ABC of off-roading part 2: all-wheel-drive
We all dream of having multiple cars in our garage, each with its specific purpose – a daily driver, a family transporter, a pure off-roader, a sports car, and maybe even a few motorcycles thrown in. But what if you don’t have the luxury of dedicating one car for each purpose? What if you need a do-it-all vehicle that can take you to work during the day, be fun to drive, and accompany you on adventures during the weekends – all without breaking the bank? That’s where an SUV such as the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara comes in, offering a solution to our single-car garage with multiple roles conundrum.
The mid-size SUV segment is saturated with offerings and yet the Grand Vitara has gotten off to a flying start, clocking one lakh sales in its first year – a new record for this segment. Buyers can choose from hybrid, smart-hybrid, manual and automatic. You get a lightweight monocoque construction that not only ensures fuel efficiency but also creates ample interior space while enhancing safety. The monocoque also has excellent torsional rigidity and 210mm of ground clearance which makes it fun to drive both on and off the road. But the Grand Vitara has a USP that no other SUV in its segment offers: Suzuki’s AllGrip Select AWD system.
In the second part of our ABC of Off-Roading series, we’re going to teach you to harness the potential of the Grand Vitara, maximise traction using its drive modes, and how to do all of this in a safe manner.
What are the drive modes?
The Grand Vitara has four distinct drive modes: Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock, which can be accessed using the rotary knob and buttons on the centre console. Despite having an AWD system, the Grand Vitara primarily operates as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, and for good reason. In everyday use, transferring power to both axles would use more fuel and increase wear and tear on drivetrain components. Leave the Grand Vitara in its default Auto mode, and it will transfer power to the rear wheels via an electronic coupling device only when required. It uses multiple sensors to predict wheelspin and transfer torque rearwards to double the traction available and keep the Grand Vitara chugging along. About a third of the way up the gravel hill you see on these pages, we could feel the rear axle fighting for grip and pushing the Grand Vitara up.
With a bit of momentum, the Grand Vitara is capable of climbing the hill in Auto mode alone, but to help it along, you could rock the steering wheel from side to side. This helps the tyres find additional grip and aids in the vehicle’s climb without unnecessary wheelspin. If you find the vehicle is struggling to climb, it may be time for a different approach. There is no point in flooring the throttle and digging a bigger hole for yourself. After all, if this is your primary vehicle, you wouldn’t want to damage it and have to take the bus to work the next day. The best thing to do in such a scenario would be to reverse and use the mirrors and the 360-degree camera to gently drive the vehicle down. It’s also a good idea to bring a friend along for company and to help guide you from outside the vehicle. Time to engage Lock mode.
To access Lock mode, you first need to select Snow mode and press the Lock button. In this mode, the AllGrip Select locks the electronic coupling device and transfers 50 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels at all times. That’s not all. When you accelerate from a standing start in Lock mode, the AWD system sends power to the rear wheels first to ensure the vehicle is pushed up with vigour. Suzuki calls it the feed-forward system. In fact, the Grand Vitara could be brought to a complete halt halfway up the hill and get going again using the traction generated in lock mode. The hill hold system is also particularly useful in such situations, as it holds the brake for a few seconds, giving you time to release the clutch and feed in the throttle before the vehicle rolls back.
On the way back down, hill descent control comes into play. Engage first gear, align the car, and take your feet off the pedals once you start descending, and hill descent control will use the brakes to bring you down at a steady pace. Remember, these electronic aids are designed to make your journey easier – use them wisely, and the Grand Vitara will take you places you never imagined.
Just like Lock mode, Snow mode also ensures a permanent 50/50 torque split between the front and rear axles, but the key difference is the role of the traction control system. When wheels spin on snow, they compact it into ice, which results in zero traction. To prevent this, the traction control system becomes hyper-vigilant, cutting out all wheelspin, and making driving on snowy surfaces and slippery roads a lot easier.
The Snow mode also works particularly well in low-grip conditions like slush or wet grass. The key here is to be smooth with your inputs, and the Grand Vitara will surprise you with the amount of grip it can generate on road-biased rubber.
Maruti Suzuki could have called this the Rally mode because that’s essentially what it is. The Sport mode reduces traction control intervention, and the AllGrip system sends more power to the rear wheels when you give it a boot full of throttle. Find an open area with some gravel or wet mud, and you can get the Grand Vitara properly sideways under throttle. Power oversteer! This is the only SUV that can do sideways antics, on the power, without even using the handbrake.
The previous-generation Grand Vitara forged a reputation for being an awesome rally car, dominating rally raids all over the country, and the current generation lives up to that reputation in AWD guise. And the best part is that it does it without compromising its on-road dynamics. Where other front-wheel-drive SUVs would understeer, the Grand Vitara with AllGrip just grips and goes.
Hose down the Grand Vitara after a hard day playing in the mud, and the casual observer in the office car park will never guess what a riot you’ve had over the weekend. This duality of character is what makes the Grand Vitara AllGrip the ideal vehicle for an enthusiast with a one-car garage. With the right techniques and a measured approach, the Grand Vitara has more latent ability than most owners would ever require. But the thrill seekers out there who require a more specialised tool for their escapades can all be thankful that the Jimny exists.