2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX-L. Click image to enlarge
So what if you don’t need a vehicle with all of these capabilities – is it right for you? Well, maybe — or maybe not. All of this baked-in ruggedness comes at a price, both figuratively and financially. The as-tested price for our top-of-the-line 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX-L was $30,635, a bit steep when compared to the competition. The ride is rough, the engine sounds like it could be at home in a tractor and fuel consumption is mediocre at best, with an observed average of 11.6 L/100 km over 623 km, thanks in part to its full-time four-wheel drive. The interior, while inoffensive and practical, is outdated and overrun by a sea of hard plastics. Even with our fully loaded test truck, features like a telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth and navigation were all missing from the option sheet.
It is not all bad news, though; sit behind the steering wheel and you are rewarded with a very high and commanding seating position. The steering is heavy and direct and is surprisingly good for a truck with no sporting pretensions. Even though the GV is a big box on wheels, it is not susceptible to cross winds, and trust us, we had some serious wind to test that out. Even with a mere 162 hp burdened with 1,675 kg of 4×4 truck, the engine is surprisingly responsive until speeds reach triple-digit figures, at which time physics and aerodynamics get in the way. Speaking of highway speeds, the GV’s engine turns 3,200 rpm at 120 km/h and is in desperate need of a fifth gear (and a sixth wouldn’t hurt either since we’re adding gears).
Even with a seven-year-old design last refreshed four years ago, the exterior is wearing well and still looks modern. The 18-inch gunmetal rims on our tester looked great and really set off the whole truck. Wrapping these rims were 225/60R18 knobby winter tires that howled relentlessly down the road. To put things in context, our previous tire roar champ, the 2012 Jeep Rubicon, would be considered Lexus-quiet compared to the racket created by the GV’s winters. The much-debated rear swing door is a feature that I quite like, as does my five-foot-three wife, who struggles with closing some of the flip-up style rear hatches. Unless you routinely back right up against concrete walls or other vehicles in parking lots, the extra space needed to swing open the door shouldn’t be an issue.
Once opened up, the rear cargo hold offers 750 litres of storage space, which expands to 1,880 litres when the rear seats are folded down and flipped forward. This last feature creates a large, flat loading floor capable of swallowing up some tall, wide items. Up front, the leather seats are comfortable but feel cheap and flimsy. The seven-speaker stereo, although not overly modern, delivers crisp sound and is very easy to operate.
In fact, that may be the best way to describe the Grand Vitara as a whole. It may be a dated platform in need of a redesign, but overall it is a practical, straightforward, easy-to-use SUV that features some bonus items not found on other compact CUVs. It really comes down to what your needs are in a vehicle this size. In the end it’s just another Suzuki that seems poor on paper but has a way of charming you once behind the wheel.
Pricing: 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX-L