For 2005, the Grand Vitara becomes Suzuki’s smallest SUV; when Chevrolet replaced the 2004 Tracker with the 2005 Equinox, the Ontario-built Tracker’s sibling Suzuki Vitara was out the door, too. That leaves Suzuki with only the Japanese-built Grand Vitara and the stretched-version XL-7.

Other 2005 changes include ABS, wheel-mounted audio controls, climate control air conditioning, heated seats, and heated mirrors as standard equipment on the lower-line JX (for only $500 over the 2004 base price), and on the upper-line JLX, wheel-mounted audio controls.

Both come with a 2.5-litre V6, but what makes the Grand Vitara stand out is its ruggedness: it’s a body-on-frame design, with a two-speed shift-on-the-fly transfer case. That construction makes it somewhat less refined on the road than some compact SUV rivals, but it’s got the credentials to be out back playing in the dirt. Its small turning radius makes it nimble for running errands, too.

In addition to its new-for-2005 additions, the JX offers CD player with six speakers, cruise control, floor mats, front and rear reclining seats, outside temperature display, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, power mirrors, cargo cover and variable intermittent wipers.

The JLX, which comes only with an automatic, also adds aluminum wheels, six-CD changer, fog lamps, rear spoiler and power sunroof.

Nicely sized, the Grand Vitara offers considerable cargo room, especially when the rear seats are folded, but legroom for rear-seat passengers is a bit tight. This used to be the step up from the smaller Vitara; now, it’s the mini-version of the XL-7. If you want a tough little truck that offers fairly decent performance on the street but will take you through the rough road to the cottage, the Grand Vitara is a good choice. The Toyota RAV4’s base price is lower but it’s not as confident off-road; the Honda CR-V is pricier and isn’t a true four-wheel-drive.

The Grand Vitara is built in Hammamatsu, Japan.

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