~~*~~*~~ Suzuki Grand Vitara SZ4 ~~*~~*~~
All good things must come to an end and poor little Pete (the Peugeot) had far too much wrong with him to warrant an expensive overhaul. Thus, the search was on for a new Pigmobile before Pete gave up the ghost completely. I say Pigmobile because the most important aspect was not how many miles to the gallon or climate control, but whether the boot was large enough for Pig (the greatest chocolate Labrador that's ever lived) to fit her great big botty in. Other criteria of course included price, prettiness and reliability since I've got the worst luck in the world, ever.
HimIndoor's was unwilling to be dragged round all the dealerships/used car death traps in the Northwest, so I embarked on a woman's worst nightmare - I had visions of being completely useless, turning all girly and buying the first car that they told me had been owned by one old lady who'd never used it apart from once to take their cat to the vets. In fact, it turned out to be quite a different experience and now I'm ready to take on the world. However, there are still some aspects to Vince (the Vitara) that are a mystery so bear with me if I refer to 'thingamabobs' and 'doodahs'.
Prior to Purchase
Although I would have lurved a Merc or Beamer, I knew my budget was not quite within their range. A few months beforehand, at a country show, I'd entered a competition to win a Mitsubishi Shogun commercial thingy which was a very nice beast. Needless to say, God was looking the other way when Pete was announced Terminal and I didn't win the Shogun but it did get me looking in that direction. Convinced this was the vehicle for me, I went to their showroom where it was quite obvious I wasn't going to purchasing one of those for a few years. Their secondhanders were nice but still really expensive - £14000 for a 4 year old beaten up silver thing, so I cried a little and went on my way. I think I then looked at everything from Toyota's Urban Cruiser to Honda's whatever it's called but I kept going back to the Shogun as it was pretty perfect for what I wanted. Anyway to cut a long and rather tedious story short (lord knows I ramble enough as it is) HimIndoors triumphed with his suggestion of the Grand Vitara.
Well, I'm not a rich lady so at first I was looking for a not too old secondhand one as they were vaguely within my price range, however according to Bill, the dealerman (I believe that's what they're called) they're in great demand because they're so lovely. Regardless of why, the only few pre-owned cars we saw were in a sorry state - having owned Vince for only 6 months, I can see why they were - these cars are used for a purpose whether it's pulling a caravan or going across fields in the snow and unfortunately this is reflected in their condition. Some would say that 'it's only cosmetic' but although the mileage may be low, they could have been used for their real purpose and hide a multitude of sins under the bonnet. Bill tried but he failed to find a good un and since I couldn't wait for the right one to come in (lest Pete had died before the part exchange completed) I wondered how much a new one would set me back.
The all important 'how much money will I actually have to part with?' I could witter here for 3 bloody hours like Bill did, going back and forth with the chief dealerman until eventually, I'll say 'That's the best I can do' but after half an hour, I'll come back with a lower offer. I won't. Here's the prices:
1.6 M/T £15,010
2.4 M/T £15,930
2.4 A/T £16,955
1.9 DDiS £16,955
Why the hell they can't just price them 15, 16 and 17 I've no idea. Randomly, the price for paint is £405 rather than a straight 400 - that extra £5 probably just about covers the 7 million hot chocolates I drank whilst waiting for Bill's decisions, but it's incredibly important to get the right colour. I can't stress how important. I could have had last year's model in slate grey right there and then but I wanted black so I waited two long and painful weeks for the new 59 model. I'm so pleased I did. I just know that everytime I'd have looked out the window I'd have seen an ugly boring brick whereas now I see a beautiful beast (if it's recently been cleaned, cos black really shows the dirt (at least Bill was right there)).
I actually don't have a clue what I really paid - I swapped a car and a van and HimIndoors worked his charm with Bill and I can't honestly remember what it was except that it wasn't much more than a secondhander and anyway, it doesn't matter unless you too have an 04 peugeot partner and a 206 with someone's initials carved into the bonnet (don't ever live in Burnley - the value of your little car will be seriously reduced).
