place. Bravo maestro!

With the small SUV segment more crowded than the Englebert Humperdinck section at a Phoenix Wal-Mart, Suzuki needed to orchestrate a Ninth-caliber performance to reach the top of the pops. And so it does — more or less. The new Grand Vitara stays in tune on classical stretches of highway and baroque patches of dirt. Sadly for its Japanese maestro, the truck still needs a bit more polish before it's ready for Radio City. Each passage in the Grand Vitara's three-movement symphony — styling, performance, and handling — has a few conspicuous sour notes, which ultimately render Suzuki's Grand Vitara more Salieri than Mozart.


By Jonny Lieberman

What the Hell’s a Suzuki’s SX4? I know it’s my job to know about these things, but I swear the test car greeting me upon my return from Old Blighty was the first one I’ve ever seen. If first impressions last, this tall, decidedly Japanese runabout says Subaru Forrester meets Scion xA on the suburban side of town. (In keeping with the parlance of our times, Suzuki shuns the “w” word and calls the SX4 a crossover.) A quick walk around revealed four big wheels, four big disc brakes, a Prius style double A-pillar and an AWD badge. Hmmm…? Could this sub-radar Suzuki be a sleeper?

Every other passenger vehicle in Suzuki’s domestic lineup dorkidly screams nerd; the Reno, Aerio and Forenza all look pasty, awkward and four-eyed. The almost-but-not-quite butch SX4 offers a clear break from its geeky brothers, and a much appreciated change of direction for the otherwise bland brand. The SX4’s sharp proboscis confidently displays the samurai-slash family logo. The handsomely sculpted hood is reminiscent of Audi’s latest TT. Despite its lack of an intercooler, the lower-level air intake is quite EVO-ish. Not bad at all.

From the side, the SX4’s profile offers a strange amalgamation of standard issue sedan sheetmetal and seductive designs cues lifted from a certain retro-British roadster. Clock the SX4’s blistered black plastic wheel arches and the rear wheels pushed out to the corners. From the back, black plastic wraps around the faux-chrome lower-bumper. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there’s a MINI blushing somewhere.

The SX4’s interior is resolutely lower-middle class; no effort was made to hide or disguise its inexpensive materials. And? The SX4’s designers used their plastic palette to create a cabin that’s a model of clarity and ergonomic ease. From a handsome, common sense radio head unit to funky air vents to a right-sized steering wheel, the SX4 proves that cost constriction is no barrier to good design. Sure, the helm and stick-shift are Rubbermaid, and the seats offer meager support or comfort. But this $15k vehicle is no penalty box.

Such modest money buys gadgets and gizmos aplenty: AC, six-disc in dash CD, daytime running lights, intermittent wipers, rear wiper, power locks with remote entry, power windows with driver auto-down, a exterior thermometer, four-mode trip computer, 60/40 split folding rear seat, ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), six airbags and driver selectable AWD. An old S-Class sold less for more.

The SX4’s on-demand AWD system is a particularly pukka party trick, reminiscent of Subarus of yore. For daily duty, the SX4 is a front-driver. Flip a switch near the handbrake and i-AWD kicks in. In this mode, 95% of the SX4’s torque is routed to the front wheels. Should either of the fronts lose purchase, up to 50% of the power is sent to the back wheels. If you get stuck in sand (posing for the requisite PR lifestyle surfer dude pictures), you can switch to full-time four wheel-drive and lock up the transfer case for an even split.

And if you have to split in a hurry, the SX4 is a corner carver par excellence. The base model’s blessed with fat 205 tires (the same size as a BMW 328i’s hoops) and a smartly-tuned chassis; the Sport version gains stability control (unique to this class). Surprisingly, body roll and grip are never an issue. Even better, the SX4’s rack and pinion steering is a revelation; the tiniest tiller inputs deliver an instant change of direction. Running in i-AWD I tackled my favorite corners as fast as I could in my (gulp) Subaru WRX.

And the hits keep happening. With a 2.0-liter DOHC I4 harnessing 143 scrappy little fillies, this little Suzy has some guts. To gain access to the mill’s 136 pound-feet of torque, your hand never leaves the stick shift knob but A) you’re only fighting against 2800lbs. and B) it’s fun. Short gearing ensures that the engine is constantly on the boil, while the user friendly clutch makes downshifting a breeze. OK, you can’t call a zero to sixty in 8.3 seconds car fast, but it ain’t slow neither.

