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Motoring: Vitara tops Outlander

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 19th, 2009

With gas prices soaring last year, people have certainly altered their buying habits. Gas might be cheap now, but who knows what they'll be in the summer.

One thing you can always count on though is the Canadian winter, it will always be frigid cold and it will bring snow, lots of it.

So what to do if you are looking for an SUV but also want something that is frugal! Mitsubishi and Suzuki might have the answer for you with their SUV.

The current Mitsubishi Outlander has been around for nearly two years now, and while the Suzuki Grand Vitara might also have been around for that time, the four-cylinder model is new for 2009.

On paper these two vehicles seem almost identical. They are about the same size, seat the same amount of people and they both have 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engines. The one in the Mitsubishi produces 168hp, while the one in the Suzuki makes 166hp (see what I mean by almost identical).

Both vehicles also have selectable four-wheel drive, however their gearboxes are quite different. Suzuki has stuck with a conventional four-speed automatic, while Mitsubishi has opted for a new CVT gearbox. The advantage this gives the Mitsubishi is better fuel economy. I averaged about 10.7-litres/100km with the Outlander, the Grand Vitara could only manage about 12.2-litres/100km, so if you are after fuel economy strictly, the Outlander wins. However, I much preferred the feel of the Suzuki's gearbox, and despite both vehicles having similar power, the Grand Vitara felt much quicker and required less pedal pressure to keep it cruising at highway speeds.

The Suzuki also benefits from a better steering feel. While the steering feel of the Mitsubishi reminds you that you are driving an affordably priced vehicle, the steering feel of the Suzuki reminds me of the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, and I am not joking either. How Suzuki got the steering feel so right is beyond me, all I can say is that it was a pleasure to take this vehicle through some twisty roads thanks to its awesome steering feel. The Suzuki has a great chassis too, which means it handles very much like a car. The Mitsubishi also handles quite well, but I was certainly more aware of its size and weight.

So from a strictly driver enjoyment point of view, it is a clear win for the Suzuki.

What about practicality? Both vehicles have about the same amount of space, with the Mitsubishi just edging out on rear-seat legroom. The Mitsubishi also has the better tail-gate design which offers a split, the top portion swings up, and the bottom portion swings down, which also serves as a nice bench for soccer mom's. This design is copied over from the big Range Rover, and its brilliant. The Suzuki however still has a swing opening rear-door, which is a nuisance if you are parallel parked downtown.

So in terms of practicality, the Mitsubishi is the winner here, however if you look at the interior quality, fit and finish, the Suzuki gains another point for a better design and finish.

So far the score is two-points for each vehicle, so it is a tough competition. Pricing is similar too, but similarly equipped the Mitsubishi is slightly cheaper, in either case, you're spending under $29,000 for a well equipped model.

Styling is a personal matter, but if you ask my opinion, I prefer the look of the Grand Vitara over the Outlander.

So this comparison does seem to have come to a tie, and yes on paper it does look that way.

However in reality, if I was to spend my own money, I would undoubtedly go for the Suzuki. I won't mind paying a little extra to buy and a little extra on gas, plus living with its silly tail-gate, just to have that steering feel and its eagerness to go fast.

The new Suzuki Grand Vitara is a great little SUV, but I will give it even higher praise than that, I think it is perhaps the best vehicle you can buy for under $30,000. It is affordable, practical, great to drive, and since it has four-wheel drive it makes for a perfect vehicle for Canada.

Suzuki, you get an A+ for the Grand Vitara, the Mitsubishi Outlander is at best a B.
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