The second most important thing (for normal people) is whether this car will make you look like a complete tosser or a hairdresser. This does neither. HimIndoors said I looked like a pimp which I think is a lovely comparison to make to your girlfriend. It is a bit gangster - there's tinted rear windows (great for me as I usually keep Pig and most of my worldly possessions in my boot), great big alloys (17" 5 spoke ones to be precise) and front fog lamps as standard. It's still essentially a great big beast but somehow it's attractive - remember when Rav4's were cool and not boring like they are now? Well that's how I view Vince. From the front he's got a formidable grill and mean headlights to scare the gAygo drivers off the road, side on his obvious attraction is his beefy wheels before you notice little things like the vents and wing mirror indicator lights (brought in for the SZ4 model and worth waiting the extra two weeks for). Check out Vince's massive butt - the standard hard wheel cover is, well, hard. I was a bit gutted about this in secret because although I understand that a hard cover is supposedly better, I wanted a soft one that I could have a special print of Piggy's face on but keep that to yourselves. And the other thing about Vince's rear-end is that he seems to have a prolapse. I don't understand the mechanics of these things but it's like the big bit of the exhaust is turned side on - HimIndoors said it's cos it's a diesel but me dad's just purchased the automatic petrol version (more about that later) and it's got it too. I dunno, it's just a shame that it's there - I don't know what I'd expect them to do with it but someone in the design studio should have pointed it out and they could have covered it over with some kind of Suzuki tea towel or something. Bless him, he's also rather big eared - the body coloured wing mirrors are huge so they're not attractive but they're excellent when you're a girl and rubbish at reversing.
That's the out door prettiness done. Inside, it's just as good. The fabric seat covers are very nice in that they're black with enough light and dark grey decoration to hide the mud stains but not so much that you're blinded and revolted as mother was with the 206. The dashboard is a matt black whilst the trim is silver and smooth black which is rather nice too - I'm not one for the fake walnut look so I'm very pleased with the result. The radio panel bit in the centre console is ok to look at and takes up little room considering it's a 6 CD changer thing too. Handily above the CD player is a massive button for your hazards - it must be the automobile law but these are always huge and just shouting to be pushed. Below the radio is the temperature and AC control - (this is where Bill got slightly over excited but more on feature that later), it's not ugly but it is large.
The actual dials on the dashboard above the wheel are very nice - completely blank until you turn the key and then it lights up all lovely. There's the usual speedometer - something I tend to look at more since I got my speeding ticket, a tachometer so that you know when you're in the wrong gear on the motorway (mother) and a fuel gauge to tell you when you're in dire need of diesel, once again. In addition, there's a little electronic gauge thing at the bottom which you can change to display (amongst other things that I don't understand) the average fuel consumption and the current consumption. I think this is wonderful but then again I've got a dog called Pig that I worship so perhaps I'm not the best person to write this but meh, I'll continue - the current one tells me if I'm unnecessarily using the accelerator when really I could get away with letting it run down the hill at it's own pace and the average which I'm obsessed with getting to 36 because according to the manual, Vince can get 35 thingys to the doodah - you know what I mean, and we're currently on 35.8. There are lots of lights that appear on the dashboard which indicate things that I ignore - slippy road (as if you need telling that you're skidding around on the solid ice), put your seat belt on (it'll irritatingly beep at you until you do), no diesel left (this is designed to come on just after you've passed the last petrol station so you've to turn round and face the horrendous traffic on the A6) and more.
But what's it like to sit in?
The seats are incredibly comfy - I've slept in it (not because I'm a tramp but because I used to leave mother's at 6am and have a break in the middle of the day during which sleep would overcome me - I could easily nap for an hour before returning to work) and the seat goes almost flat and is really wide so you can stretch out or curl up foetal style. This is probably of no use for most people but at least you'll sleep tonight knowing that should you buy one of these 4x4s, you'll never have to worry about paying for a Premier inn again. Secondly, I've got really long legs - not freakishly so but they're 34" and usually Japanese cars have stupid short seats where I'll get pins and needles but these are superb, however, they're not so big that my little mother gets uncomfortable - our recent trip to Birmingham is proof in the pudding - not once did she whinge, well not about the car anyway.
