The recipe for the Vitara is unremarkable – dozens of automakers later followed this path in different years. By the mid-’80s, Suzuki already had an SUV with outstanding capabilities beyond the tarmac, but it was too simple, too cramped, and too utilitarian – in other words, it was hard to imagine the Jimny in the city center at the time. Unless, of course, we were talking about some tropical country, where blatant off-roading, even in cities, is commonplace.
The new SUV was launched in May 1988, and its premiere took place in Japan in July of the same year. At home, the car was named Escudo in honor of the Portuguese currency unit, which was in use before the euro. In America, the SUV was called Sidekick, and in Europe – Vitara. At the start of sales, there were two bodies: a three-door with a rigid roof and a three-door with a canvas top, which could be folded. And the standard version could be purchased without rear windows in Van version.
The engine was originally the same, eight-valve four rated at 80 horsepower, but later came its 16-valve version, as well as a carbureted version for some markets. In 1990, the Escudo gets a five-door version and new options, which reached Europe a year later. At the same time, other concerns, in particular – Mazda and General Motors begin to be interested in the model. Therefore, already in the beginning of the 90’s Vitara was known as Mazda Proceed Levante (was on sale only in Japan), and as Chevrolet/GMC Tracker, and as Pontiac Sunrunner. More powerful engines were created for the needs of new markets, including the first V6 in Suzuki history.
In spite the fact that the car sold well all over the world, it seemed to Japanese that Vitara clientele was too conservative and of big age – it was necessary to involve youth. Therefore in 1996, on the aggregate base of Vitara there is a two-seater off-road car with the body of Х-90 targa. Alas, the undertaking turned out to be an economic failure. Release of the model was discontinued two years after the release.
Fortunately, Suzuki staked not only on X-90, but also on motor sports, in particular – on “Race in the Clouds”, Pikes-Pike. The brand Suzuki repeatedly participated in this competition, and the first winner was Vitara, equipped with two in-line 4-cylinder engines with capacity over 900 horsepower. This momentous event happened in 1995, the car was driven by “Monster” Nobuhiro Tajima.
Realizing the success of the first generation, Suzuki did not reinvent the wheel in the development of the second generation – conceptually the SUV remained the same, but became fresher and more “light” in details. For example, the steering became rack and pinion, replacing the worm mechanism. The car premiered on January 18, 1998, and the name Vitara got a prefix Grand. This change was not applied to Japanese Escudo and American Tracker…
At first. In the middle of 1998, Suzuki rolls out Grand Escudo, which we know as Grand Vitara XL-7. The car got lengthened wheelbase (+32 centimeters), more powerful six-cylinder engines, and three rows of seats. Since the XL-7 was the most affordable seven-seat vehicle in the U.S., it was a real hit in the New World. The SUV was rear-wheel drive by default, but an all-wheel drive system was of course also offered.
The Grand Vitara and XL-7 were produced until 2005 and 2006, respectively. And if these two cars were made of the same test, their successors differed from each other like a cat and a dog. Grand Vitara continued the way of the present SUV, being frame, compact and without special pretensions to the premium. By the way, this car is produced up to now and it is possible to buy it, say, in Australia.
And the new XL7, which was on sale only in North America, became simply a big seven-seater crossover built on the same platform of General Motors, as well as the Chevrolet Equinox. Alas, the desire to save money did not help Suzuki – as well as X-90, the car was not as popular as marketers expected. Moreover, XL7 was equipped with quite “volumetric” 3,6-liter V6. Already in 2009 the production of XL7 was discontinued. For good.
The current Vitara although not a full-fledged SUV, but clearly has the DNA of its ancestors – it is compact, with small engines, reliable, and off-road can shame many of its classmates. It premiered in 2014 at the Paris Motor Show. Absence of prefix Grand in the name is not accidental: firstly, some markets still sell second-generation Grand Vitara, and, secondly, it is possible that Suzuki is preparing a full-fledged five-door SUV. Japanese managed to hit the bull’s-eye with new Jimny, probably it will be possible this time too.