Also known as the Suzuki Escudo and Sidekick, the Suzuki Vitara is an off-road, compact SUV that was meant as a follow-up to the Suzuki Samurai. This model was sold worldwide under various marquees and badges and was first introduced to the Japanese market in 1988. Today, the Vitara is still in production in other countries, while second-hand units continue to attract US buyers looking for an off-road vehicle with the comforts of an SUV.
1988-1998: First generation
The Suzuki Vitara started out as the Escudo and was first sold in the Japanese market in 1988. In the following year, the Vitara (sold as Sidekick) was introduced in the North American market. The first-gen model was available either as a hardtop or a two-door convertible and was sold in three trims: JA, JX, and JLX. In 1991, the four-door version’s wheelbase was lengthened and all models were equipped with rear anti-lock brakes.
A limited edition, the Vitara Rossini, was introduced in 1993. This version featured cream leather upholstery and came with metallic pink exterior. But because this was a limited edition, only 250 units were produced.
1998-2005: Second generation
Released in 1998, the second-gen Vitara was a larger of its predecessor and was renamed as the Grand Vitara. It had larger dimensions, has a more powerful engine, and was more expensive than the Vitara four-door version. In 2002, the smaller Vitara model was given a facelift. In 2003, the smaller Vitara was pulled out from the North American market because of slow sales.
2005-present: Third generation
For the third-gen Vitara, the GM Theta platform was used. But even though several of its components were made using the Theta platform, it was still very different from Theta-based vehicles. This difference was seen in its rear wheel drive and engine that was longitudinally mounted. And unlike Theta vehicles, the Vitara or Escudo offered off-road capabilities with its optional four-wheel drive. Aside from the standard five-door unit, the third-gen Vitara was also available as a three-door model in some countries.
In 2008, the Grand Vitara received a facelift and became available with two new engine configurations: a 2.4L inline four that could produce 164 horsepower and 166 lb/ft. of torque and a V6 that could produce 221 horsepower and 209 lb/ft. of torque. However, the V6 engine was only available in flagship prestige models. Both engines were also equipped with VVT to improve fuel efficiency. Aside from new engines, third-gen models also received an upgrade on their safety features. All models were equipped with standard traction control and additional airbags.
In 2012, Suzuki stopped its North American production and discontinued the production of Vitara and all its models for the US market, although it continues to sell vehicles in other countries. Despite this, second-hand Vitara units are in demand among buyers looking for an SUV with reliable off-road capabilities.