Passenger wise, my mother had easy access to the heating controls and lord, does that woman change her mind - too hot/too cold/too much wind in face/not enough wind as having 'hot do' - how Vince coped with her ever changing demands I'll never know. It's relatively easy to control the heat- there's climate control too which Bill oversold - I've not really used it but I'll probably use the air con in the heat of summer - those two days will make it all worth while. Mother also had access to her own electric window which made her happy although she didn't like it that a) I could put her window up when it was freezing during one of her 'hot do's' or b) I could lock her in - she's a very impatient old dear that attempts to get out the car before one's parked. Oh, that's another thing - I think the fact that you can just step out the car rather than heave yourself out like you do the Volvo is wonderful, mother on the other hand constantly forgets and half falls out onto the pavement. Once again, this is probably a problem that no-one else is likely to encounter but one to bear in mind should you take your mother out. Equally, she has enormous problems with getting out the back. Apparently, it's all my fault for buying a 3 door but in reality how hard is it to get out of the back of any car - actually, very - she has to sit on the floor and put her legs out because her arthritic knees can't cope with the long drop to the floor (or it may have been the gin).
In the front there are numerous places to store things - 2 concealed bits in the centre and 1 large glove box. There are many places to put drinkies - the door pockets, the centre console, the inside of the glove box (these things are useless as the door bit never sits straight and your mother nudges it with her knee knocking hot coffee on herself) and in the back too. Speaking of the back, I've never sat in it but there's plenty of leg room and tons of space for two but three looks a wee bit cramped. Not that I really care - I bought it because of the massive boot space.
Massive Boot Space?
Yep. When you first open the rear door, you'll be forgiven for calling me a big fat liar. It's true, with the rear seats set up ready for passengers there is not a great deal of space - enough for about 6 full tesco bags or for a 5 stone Labrador to sit sideways. However, Vince is equipped with 50:50 split folding rear seats that not only fold down, but then fold again so that the boot area is completely flat - this enables Pig's crate to sit very comfortably with tons of room for the tesco big shop to go on the other side - should I find it necessary to take two people with me and the Piggle on a walk (doesn't happen very often after the story of Pig's projectile vomit and diarrhoea on Morecambe prom spread like wildfire) I can simply unfold one rear seat and everyone's happy (apart from the person forced to sit close to the Pig). The measurements of the boot with the seats up are 40" width, 38" height and 32" to the base of the seats (I know this as I've just ordered Pigsy a lovely new crate) which isn't that big in the grand scheme of huge estate cars but considering Vince isn't much wider and the same length as the 206 I feel it's something of an achievement.
Well, that's nice, but what's it like to drive?
Excellent. It's a bit more of a concerted effort to turn corners in but not that much. I've clipped a lot more kerbs than I used to but that's because I'm an idiot, or it might be that because Vince is in constant 4x4, I dunno, but that's the excuse I'm using. It's got quite a good turning circle not that it really matters as you can just drive up kerbs and into hedges without a care in the world as it's a great beast.
As Vince is relatively new still I'm not sure whether his gears and brakes have settled yet but they've changed a lot since I've bought him - changing gears was hard work at first and the brake's were pretty touchy - I think it's calmed down a lot but me dad attempted to drive it from Optimax in Manchester whilst I was having a follow up appointment (thought you'd like to know) and park it with instructions to pick me up once I was done. When I emerged with slightly sore eyes he announced he couldn't drive the bloody thing and made me do the hour's journey back - apparently it was all a bit too sensitive for his clodhopping wellies. Didn't stop him purchasing one a fortnight later though. Personally, I think it's dead easy to drive - it doesn't like setting off in second but as long as I remember that, all's well.
