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2002 Suzuki Vitara REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

Con: Meager cargo space, cramped rear seats, lacks refinement.

Pro: Available two-door soft-top body style, truck-based body-on-frame design.

Edmunds Say: One of the fastest-growing vehicle segments is the small SUV. Suzuki's Vitara is definitely small, but there's no reason that it should be contributing to mini-ute sales growth charts unless somebody out there really wants a convertible SUV and can't afford a Jeep Wrangler.

What’s New: The previous base-level Vitara JS and JX have been discontinued. The Vitara now comes only in fully equipped JLS (rear-wheel drive) and JLX (four-wheel drive) trim in either body style. Additionally, motivation for all Vitaras now comes from the 2.0-liter engine as the 1.6-liter has been dropped. Other changes for the new year include the addition of the LATCH child seat system, a new fender-mounted antenna, new donut-style headrests for better visibility and new exterior colors. Suzuki offers 24-hour emergency roadside assistance and towing for the duration of the vehicle's warranty to increase customer satisfaction.

Review: Now in its fourth year of production, the Vitara finds itself up against more competition than ever in the form of the redesigned Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, not to mention the Jeep Wrangler and Isuzu Rodeo Sport. As the mini-ute category heats up, the older Suzuki is beginning to show its age when compared to the young blood in the category.

Unlike many of today's unibody mini-SUVs built on car platforms, the Vitara boasts full body-on-frame construction. Only by careful tuning of the suspension and steering has Suzuki been able to mask the old-tech underpinnings, resulting in decent ride and handling.

The Vitara comes in two variations: a two-door soft top and a four-door model and both can be ordered in either JLS (two-wheel drive) or JLX trim (four-wheel drive). Four-wheel-drive models benefit from a low-range transfer case for extreme off-road conditions.

Last year, power came in the form of either a 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but this year the larger engine is now standard. It generates 127 hp and 134 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a standard five-speed transmission or optional four-speed automatic. It's also rather fuel efficient; rear-wheel-drive JLS two-door Vitaras with the manual transmission return an EPA MPG rating of 23/26 city/highway, while automatic versions and four-door models deliver 22/25 mpg.

The two-door Vitara allows you to fold back the durable canvas top for a sunroof effect or completely remove the cover for convertible-like exposure. For some, this feature is a major selling point, while others might bemoan the two-door for its scant 12.1 cubic feet of storage space. Stowing the rear seat provides a nearly flat load floor, but maximum cargo space (50.2 cubic feet) still trails primary competitors'.

The styling of the Vitara is clean, with smooth curves and rounded features. The front end features large multi-reflector headlights and a restyled monotone grille. Standard equipment on all Vitaras is extensive. It includes niceties such as an AM/FM stereo with CD; cruise control; power windows, door locks and mirrors; air conditioning; and remote keyless entry. Aluminum alloy wheels are offered as an option.

Although the Vitara does possess durable truck-like underpinnings, anyone looking to do some serious off-roading would be better served with a Jeep Wrangler. In all other aspects, the Vitara falls well short of its more modern, more powerful competitors.

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