Mother Proof's view

If your family needs an SUV but doesn’t quite have the budget for some of the better-known models, a 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a great option.

Perhaps a little behind the times in its look and feel, the 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara is a great value for families looking for utility without frills. With Suzuki recently declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, dealers might be ready to deal on their remaining inventory.

The Grand Vitara is more about performance than appearances. This five-seat SUV drives and handles like a truck, and it wants to haul your family and all your gear through rough terrain. That’s where the Grand Vitara shines. Its utility is echoed in its stripped down, er — simplistic interior.

Its off-roading prowess was a little lost on my family in the suburbs of Southern California, but the Grand Vitara still performed well on city duty. Because it’s a smaller SUV, maneuverability wasn’t a problem in the tight parking lots, and I felt in control of this SUV while driving — despite the occasionally bumpy ride.

The Suzuki Grand Vitara starts at a low $20,799, including an $850 destination charge, and my midlevel Premium test car with rear-wheel drive cost just $23,569.

The 2013 Grand Vitara looks like an old-school SUV. Rugged, boxy and truck-like, it comes off as a little dated despite its refreshed front end for 2013. It may not be much to look at, but its boxy exterior adds convenience for families via taller, wider entryways and good visibility.

The Grand Vitara’s higher stance means that young kids will need some assistance getting into it, but older kids should be able to manage the higher step-in height easily.

Similar to the Toyota RAV4, the Suzuki Grand Vitara’s cargo door swings open rather than lifting up. Some people don’t like this setup, but as a momma on the short side and often with a child on my hip, I appreciated it. It’s so much easier to open and close the swing-gate like a door.

The Grand Vitara’s boxy shape means the cargo area is tall. I had no issues with the cargo area’s size during my week with the Grand Vitara; it held everything I needed to haul. A double stroller would likely fit in the cargo area, but it’d need to be stored on its side if the second row was in use.

When the 60/40-split backseat is tumbled forward, the cargo area is sizable. When this test car arrived at my house, there were seat-tumbling instructions attached to its second row. This made me a little skeptical about the ease to tumble them. However, it didn’t prove to be difficult, and any confusion could be quickly eliminated with a little practice.

The Grand Vitara has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 166 horsepower. At first glance, the specs may seem meager for an SUV, but the Grand Vitara performed well during my test drive. I managed to meet the Grand Vitara’s EPA-estimated 19/23 mpg city/highway during my weeklong test drive, and with my lead foot, that almost never happens. I also was happy to find that the Grand Vitara uses regular unleaded gasoline.

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

When saddling into a 2013 Grand Vitara, the interior fails to wow with innovative gadgetry. The touch-screen’s graphics are rudimentary; the gauges and controls are simple and straightforward, and there’s quite a bit of plastic to be found throughout the cabin. However, the Grand Vitara offers many modern conveniences, even if they don’t look so modern.

I was surprised to find that the Grand Vitara comes standard with a touch-screen multimedia system with navigation; real-time traffic is an optional upgrade with a subscription. The navigation system was easy to use despite its budget appearance. Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio and a USB input also are standard. Considering you can get a base model for under $20K with navigation and Bluetooth, the gadget girl in me gained considerable respect for the Grand Vitara. But with all this standard technology, it seemed strange that a backup camera is optional across the lineup. I really missed it.

The Grand Vitara is a five-seater that feels more spacious than its competitors because of its boxy shape and excellent headroom. Though it has seating for three in the backseat, it’s really better suited for two adult passengers or child-safety seats.

The no-frills interior also helps when kids are involved. At least my husband and I thought so now that our daughter is now a messy 2 year old. The upholstery is rugged and seemed able to withstand the graham-cracker and Goldfish crumbs that were hurled at it. It even cleaned up well after finding fruit leather stashed behind my daughter’s child-safety seat.

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara scored Good in frontal crash tests, Average in side-impact and roof-strength tests, and Marginal in rear crash tests. It received four stars out of five in rollover crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Installing child-safety seats is a breeze in the Grand Vitara. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are visible in the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. Now that my daughter is in a forward-facing convertible, my husband had lots of legroom in the front passenger seat.

The Grand Vitara’s standard features are rear-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with antiroll control and traction control, and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. Four-wheel drive and a backup camera are optional.

Get more safety information on the 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara here.

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