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Weidel on Wheels: Vitara's shine gets lost in the shadows

Suzuki compact SUV has plenty of upside in a crowded segment
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Although it definitely warrants some attention, the 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara suffers from two factors: A crowded field of strong competition in the compact sport utility class, plus the number of Suzuki dealerships is limited. Good luck even finding one in close proximity. Let’s face it, when people hear the name Suzuki they aren’t thinking cars, their thoughts immediate go toward motorcycles. Suzuki has a great name in the motorcycle world. In the car world? Not so much. The unfortunate thing with Suzuki vehicles is they are much improved. Yet because of the aforementioned reasons, very few people realize the Japanese automaker has made a nice turnaround in recent years. The Grand Vitara is a great example. Starting with the redesign of the 2009 model, the Grand Vitara can absolutely hang with many of the offerings in the subcompact category. It’s priced several thousand dollars less than the popular Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and the Ford Escape. It nearly matches all three in gas mileage and exceeds all three with a seven-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The Vitara also has a very attractive list of standard features. On the negative side, the segment’s three heavyweights all have better interior storage compartments and possess more refined engines. The Vitara’s acceleration is lacking a bit when comparing all four manufacturer’s four-cylinder entry-level SUVs. The Vitara’s 2.4-liter, inline-four cylinder with 166 horsepower draws the short stick. However, the 3.2-liter, V-6 Grand Vitara with 230 horsepower had a nice blend of power and efficiency, getting 17 to 23 miles per gallon. Of course, the sticker price of $27,000 is nowhere near the Grand Vitara base price of $19,099 for the four-cylinder with manual transmission. Like many compact SUVs, this one is meant for double duty. With a standard Garmin navigational system mounted on the dashboard (it’s rather small), and solid around town capability, the Grand Vitara is quite suitable as a commuter vehicle that also could do some mild off-road exploration thanks to its four-wheel drive capability. The Vitara interior can seat five passengers in comfortable fashion and features a very roomy cargo section that expands when the rear seats fold down without the burden of removing the headrests. Suzuki does get points deducted for an annoying side-hinged cargo door that can make loading more of an effort than it should be. In commuter mode, the Vitara does a nice job of getting kids to school and navigating the streets during busy prime time work hours. It’s not as successful in pulling off long distance trips and gets a little noisy when traveling the freeway at high speeds. But it does provide a safe mode of travel on challenging roadways and leaves the driver in a confident state. __________ 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited Price: $27,000 Power: 3.2-liter, V-6 engine with 230 horsepower Mileage estimate: 17 mpg city; 23 mpg highway Standard features include: Four-wheel drive; automatic headlights; automatic climate control; keyless entry; steering-wheel-mounted audio controls; four-speaker stereo, single-CD/MP3 player; removable Garmin navigation unit; stability, traction control; anti-lock disc brakes; tire pressure monitor; rear defogger