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Suzuki's compact five-seat SUV, the Grand Vitara, carries forward unchanged for the 2012 model year, as it did for 2011.
Borrowing some of its mechanical workings from the last generation of the Chevrolet Equinox, the Grand Vitara is carlike in its basic proportions, but available with four-wheel drive and offering meaningful off-road capability with its low-range gearbox and frame-based construction. That makes it somewhat unique, competing with a small range of crossovers like the Equinox, Ford Escape, Subaru Outback, and Honda CR-V.
Though its design is clean and simple, it's perhaps so simple as to be forgettable. Nevertheless, it strikes a handsome balance between the softness of a car-like crossover and tougher off-road-bred SUVs. Inside, the Grand Vitara is, like the Kizashi sedan, much nicer than most of the competition, featuring quality plastics and soft-touch paint.
Two engines were previously available, but for 2012, the Grand Vitara shrinks to just a single offering: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Rated at 166 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, the engine scores between 19/23 mpg and 19/26 mpg city/highway depending on trim level and drivetrain. The Grand Vitara is available in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. A five-speed manual transmission is available in the base-spec model, with the rest of the line sticking with a four-speed automatic. In the Limited model, an upgraded 4-mode 4WD system is available, further improving off-road ability with high and low transfer gear ratios.
As you might expect, the four-cylinder's acceleration is less than potent in this size of vehicle. Handling is fair, meaning you won't find much to complain about in ride quality (though choppy pavement can be troublesome), but you won't be attacking a canyon road in the Grand Vitara either.
The Grand Vitara's cabin is long, providing good leg room at all positions, but narrow, meaning shoulder room in the back seat is scarce and cargo room is disappointing. The side-opening tail gate doesn't help the cargo-area's utility, either, putting the Grand Vitara toward the back of the class in this regard.
Safety gear is a hit-and-miss affair: all the expected standard equipment, including front side and side-curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes, but despite that, the Grand Vitara doesn't rank at the top of any safety tests. Still, the IIHS rates the 2012 Grand Vitara its highest overall value of "good," and the NHTSA scores it at four stars of rollover resistance.
In terms of features and options, the Vitara packs in a lot of value for its sub-$20,000 starting price. In fact, the base model comes with navigation, automatic climate control, keyless start and entry, power doors and locks, and an XM-compatible audio system for its starting price of $19,499. Upgrades available include real-time safety camera, weather, Google search, and more; a premium seven-speaker audio system; Bluetooth hands-free calling, and up to 18-inch alloy wheels in higher trims.
- Good leg room
- Decent fuel economy
- Better-than-average off-road ability
- Strong value with plenty of standard equipent
- Poor cargo space
- Underpowered four-cylinder
- Sometimes choppy ride