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Heels on Wheels: 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review

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2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

For a company that started out as a weaving loom manufacturer back in 1909, Suzuki proves its ability to diversity with the Suzuki Grand Vitara, a light-duty compact utility vehicle with handsome SUV styling. Strong suits to this two-row five-passenger vehicle include reasonable prices and proven off-road capabilities.

I drove a 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara with the standard 166-horspower 2.4-liter engine coupled with a four-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive. Trims include a Base, Premium, the new Ultimate Adventure, and Limited with standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive. My Ultimate Adventure came with the following standard equipment: a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; climate dials; a touch-screen Garmin navigation system; eighteen-inch wheels; fog lights; integrated turn signals in side mirrors; water-resistant two-tone seating upholstery; heated front seats; and MP3 and auxiliary input jacks. With the optional $125 all-weather floor mats, $115 first aid kit, $130 premium metallic paint and $250 Bluetooth, total vehicle price came to $24,569.

Suzuki no longer offers a V6 engine for the Grand Vitara. Main competitors are the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Garmin navigation system is standard even at Base level – a rarity for this class. Climate dials are a plus, and speakers embedded in the side doors properly amplify the audio system. The center console makes poor use of storage space with no quick crevices for storing small items. The seating feels stiff and the upgraded water-resistant material gets unnaturally hot, with all these challenging bugaboos exemplified in the rear. The refrigerator-style rear door hinged on the passenger side complicates curbside loading considerably; however, the second-row seats fold back quickly with just a couple of lever pulls for loads of cargo space.

Reliability & Safety Factor: Standard safety features include electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, an advanced airbag system complete with side curtain airbags, LATCH for children, keyless entry, and tire pressure monitoring. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Grand Vitara ratings of “Good” in frontal offset crash testing and “Acceptable” in side impact and roof strength. It is not yet rated by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Cost Issues: A base trim starts at just $19,499 with the Garmin navigation system (that also includes touch-screen commands, real-time traffic and weather plus a Google search function), the four-speaker sound system and the media device support system (USB and auxiliary input jacks). A base Toyota RAV4 starts at $22,650 and a base Honda CR-V at $22,495. The base Kia Sportage at $18,500 with a seducing high-tech freebie like Bluetooth is the most competitive.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Grand Vitara has a strong desire to be more useful than urban, which is where the drivetrain and muscular four-wheel independent suspension shines best. Otherwise, the highway ride is unrefined with pronounced cabin noise and a four-cylinder that strains under pressure. Excellent visibility, strong wheel grip and an airy feel make this the ideal compact for weekend adventures at harder-to-reach destinations. .

The Green Concern: The Grand Vitara’s four-cylinder engine with four-wheel drive delivers 19 miles-per-gallon city and 23 highway. The Sportage’s four-cylinder with all-wheel drive and six-speed automatic get 21-city and 28 highway. The RAV4 gets 22-city and 28-highway.

Versatility often comes with drawbacks, as the 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara shows its many positives are accompanied by small gaffes. But classic utility styling, off-road capabilities, and affordable prices will please for drivers who yearn for a compact that can actually perform.

2012 Katrina Ramser