Test Drive: 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX L car test drives suzuki reviews
2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX-L. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Michael Schlee

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2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara

Off-roading is one of those peculiar things that people either get or don’t get.  For a small minority of drivers, nothing beats creeping along at 10 km/h, crashing over terrain that would make a mountain goat nervous.  Enter a discussion with these “rock-crawlers” as to which vehicle makers have the richest off-road heritage and names like Jeep, Land Rover, Toyota and Hummer are sure to be tossed around.  However, to a certain set of diehard dirt slingers, the name Suzuki deserves to be right up there with the rest: for decades, Suzuki has made capable, albeit small, body-on-frame sport utility vehicles.  From the original plucky Samurai, which resembled a three-quarter-scale Jeep CJ (complete with removable doors and roof) to the cute but agile Sidekick.

Test Drive: 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX L car test drives suzuki reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX L car test drives suzuki reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX L car test drives suzuki reviews
2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX-L. Click image to enlarge

In 2012, Suzuki is still at it, if not quite as seriously as it once was.  Enter the Grand Vitara, one of the last of a dying breed.  Although not a true body-on-frame design, the Grand Vitara has, since 2006, featured a unibody construction with an integrated ladder frame.  Basically, what this means is the GV (Grand Vitara) is more rugged than most other compact SUVs, for better or worse, which brings up the biggest question with this truck: what exactly does it compete with?  It is unfair to lump it in with the overcrowded compact crossover class like the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rogue.  No, the GV is more of an alternative for those who think a Jeep Wrangler is too raw or a Toyota 4Runner/Nissan Pathfinder too big and expensive.  The Nissan Xterra may be considered a competitor, but even that is a stretch.  The one thing we can confidently say is that this isn’t a high-riding wagon.  It is a compact workhorse that won’t embarrass itself on moderate off-road trails.

This is not just marketing hyperbole due to an antiquated chassis design.  Even with the only drivetrain choice in 2012 being a 2.4-litre four-cylinder unit making 166 hp and 162 lb.-ft., hooked up to a four-speed automatic, the GV is still capable of towing 1,360 kg (3,000 lb.).  Try towing that kind of weight with a Subaru Forester or a Kia Sportage and your local mechanic will be more than happy to collect a large cheque from you, as your manufacturer warranty is now void.  With no spare boat trailer sitting around to test the handling attributes of the GV at maximum towing capacity, we went with plan B and loaded up the cargo hold with a couple hundred pounds of car parts.  The Suzuki behaved completely the same when loaded down as it did when empty.

The Suzuki also features a true four-wheel-drive system including a two-speed transfer case for all your mountain climbing and exploration adventures.  Yes, this makes the Grand Vitara, despite its silly name, a proper truck that can perform adequately under light truck duty and will easily satisfy a niche segment in the compact SUV market.  We did not have a chance to take the GV off-roading to back up these claims, though this is probably a good thing.  This humble author is the same man who got a Jeep Wrangler stuck in the mud and a Chevrolet K2500 snowplough stuck in the snow.

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