Product Reviews

2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara review

Monday, May 14th, 2007


Last year, I traded in my 2000 Dodge Stratus on a 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara. Since I’ve found myself the writer of an automotive blog, I thought I’d give a long term review of the only newer car I own.

We outgrew our Stratus soon after our baby girl was born. Since it was paid for, we kept it and dealt with the growing inconvenience of having to bend over double to put the kid in the middle (wife and I are both pretty tall - she’s 5′10″ and I’m 6′5″) to be able to go anywhere as a family. Since we we swore off getting a minivan a decade before having the kid, we didn’t look at any of those. The wife parks in a tight parking garage at work, a large SUV was out the window as well. We settled on small car-based SUVs.

The roundup of what to look at were as follows:

Here’s what we wanted: leather interior, a V6 (or extremely gutsy 4 cylinder), small size

What we didn’t want: Off road prowress (this car might br driven over a curb or into the field maybe once or twice as long as we owned it), relatively cheap prices, and the promise of reliability.

Unknown to us, the Toyota RAV-4 had undergone a change to allow for 7 person seating and had moved a bit upscale for our taste. A street price range (at the time) of over $28K turned me away in a hurry when I visited the dealership. The Honda CR-V didn’t come with a V6, and their 4 cylinders have always needed to rev high to get anywhere, and I still have a problem fitting into them. So much for the brands that boasted reliability.

We went for warranty next, which put us into Kia, Hyundai, and Suzuki territory. All boast 100,000 mile warranties, but the Suzuki is 7 years versus the Kia/Hyundai’s 10 years. Unfortunately, the higher quality reputation the Korean brands had been getting seems to have boosted their price as well. Also fairly important (at least to us), the Santa Fe and Sportage are ugly. I don’t know how else to say it. They’re not Pontiac Aztek ugly, but their styling is at best completely unremarkable. The Suzuki Grand Vitara was redesigned for 2006, and by virtue of being the last on my list, it gave me a chance to go try out a company whose cars I had been unfamiliar with since the Samurai and Sidekick.

As you may have guessed by this post’s title (brilliant though you are, I’m sure), I liked it so much that I bought a 2WD Luxury Edition that same day.

We’ve had it for a year and right at 8,000 miles now. We still like it.

The only problems we’ve had were:

1.) A weird burning smell we noticed whenever we stopped the car. Before you ask, yes it scared the crap outta me enough to make me crawl around the car to try and find what was on fire. As it turns out, Suzuki ships its cars with a silicate coating on the exposed exhaust system that is there to prevent rust from forming on the boat ride from Japan to here.

2.) The 6 disc in-dash CD/MP3 player immediately ate the first CD we put into it. This took a couple months to get ordered and replaced (back order), but it was replaced under warranty.

Here’s the final verdict:


  • Just like a car, except higher
  • The only available engine is a nicely powerful V6
  • Quite loaded (every option except 4×4) for a reasonable price (just over 22K)
  • With the redesign for 2006, it’s a very well styled car (SUV - whatever)


  • Gas mileage isn’t as good as you might expect from a small car (SUV - whatever)
  • Radio reception pretty much sucks if you’re farther than 20 miles outside a major city
  • Initial uneasiness of thinking the car was going to burst into flames every time we got out (lasted about a month)

–Will Thompson

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Creating Cars

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

I got a very interesting email from a lady named Jenna Bowles at The Futures Channel, a company that makes “micro-documentaries” geared toward students. The films all provide answers to the biggest question I had as a young gearhead sitting in algebra/geometry/physics class:

“When will I ever use this?”

Their latest micro-documentary titled Creating Cars (click to watch the video) takes them to meet members of the design team at Ford’s Advanced Design Center in Irvine, California. Hmm, does that design shop sound familiar? They’ve produced some of the more exciting concepts in recent history, including the Forty Nine concept, the Cobra concept (that was on the TV show Rides), and the now-in-production GT.

Let’s take a quick break to salivate:




What’s say we read an excerpt of their press release:

Their work is confidential. The technology is cutting edge. The competition is fierce. The secret? Ford Motor Company’s concept cars.

At Ford’s Advanced Design Studio in Irvine, California, designers and engineers are developing new car designs that won’t be seen on the road for another ten years or longer. “We work as far into the future as our imaginations can take us,” said Fairuz Jane Arabo, a color and materials designer for Ford.

