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Steering, suspension and ride comfort

Not only does the monocoque construction of the Grand Vitara remove a whole raft of joints that can transmit vibration to the body, it also allows better packaging. Doing away with a large steel chassis, while mounting the suspension (car-like MacPherson struts at the front, multi-link at the back) and engine directly to the body means Suzuki can make the Vitara lower and lighter.

Monocoques are often not as strong as separate chassis on tough off-road terrain, though, so pressed into the Grand Vitara’s underside are two tough, longitudinal rails which increase torsional rigidity and help this 4x4 retain its off-roading credentials.

The Grand Vitara’s low-speed ride is fair, probably more because the 65-profile tyres take the edge off ruts and surface imperfections than thanks to any particular suppleness in the suspension. The springs and dampers feel reasonably firm in an effort to keep body movements in check and give the Vitara a more controlled, car-like feel at speed. This has been partially successful: the Suzuki deals pretty well with crests, dips and camber changes.

It corners tidily, too. The hydraulically assisted steering is nicely weighted and linear and proves accurate and responsive, if short of feel; and as the Suzuki approaches the modest limits of grip it falls predictably and safely into understeer. Lift off the throttle and the nose gradually regains grip as the car slows.

The four-wheel drive system uses a Torsen centre differential and a conventional limited-slip rear one. Selectable via a rotary dial on the dashboard, the system is set as standard in high ratio with an unlocked centre diff, or you can lock that diff in either high or low range modes. The low range has a 1.97 ratio, almost halving the road speed in a given gear, so the Grand Vitara can crawl along at just 2mph at idle in first gear.

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There's no diff-lock for the front and rear axles. Not that it matters much because the boundaries of the Suzuki's off-road ability are, as in most off-roaders, initially limited by its tyres. Our test car came on road-biased 225/65 R17 Bridgestone Dueler tyres, which proved fine on lightly muddy tracks. Ground clearance of 200mm and 29deg approach (front), 27deg departure (rear) and 19deg ramp (between the axle) angles are all competitive for a road-biased 4x4. While off-road, we cranked the axles onto full opposite articulation to test the chassis’ stiffness: with wheels opposed, all doors and the boot still opened with no noticeable deterioration in their operation.

As for the braking power, the 60-0mph time of 2.8sec is good but a few stops overheated the brakes fairly quickly. Would you find this a problem on the road? Probably not, but repeatedly using the brakes on steep off-road descents might tax them.