There are downsides. The SX4’s ride, especially on the highway, is rocky and worrisome (blame the torture beam rear suspension). Though the Suzuki’s engine note isn’t especially dissonant, wind and engine noise are intrusive at speed. The high-pitched squeaks that tells you to buckle up, close the door and turn off the damn headlights are skull-splittingly awful. And 80mph puts over 4000rpm on the clock; no car is more in need of a sixth-gear.

For roughly the same money as a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit or Nissan Versa, the Suzuki SX4 provides a larger, more powerful wagon — “crossover” with AWD, distinctive styling and hoonery. If Suzuki creates more driver friendly vehicles like the SX4, they’ll finally be building a brand worth remembering.


By Jonny Lieberman

I’m 31, single and happy. So obviously my mother is constantly nagging me to get hitched and give her grandchildren. Even my sister’s impending marriage has failed to distract her; she’ll never be content until, presumably, I am not. Perhaps she’s right. I’m the only unmarried man at my weekly poker game. My best friend is expecting his first child this summer. If I were honest, I might admit I’m at the age when oat-sowing men settle down, produce offspring and molt. I can, however, offer at least one compelling reason for not introducing my spawn upon the world’s stage: I'd fit the Suzuki XL7's psychographic profile.

The best part of this car reviewing gig is the weekly Xmas gift in the driveway. Sadly, I’ve been busy thinking of excuses not to drive the XL7. Surely the battery on the WRX will drop dead if I don’t take it for a spin. There’s that one twisty bit on the 0.7 mile jaunt to the store; best not to waste it. Suzuki’s all new seven-seater has turned me into a child that hates his toys. If I could bottle boredom, I’d write “XL7” on the label and shove it up the tailpipe.

Though you’d never guess the XL7 is a stodgy snore based on exterior appearances. The nose is an ADHD-derived pastiche of at least three separate design tongues, all of which fail fantastically. It has the jut-jawed, approach-angle killing bumper found on Toyota trucks. The three-bar chrome grill is quite literally stolen from Ford. And the sagging lower portions of the headlamps are lamely fashioned after the sharp bend in the Suzuki S. From the side, you’re looking at a fat Saturn Vue with the wheel arches squared off. All three windows have black plastic cheats that try to convince you the greenhouse is shapely. It’s not. The rear isn’t even worth mentioning.

Inside, Suzuki has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that their SUV is fashioned from the same materials used to make the brightly colored plastic eggs protecting kiddies’ trinkets. The XL7’s brittle gearshift not only sports Sebring-quality fake wood (as does much of the interior), but is quite literally hollow. As are the volume toggles on the wheel. The armrest feels like it melted and all the knobs seem distinctly second-hand. Serendipitously, I’ve discovered a new axiom: as bad as Suzuki seats. Speaking of which, there is a third-row, but I couldn’t imagine how one would get back there. So I didn’t. At least the sat nav is cute.

If you want to know why Suzuki– or anyone– would put power window switches on either side of the gear selector, the po'boy cabin design owes its not-so- fundamentals to its platform partners: the Chevy Equinox/Pontiac Torrent twins. While this kind of matrix can create a groovy vibe, GM’s seven percent [ownership] solution blessed the ostensibly Japanese automaker with yet another inexpensive opportunity to broaden its lineup with, um, crap.

At this point, I’m supposed to describe the XL7’s driving dynamics. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any. Yes, yes; it goes, it stops, it turns and when you run out of gas you can refuel. Other than that, I got nothing. Objectively, I put 400 miles on the odometer. Subjectively, I can’t remember one of them. Knowing this, with a deadline looming, I took the XL7 for a final spin around the block. This minivan on stilts goes, stops, turns and you can refuel it– though I'm hard-pressed to figure out why anyone would bother.

There is one caveat, one unexpected find. Ascending a hill I became trapped behind a particularly slow Toyota. I swung left and really buried the throttle. The XL7 simply erupted. The 3.6-liter, 24-valve, double-overhead cam, high-revving mill threw 252hp and 243lbs. ft. of torque at the incline. Imagine a funicular on NOS. Credit God-knows-what, but the XL7 goes much quicker than it should. Most impressive (and odd): it covers the 70 to 90mph sprint with a fury many sports cars can only dream of. I can best describe it as raging full on. Of course, if you were to change course at that speed, the body lean would scrape the rear-view on the pavement. Note to Suzuki: put this engine into a chassis that can exploit its banshee-like power.

Hang on. It took over four-days of puttering around Los Angeles and a Camry that rode its brakes uphill before I even considered giving this monotonous hippopotamus the cane. That's just dull. And unacceptable. I mean, the recent XL7's TV ads show a biker babe and a cool dude in an XL7 swapping keys, and asks, can you handle it? Yes, and no. My poor mother.