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The 2011 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a compact, five-seat SUV that returns unchanged for the new model year.
Related to the last-generation Chevrolet Equinox, the Grand Vitara has carlike proportions, but is underpinned by a frame and available four-wheel drive with a low range, which gives it more off-road capability than the typical crossover. Still with the lack of competitors in that narrow market niche, the Grand Vitara competes most closely with the likes of the Equinox, the Ford Escape, the Subaru Outback and the Honda CR-V.
The Grand Vitara's clean, forgettable lines strike a nice balance between tougher-bred SUVs and softer crossovers, but it's not as distinctive as the latest Hyundai or Kia offerings. The interior is a much nicer affair than in most other crossovers--it's more like the Suzuki Kizashi sedan, with soft-gloss paint and plastics.
Suzuki outfits the Grand Vitara with a choice of two engines. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine churns out 166 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque, while it delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 19/26 with a five-speed manual gearbox, dropping a bit to 19/25 mpg with the optional four-speed automatic. Grand Vitara XSport and Luxury editions can be fitted with a 3.2-liter V-6 that makes 230 horsepower and 213 lb-ft of torque; it's teamed with a slightly more modern five-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain is rated by the EPA at 18/24 mpg.
Handling is decent and acceleration tepid in the four-cylinder vehicle; it's not hugely competitive with the V-6, but the improved acceleration and slight gas mileage penalty make upgrading well worth the price. While it has rugged four-wheel drive, the Grand Vitara can also be switched into an automatic all-wheel-drive mode, for set-and-forget driving. The ride, while decent on smooth roads, can fall apart quickly when the pavement turns choppy.
The Vitara's cabin is long and narrow, with the resulting good numbers for leg room. The cargo area's a disappointment, though, with meager room, and a tailgate that opens to the side--an old-school maneuver even the RAV4 has ditched.
Though it offers the expected anti-lock brakes, as well as stability and traction control systems as standard, along with front-side and side-curtain airbags, the Grand Vitara doesn't top any safety ratings.For an in-depth look at this crossover SUV, read TheCarConnection's 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara review.