The cockpit controls are lovely. No really, they are. In addition to the usual windscreen wipers and indicators which are apparently mandatory, there is the wonderful volume control and mute button - handy if you answer the phone (obviously hands-free or you'll get your wrist slapped) and you need to turn off Westlife immediately to save face when talking to your dearest friend who still doesn't know your musical secrets. There is also intermittent wind-screen wiper thing where you can change the time between the wipes - it's so exciting I find it hard to describe the joy at its discovery (I've no idea what the official name for it is but there are 4 different speeds, yes FOUR, I didn't realise I needed 4, but apparently I've been missing out). There's 3 different places to put charging devices - 2 in the front and one in the back for when the tyres on your bike have deflated yet again. Vince may be a diesel, but (and again this is according to Bill) he's relatively quiet inside because they've sound-proofed the car - I'm not sure if he's having me on but Vince is quiet when the windows are up, even on the motorway.
How'd it keep in the snow?
Well, I'm glad you asked. It was fantastic - the sole reason the old man decided to purchase. You see, my slightly aged parents live in the middle of nowhere on top of a hill, down a long (and I mean long) private drive where the parking area is on a slope (excellent design, father). During the winter of 09 these poor old dears were stranded for over 3 weeks - it made the local papers and mother's neighbour who she's never spoken to cos they live over a mile away, was on This Morning talking to Phil and Holly - yep big news for Cow Ark (unbelievably it's really called Cow Ark). Now, some council, who shall remain nameless, decided that this road in Lancashire county wasn't on the gritting list and countless people (well, only about 20 families) would be stuck without food and fuel. Luckily, a few of us had the use of 4x4s so we could get food and prescriptions to the top of the hill (mother's house) but not any further.
Let me explain properly - the snow was so thick that normal cars were too low, Vince is lovely and high (which is also very handy should you go through floods when the tide's in). Vince has permanent 4x4 and could easily cope with the snow and ice that foiled a Clio, Gaygo, Prius, Volvo S40, a Saab and another Clio but a later version (well you get the idea and these were only the cars that tried to get up and were abandoned - I've no idea how many others tried but failed miserably resorting to going back down to the beautifully gritted road below). Vince also has some low gear differential lock thing which I don't particularly understand, but I do know that it got me out of some very sticky situations in the snow and hopefully will do the same when me and the Pigsy go to country shows in the lovely wet British summer. Unfortunately, the windscreen does take forever to clear and you'll more than likely have reached your destination before the heat kicks in so it's not completely perfect for winter. Bear in mind Vince is very light and cannot pull a 2 ton Landrover out of a ditch - Vince ended up in it himself but because I'm a great driver and he's an excellent car, we got ourselves out.
Niggles and Annoyances
* It would appear that they forgot about the windows and remembered at the last minute only to steal them from a nearby shed - they just don't seem to fit as they rattle if slightly open. They also save the water in the top so that when you open the window or the door a flood ensues.
* The doors are incredibly heavy - I know they need to be because it's a solid beast that will protect me in the apocalypse but still they hurt when the wind catches them and they slam into your ass. And, the rear door opens vertically not horizontally so you've got to remember this when parking so that if you return with tons of shopping you're not disappointed when some idiots parked right up to your bumper.
* No outside temperature - I like to know how cold it is in the real world, not my cosy warm car, so that I can have a conversation with people at work during break about the exact freezing temperature it was when we left for work - it's a very sad competition but one that I'm sadly frozen out of now although I can comment that there may be ice - how rubbish is that?
* When you're low on diesel, it'd be nice to not have to look and that's what the 'ding' is for, only the noise that it makes is far too quiet for the beast and I've had to use my eyes which is a bit of a cheek.
* Vince could really do with a sixth gear - he just sounds a bit uncomfortable in fifth on the motorway.
Thus, in conclusion,
I've only owned it for a short amount of time - it's nearly due for its first service cos I've done a lot of mileage but hopefully I won't need to update this review with it's costly repairs. It's a lovely car with pretty much everything you could want at a reasonable price which is easy to drive and has enough space for most random purchases.
Caroline & Pig
Both travelling in style.
Review will appear elsewhere, probably.