After spending years designing and building their concept cars, Ford, along with the other major car manufacturers, debut their latest concept cars at annual auto shows around the world for their competitors and the public to see. In “Creating Cars,” a web documentary released today, The Futures Channel gives viewers access to the Advanced Product Creation Group at Ford to find out what goes into their innovative, futuristic concept cars.

Using technology to show impressionable minds what the future could hold for them, if they stay motivated and focused. This is a company after my own heart.

Thanks for the email, Jenna.

–Will Thompson

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Going Racing: Firesuits

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007


The second running of the 24 Hours of Lemons is coming up quickly and this year I hope to be driving as part of an all Pinto Team. Most of the details about the team are either fuzzy or top secret, however there have been some upgrades to the race that are crystal clear and they mostly have to do with safety.

After last years event everyone came away unscathed but there were a few incidents that raised some eyebrows and left people thinking “What if..?” One was a VW Golf that got put on its roof at low speed. As a result window nets and door bars have been added to the list of race car requirements along side the already mandatory safety harnesses and roll bars.

The other major incident that had people talking had to do with a Volvo wagon that was leaking gas out of its filler. The car was black flagged and came into the pits, the teammates disheartened that such a minor problem could take them out of the race. One generous minded mechanic who shall remain nameless came rushing over eager to help them get back into the fray even though he was on a different team. He grabbed a spare blue nitrile disposable glove and zip tied it over the filler neck to keep gas from splashing out onto the track. At the time it seemed like a good fix, in fact it worked pretty well for awhile until the glove started to fill up with the excess gas that sloshed out of the tank creating a potentially explosive and flammable hand that waved at everyone who passed on the right hand side. Inevitably the hand broke and the Volvo caught fire, circling the tiny track a few times before the race was temporarily stopped and the car was extinguished. This car fire prompted two new safety requirements. The first is that all filler necks have to be moved inside the car, away from impact points. The second requirement is that drivers have to wear SFI rated driver’s suits.


Being the cheapo that I am, the second requirement had me a little disheartened. Driving suits are expensive. Last year I simply wore mechanic’s overalls and some fire proof gloves that I borrowed from a firefighting friend of mine who had just been at a large Marijuana bust where they had to burn a large field of weed plants. That’s another story, but in short the gloves smelled potentially of the sticky icky. The out fit worked fine, and best of all it was free.

Knowing that I had to buy one of these suits I hit up Ebay to see if I could find one for a bargain. Ebay was flooded with drivers suits some as cheap as $50, but I quickly noticed that some of the SFI ratings of the various suits were different. They all started with “SFI 3.2A” but then they had different numbers after that. I was getting ready to bid on one particular suit that read “SFI 3.2A/5″ when it occurred to me that it might be important to find out what that “/5″ actually meant.

After a quick search I found the SFI website and read it over to see what exactly SFI was and how a suit with their rating would help me to survive a fire. According to their website the SFI Foundation, Inc. (SFI) is “a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for specialty/performance automotive and racing equipment.” They exist to help keep racing safe for people like me. Their rating system for fire suits is based on how long a person wearing the suit can be exposed to the heat of a fire before they get second degree burns or blistering.

Here is their official explanation:
“The driver suit spec 3.2A tests a garment’s fire retardant capabilities. The spec contains a rating system based on the garment’s capability to provide Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) in the presence of both direct flame and radiant heat. The purpose of the TPP is to measure the length of time the person wearing the garment can be exposed to a heat source before incurring a second degree, or skin blistering, burn.
The TPP rating is the product of exposure heat flux and exposure time. The TPP results can be converted to the time before a second degree burn occurs. The higher the garment rating, the more time before a second degree burn.”

The ratings go like this:
3.2A/1 gives 3 seconds until a second degree burn
3.2A/3 gives 7 seconds
3.2A/5 gives 10 seconds
3.2A/10 gives 19 seconds
3.2A/15 gives 30 seconds

The suits are also tested for their resistance to flames, how much heat zippers transfer and thread heat resistance.


After reading the various ratings I went back to the suit I was bidding on and looked at it with new appreciation. Most suits I had been looking at were only /1’s but this /5 would give me an additional 7 seconds to get out of the car. 10 seconds isn’t very long to get out of a burning race car, especially when you consider that you have a bulky helmet on, you’re strapped in with a harness, the windows have nets on them that need to be removed, the car has steel bars welded across the door entry, and the doors themselves may be welded shut. But ten seconds is a hell of a lot longer than 3 seconds. And with the addition of Nomex underwear you gain another 3 or 4 seconds. With that in mind I bid on the suit and won it at a very reasonable price. Hopefully no one will put their suits SFI ratings to the test come race day, but it is good to know that if something happens you have that added measure of safety on your side.

