Short overhangs front and rear contribute to the Grand Vitara's muscular, ready-to-off-road look, though a close look reveals modest 7.9" ground clearance -- not enough for serious off-roading.
Fit and finish on the Grand Vitara's exterior are excellent. Nice paint, secure trim pieces and chrome, good fit on all the body pieces. Grand Vitara is assembled in Japan, unlike some of Suzuki's other offerings, which are assembled in South Korea. The difference in quality is astounding. Grand Vitara absolutely measures up. My favorite feature on the Grand Vitara is the shape of the taillights. They follow the lines of the body, wrapping around the rear corners from the SUV's beltline to its bumper. The shape is unique, attractive and totally organic to the Grand Vitara's design. Nice.
In the Driver's Seat
Grand Vitara's back seat is roomy and comfortable enough for two adults. The back seat headrests nestle into the seat when they are not in use, preserving sight lines for the driver. It's easy to fold the seats down to increase cargo space, but they don't fold flat into the floor -- they leave a bit of an uneven load surface. There are plenty of cubbies and storage spaces scattered throughout the Grand Vitara, a great utility feature. A light duty cargo hold cover is included -- don't put anything heavy on top, though.
On the Road
Grand Vitara's ride is good, with body roll and handling at car-like, rather than truck-like, levels. Independent front suspension with MacPherson struts (is there any other kind?) and rear multi-link soak up the bumps. Front disc/rear drum brakes are equipped with ABS, traction control and stability control. Front and rear curtain airbags and front side airbags are standard. A 17.3 gallon gas tank can take you as far as 400 miles before you have to fill up or call Suzuki's 24/7/365 Roadside Assistance (included in the sale price).
Driving the Grand Vitara is not exhilarating, but it is satisfying. The SUV has a solid, planted feeling on the road, and a classy ambiance. This is a really nice compact SUV.
The Toyota RAV4 was newly redesigned for 2006, and it is stiff competition indeed. Honda's CR-V is a little smaller, a little lighter-duty than RAV4 or Grand Vitara, but it has quite a following and is a fine little SUV. Hyundai's Tucson brings a lot of standard features to the party. The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner offer a more American take on the compact SUV, with a lot of option packages available including hybrid gas-electric powerplants. Don't forget the Kia Sorento or the Saturn Vue -- both are well-priced, if a little less luxurious than the Grand Vitara.
If you choose a Grand Vitara, you can save a little money by selecting a lower level of trim, and there's a 2WD version available. Whichever Grand Vitara you choose, you'll be getting a unique, attractive SUV with a lot to offer. Hopefully, the glow from Grand Vitara will expand across the Suzuki lineup.