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2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara Midsize SUV Sport Utility Vehicle

What was tested?

2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara Ultimate Adventure Edition ($23,949). Options: All-weather floor mats ($125), first aid kit and cargo mat ($115), premium metallic paint ($130), Bluetooth with screen graphics ($250). Price as tested: $24,569.

Why buy it?

It's a cross-breed between a crossover and a true SUV, with a car-like body riding atop a truck-like frame. It can do some off-road driving but is quieter than a Jeep Wrangler.

Why avoid it?

It also has the downsides of both cars and SUVs. It gets a relatively low ride height like a car, which limits its off-road use, along with the weight of an SUV, which hurts gas mileage.

After a week of driving this car - the new Suzuki Grand Vitara - the new Suzuki Grand Vitara I'm still not quite sure who would want to buy one. It's not that it's a bad car. It seems to be built well, drives comfortably and looks decent. It's that it doesn't fit neatly into any single niche, instead straddling two different categories and excelling at neither of them.

The reason for the awkwardness is that the Grand Vitara is designed in a really unusual way, combining car-like and truck-like frames into one Frankenstein of a vehicle. It has a one-piece body that integrates with a traditional truck frame, so it's not exactly a crossover and not exactly an SUV.

And that means it has the strengths and weaknesses of both. Since its mom is a crossover, it inherits a solid-feeling body that's nice and quiet on the highway, but it has a fairly low ride height that limits its off-road capability.

And since its dad is a true SUV, it's strong enough and heavy enough to withstand the beating of some off-road driving, although it also gets the bad-gas-mileage gene. The version I tested was rated for 19 mpg in town and 23 on the highway, considerably worse than the 30+ mpg that many similarly sized crossovers are getting nowadays. That's why I'm confused over who would buy a Grand Vitara, although I've got a few ideas.

If I'm a hardcore off-road enthusiast, I want a Jeep Wrangler, or maybe a used Range Rover or Hummer. And if I'm looking for something quiet, smooth and efficient to drive around town, any crossover on the market would be a better choice. There are plenty of good ones to pick from.

But what if I like to drive off-road occasionally -including some fairly rough trails - but want something quieter and more comfortable for the vast majority of the time I'm driving around on pavement? That's when the Grand Vitara starts to make more sense. This is a mutt of a vehicle, one that's either a really civilized off-roader or a really rugged family car.

If you're thinking about buying one, Suzuki has made some changes that make it more appealing. There's an Ultimate Adventure Edition model that comes with easy-to-wash seats and rubber floor mats. Most models are also available with no spare tire, which looks classier.

Finally, Suzuki also makes a Garmin navigation system standard on all models this year, which is nice for a car in this price category but it's also a little misleading. The navigation system is a removable external unit, not one that's built into the dash permanently, so it's just one step above a Walmart GPS unit attached to your car with a suction cup.

In the end, this isn't a car that's going to appeal to a whole lot of people. Off-road enthusiasts want something scarier, and the rest of us want a crossover. For those people who want a little of both, this is your car.


Style: 7
Performance: 5
Price: 6

Handling: 3
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 6