-Bill Mertz

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Nolan N100E: Affordable, Comfortable Modular Helmet

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Nolan N100E, I opted for the Titanium grey model

I finally picked up my Nolan N100E, so I thought I’d give it a quick review for anyone looking into a full face, particularly modular (flip up), helmet.

After about a years worth of research I decided to purchase, or have my girlfriend gift me as the case may be, the Nolan N100E for several reasons. First and foremost was its comfortable fit. My head is long and narrow and was really hard for me to find a helmet that fit me comfortably and that would slide on with ease, but the N100 being a flip-up style helmet made it much easier to pull on and off my big noggin, and even better when I tried on the 2XL size it fit me extremely well. The flip-up helmets also have the benefit of being able to take them on and off while wearing regular glasses or sunglasses.

Thanks to this opening chin bar the helmet actually fits over my massive dome

A closer examination of the Italian made helmet reveals a good quality product, the finish is nice, and nothing feels overly cheap or fragile. While this may not be a top shelf helmet, I would certainly put it in the above average category. The N100E sports some very nice features including a wide variety of colors and schemes, a three stage top venting system as well as a dual chin vent, a “Smart Lift System” which allows single-handed release of the flip face front, a lockable fog resistant visor second anti-fog insert included, removable and washable liner and a micro-lock chin strap system. It’s a pretty tidy and attractive package.

Common complaint of modular helmets are weight and noise, but the Nolan’s GE Lexan shell seems good and light and honestly my scooter is so loud that ear plugs are always recommended so I doubt noise will be a factor. I’ve also heard and confirmed that your chin sits pretty close to the front of the helmet and Jay Leno types might have difficulties shutting the chin bar, not an issue for me.


My girlfriend’s first gift, a super light helmet

The other incentive to buy an N100E is that Nolan is upgrading to a new N102 model meaning a lot of stores have great close-out deals on the N100. Prices should be from $200-$250 for this unit depending on colors and paint schemes as well as other accessories like helmet bags.

-Bill Mertz

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Keeping Your Hands Warm

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006


I’ve been spouting off a lot lately about the importance of safety and having the proper equipment when it comes to working on and driving cars, motorcycles and scooters. In light of me adding a new safer full face helmet to my riding gear I also decided to upgrade my hand wear to something a little more appropriate.

Since I bought my scooter I’ve been sporting a pair of really nice suede gloves whenever I ride it. The gloves are definitely not riding gloves, they are better suited to a cold night on the town in San Francisco than any type of riding duty, but I had them already and didn’t use them much so I figured why not ride with them. They have served me well, including keeping my hands uninjured in my little accident, and have the battle scars and grease stains to prove it. But the gloves are majorly lacking in several areas, namely warmth, weather resistance and safety.

On a recent ride in San Francisco my hands got so cold that they started to lock up a bit and it was very difficult for me to operate the clutch and brake. The temperature was probably in the high 50’s or low 60s Fahrenheit, but subtract some temp for wind chill and things got pretty cold fast. Add in the fact that I have terrible circulation and suddenly a 20 minute ride on a moderately chilly day becomes downright unpleasant. My gloves simply weren’t cutting it.

Quick Revenge for Poorly Parked Cars

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Have you ever come out of the grocery store to find someone has parked within inches of your driver’s door? Or have you been searching for a space in a crowded lot and see someone who has parked their car across two spaces? Well now you can get a little a bit of revenge without going Jack Nicholson and breaking their windows with a golf club. is selling customized fake parking tickets so that good drivers with a chip on their shoulder can get back at those folks who ruin everyone’s day by doing a terrible parking job. The British based company puts a good dose of English sarcasm into to each ticket, and the packaging looks pretty convincing from the outside. It will definitely get your blood pressure up when you see it stuck to your windshield.

Here is a sampling of some of the tickets:

“Well done! It must of taken years of practice to be that bad. Maybe if you let your guide dog park next time, you might only take up one space, or at least get it straight.”

“This is just a note to say thank you for parking so close to my car…Next time, please leave a sodding tin opener so I can get my car out….Do society a favour and take the bus next time!”

While most of us Yanks don’t know what a “sodding tin” is, it still gets the point of cross and does it with a distinctive British wit.

