Suzuki Grand Vitara (2012)

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My car this week was the 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara, a 5-passenger compact crossover, one of THE most competitive segments known to man.

The somewhat dated looking body style is still attractive, albeit a little on the boxy side. One drawback is the side-hinged cargo door. I understand that the weight of the full size spare mounted on it precludes top hinges, but jeep remedied the problem by mounting their spare on a separate bracket that is swung to side before opening the top hinged gate. Nose to tail or parallel parking makes getting anything in or out of the cargo hold a nightmare with a side-hinged door.

Once past that issue, cargo room is ample and the space is equipped with a hard, shell-type, folding and removable cargo cover.

Appealing features include gobs of standard items …even automatic climate control and navigation, something normally found in high priced trim levels or as single item options.

The Suzuki Grand Vitara comes in 4 trim levels, Base, Premium, Ultimate Adventure and Limited. I had the Ultimate Adventure model.

This new addition to the lineup adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, integrated turn signal mirrors, heated front seats, water-resistant seat upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats were comfy and the two toned leather attractive.

The dash and center console layout were straight forward with easy to understand controls arranged in easy to use, logical fashion. Unlike most vehicles, navigation is not “built-in” to the center stack. Instead, Suzuki adds a storage compartment on top of the dash that holds a removable Garmin. I have mixed feelings about this setup. With the door closed, potential thieves don’t know if the device is actually in there or if you have removed it. With the door open and the Garmin in plain sight, the vehicle is begging to be broken into and the portable nav ripped off. Not to mention the broken window. When navigation was relatively new, this was a great feature because you could take it with you on the plane and use it in your rent car. Not so much anymore.

Some reviewers don’t like the ride quality of this Suzuki. I, for one, do like it. In an SUV or crossover, this is one of those areas that comes down to personal comfort. In my opinion, an SUV slash crossover in Houston rarely ever sees anything other than concrete, nor is it used in an autocross-style competition, so give I’ll take a ride that’s not going to beat me to death and doesn’t feel like its going to tump over on the freeway exit ramp and I’m good. The Grand Vitara delivers on both counts

On the other hand, the power train lags behind almost all of its competitors. The 2.4-liter engine delivers and underwhelming 166 horsepower. Now that would be okay if this were in a small sedan, but a relatively heavy vehicle like this needs more oomph or a transmission with more gears. Here again, the 4-speed automatic has become pretty much a thing of the past for most manufacturers. Perhaps the 5-speed manual would be a better fit, but I didn’t have that. The EPA rates the Suzuki Grand Vitara at 19 MPG-city and 23-highway. I can vouch for the 19-city as all of my driving was done around town. A 4-mpg boost on the highway would seem an honest call.

Now here is a big redeeming feature for the Suzuki… price. Starting at $19,499 for the base model, this may be just the right price point for value-minded young families that don’t mind its shortcomings. Even my next-to-the-top Ultimate Adventure model has a $23,949 posted price that could probably be negotiated down to a tick over $21K.

If you’re in the market for an entry-level compact SUV, you may want to also shop the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. The Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V also compete in this category, but can get pricy if you start adding options.

Rumor has been swirling for a couple of years now among us journalist-types that Suzuki is going to pull out of the American market, since advertising is pretty much non-existent. Perhaps they realize that by supplying test vehicles to guys like us, Suzuki can get enough FREE advertising to keep enough folks walking in the door…even if only for a little while longer. However, if that were to happen, I don’t believe it would be too big of a problem as parts and service would continue to still be available.

I give the Suzuki Grand Vitara 3.5 out of 5 stars.