Maruti Suzuki 4x4s: A throwback to the Gypsy and the OG Grand Vitara
I will stick out my neck and say this – if it were not for Maruti Suzuki, most of us Indians would not be driving the cars that we do today. In the early 1980s, buying a car was a luxury and options were nearly non-existent. But ever since the launch of the humble Maruti 800, India’s first small car for the masses, the automotive landscape in India has completely changed. I’m not just talking about superior products or an utterly stress-free ownership experience that continues to leave buyers spoiled. It was Maruti Suzukis that we first experienced the Thrill of Driving in with their eager to rev engines and gearboxes that would slice through cogs like a hot knife through butter. Maruti Suzuki also introduced us to motorsport, which brings me to highlight the success of its 4x4 SUVs – the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy and the OG Grand Vitara.
Maruti Suzuki Gypsy
Indestructible. That is the word used time and again to describe the dependability of the Gypsy. And not without reason. Launched in December 1985, the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy was the first 4x4 vehicle introduced by the manufacturer in India. In terms of lineage, the Gypsy that was sold in India actually traces its origins to the second generation Jimny that was sold globally. Initially powered by a 1-litre petrol engine, which would be swapped in favour of the 1.3-litre engine from the Maruti Suzuki Esteem, the Gypsy with its selectable 4x4 system was well-suited to hardcore off-roading that is a way of life in India’s remote regions. And despite the introduction of larger, more sophisticated off-road vehicles in India, the Gypsy continues to be held in high regard owing to its simple mechanicals, compact dimensions and rugged underpinnings. More often than not, it is a Gypsy that is employed to winch out luxury SUVs at off-road events should any of them get stuck.
The sheer off-road capability of the Gypsy also meant it became the vehicle of choice for the Indian armed forces since 1991, when the India army placed its first order for the off-roader. The 4x4 SUV would also go on to become a force to be reckoned with in rallying, both in the INRC as well the Rain Forest Challenge. The motorsport success of the Gypsy would also reinforce Maruti Suzuki’s own motorsport effort with rallies such as the Desert Storm and the Raid de Himalaya.
Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara
Before the nameplate was revived in 2022, the original Grand Vitara was launched in 2007 as Maruti Suzuki’s first full-size SUV. At the time, it was commended for being an SUV that handled really well. It was powered by a 2-litre petrol engine which was later upgraded to a 2.4-litre engine in 2009. The engine was mated to a full-time four-wheel-drive system with diff locks and low ratio, and you could shift on the fly thanks to a switch on the centre console.
Thanks to its ladder frame construction and a competent four-wheel-drive system, the Grand Vitara was particularly successful in motorsport. Rally driver Suresh Rana, 11-time Raid de Himalaya winner achieved a majority of his success behind the wheel of a rally-prepped Grand Vitara, and the SUV was also present in other motorsport events such as Desert Storm and Dakshin Dare.
Despite being a truly capable SUV, the original Grand Vitara was a little ahead of its time. Now however, the times have changed. The new Grand Vitara sits in a hotly-contested segment and is the only SUV in its class to sport off-road pedigree. And to put the latter to the test, we took it to the snowy terrain of Shinku La pass in the Himalayas! You can read about our adventure here and also in the latest issue of evo India magazine that is available to order now.