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With only minor front-end changes, the Suzuki Grand Vitara returns for the 2013 model year as one of the few crossovers to tout its off-road driving skills ahead of its safety scores or standard features.
The Grand Vitara isn't really showing its age--it's still an attractively designed SUV--but it's an older vehicle based on the last-generation Chevy Equinox and former Pontiac Torrent (like it, trivia fans?). It has wagon proportions, but a real four-wheel-drive system with a low range and frame rails supporting its unibody construction. It's a distinctive piece, much less like today's Equinox and Terrain, CR-V, and Escape, and a few steps toward the trails even beyond the Subaru Outback.
The look is simple, and clean, and after all these years, it's growing faint in memory. The balanced look offends no one; it's no Compass. The interior's a fine place to work, with well-grained plastics and tight-fitting pieces, like the ones we've complimented in the Kizashi sedan and other Suzuki products. The cabin's a few steps ahead of the small Jeeps, the CR-V, and the equal of the Subaru.
There's a single engine offered in the Grand Vitara, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 166 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with either a five-speed manual or an ancient four-speed automatic, and comes in either rear-drive or four-wheel-drive form. As such, it's no more than adequate in acceleration, and highway fuel economy is in the low to mid-20s--once very good numbers, now hugely behind the curve set by the latest Escape and CR-V.
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. In the Limited model, an upgraded 4-mode 4WD system is available, further improving off-road ability with high and low transfer gear ratios.
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.
- Leg room is good
- Gas mileage is par for the class
- Off-road capability better than most
- Lots of standard features
- Shy on cargo room
- Four-cylinder lacks power
- Ride can feel busy and unsettled