Vehicle Overview
Suzuki calls its primary sport utility vehicle an "offroad athlete." The Grand Vitara is based on a purely Suzuki design, and competitors include the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4. Changes for 2007 are minimal.

The Grand Vitara was designed with nearly 50/50 weight distribution and a fully independent suspension. Full-time four-mode four-wheel drive is available on upper-end models. Six airbags and an Electronic Stability Program are standard.

Premium, XSport and Luxury Packages are available. Under the Grand Vitara's hood sits what is essentially an XL-7 engine, modified to increase its power bands and improve emissions. No four-cylinder version is available. Suzuki continues to produce the seven-passenger XL-7 flagship SUV.

For 2007, the Grand Vitara's trip computer displays average fuel economy and range functions. A hard-shell spare tire and a tire pressure monitoring system now come standard.

Evolved from the Concept-X2 that Suzuki exhibited at the 2005 New York Auto Show, the Grand Vitara features accented, flared fenders and what chief engineer Koji Yamada calls a "single long window" look. Side sill garnishes embellish the hood. A tailgate-mounted spare tire is installed, and the 17-inch tires on upper-end models have wide treads. Base models ride on 16-inch rubber.

Basically unibodied in construction, the Grand Vitara has a built-in ladder frame. For off-roading, the approach angle is 29 degrees and the departure angle is 27 degrees. Measuring 176.0 inches long, the Grand Vitara rides on a 103.9-inch wheelbase. A moonroof is included with the Luxury edition.

Rear legroom in the five-passenger Grand Vitara increased by 4.7 inches over the 2005 model. Interior width also grew by 4.7 inches. The 60/40-split, folding rear seat offers fold-and-tumble operation.

"Self-luminous" triple-cylinder LED instruments are installed, and the wide console sweeps up into the dashboard. Steering-wheel audio controls and automatic climate control are standard, and the CD/MP3 player is XM Satellite Radio-ready. XSport and Luxury models include a six-CD changer. A SmartPass keyless start system, available for XSport and Luxury models, locks and unlocks the vehicle with the press of a button on the door.

Under the Hood
Suzuki's 2.7-liter V-6 produces 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Upper-end models have a five-speed automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual gearbox is standard in base models.

The four-mode four-wheel-drive system, an option for XSport and Luxury models, includes 4H, 4H Lock (slippery) and 4L Lock positions. A limited-slip center differential and rear-wheel drive come standard. A single-mode four-wheel-drive system is offered for base models.

Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags are standard in all models. Four-channel antilock brakes incorporate electronic brake-force distribution.

Driving Impressions
Except for occasionally awkward, almost jerky, automatic-transmission operation — especially on upgrades — the Grand Vitara performs and behaves capably. Failure to upshift on upgrades can result in the engine revving rather high (and loudly) for a long period. On downgrades, the transmission sometimes downshifts with a slight clunk. Downshifts may arrive sooner than expected, suggesting a lack of power at certain engine speeds.

Acceleration is good but not stunning. The Grand Vitara's ride is well-controlled, comfortably smooth on good roads and doesn't transmit too much unpleasantness in rougher spots. In fact, it almost glides through smooth stretches more like a family sedan than an SUV. Very quick and controlled suspension reactions help make such ride comfort possible. You also get more confident, sure-footed handling than in some small SUVs.

The seat bottoms are short, but the Grand Vitara has good thigh and back support and snug side bolstering. Large gauges are easy to read. Quieter-running than some smaller SUVs, the Grand Vitara provides easy views in all directions.

A four-mode four-wheel-drive Grand Vitara performed impressively on a challenging offroad course, traversing lumpy surfaces and scads of rocks. Many times, scraping an obstacle seemed inevitable, but that didn't happen.