-Bill Mertz

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Theft Deterrent

Monday, November 20th, 2006

A few days ago one of my neighbors had their Honda Civic stolen. This seems to be a pretty common occurrence in my neighborhood these days; not car theft but Honda Civic theft. In fact I think every person I know who has owned a Honda Civic (which is a lot) has had it stolen at some point. My parents have had their ‘98 Civic stolen and recovered on 4 separate occasions. At one point the Civic was the most stolen car in the US, and it might still be the leader in that category.

Ditch Your Snow Chains And Put On Some Socks.

Monday, November 13th, 2006

There are always a few products at SEMA that lack glitz and glamour but are all about pure function; the AutoSock is one of these. Developed in Norway, the AutoSock is a great alternative to bulky snow chains and spiders. The AutoSock is made up of “high-technology” fibers. These fibers provide additional grip in snowy and icy conditions. The Socks are simple to install. Simply slip them over the drive wheels as far as possible, then pull forward a tad and pull them over the rest of the wheels. The Socks are self-centering and will even works with studded tires.

Wheels so Clean you can See Right Through.

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Every year at SEMA there are a host of new wheels being dropped on the market. The battle it seems is to make the biggest, gaudiest, tackiest, most jewel encrusted set of bling bling wheels possible. Every year the limits are pushed to new levels of stupidity and ridiculousness. In fact this year Asanti came out with a set of preposterously big 34″ blades that were seen in full affect on a Hummer H2. But what really stole the show in the wheel world was a set of transparent wheels from Forgiato Designs by D’Vinci.

Ragtop For Your Pickem up Truck

Friday, November 10th, 2006

My sister has a 2004 Toyota Tacoma extra cab 4×4. She bought the truck because she is a die hard snowboarder and wanted a vehicle that she could throw her gear in the back of and drive up to the mountains without having to chain up. The truck suits her needs perfectly.

Recently she has been debating whether or not to get a shell or a bed cover for the back in order to keep the large items that she can’t fit in the cab dry when she is in the snow and rain. She also thought it might give a little added theft protection. However, she also uses the truck to haul bigger items like couches (and scooters when I borrow the truck) which wouldn’t fit under a shell and certainly not under a bead cover.
One possible option was a retractable bed cover that rolls up like a window shade, this allows the bed to be covered or open with little difficulty, but limits you to the height of the bed for any items that you want to stow under the cover. It also doesn’t allow you to sleep comfortably in the back of your truck if you happen to be camping in the rain. She didn’t like the limitation and opted to keep a stock open bed. Then I found the perfect solution for her.

Earlier this year Bestop released a new version of its Supertop soft top for the Toyota Tacoma as well as many other mid-sized trucks. When erected the top looks similar to a hard shell enclosing the entire bed, but unlike a hard shell it can be folded out of the way in seconds or completely removed without much difficulty. The top features a super durable fabric design that is completely water tight and UV resistant. The side and rear windows, which can be ordered in clear or tinted form, zip out easily and can be replaced with mesh screens or left open for things like dog-hauling duty, or camping on a warm night.
Click on the pic to read an installation write-up by Off-Road Adventurers
Overall I really like this unit. I’ve seen a few up close and I think they look and function great. I’m sure with heavy snow use the windows will eventually cloud up, but replacements are easy to come by and can be zipped right into place. Probably the biggest downside is that a soft top doesn’t provide much theft protection. Since this is not a big concern for my sister, I’m pretty sure this top will be on her Christmas list this year. If Santa doesn’t bring her one, she can easily afford to buy it for herself with prices around $500. Kudos to Bestop on a well built and well thought out product.
-Bill Mertz

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Is your truck a beast? Then you need these…

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I’m not a big fan of modifications that are purely for aesthetic purposes, especially on 4×4’s. Frankly chrome doodads and shiny whackamadoos don’t really do it for me. But, when someone comes out with a clever product I have to give them credit. Even if it is just aesthetic, Todd Johnson at Primal Effects came up with a pretty cool and original product; Truck Tusks.
yj tusks
Measuring 27 inches long and weighing 13 lbs these giant cast aluminum tusks mount straight to the bumper of your 4×4. Although currently they are only available for Jeep CJs, Wranglers, Toyota FJ40s and Hummers, they look like they would be easy to adapt to other vehicles. Primal Effects is also a burgeoning company and will undoubtedly be expanding their range of products. While the tusks are not meant to be bashed or used as a real off-road bumper, they do look tough and could certainly stand up to bumper duties for day to day driving. And as the folks at Primal say “heads will turn and people will look”.

For more information check out the website yourself.
primal affects
-Bill Mertz

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About Automotive Blogger

Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession -

Automotive Blogger Author(s)
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