We panned the two-door Chevrolet Tracker convertible last fall, but suggested the four-door hardtop was sturdier, safer, quieter and comfier.

Those same attributes apply to Tracker's sibling, the Suzuki Vitara. We recently tested a fully loaded Grand Vitara Limited with the twin-cam V-6. The bottom line, with no options: A breezy $23,149, or about $5,000 more than the Tracker two-door. You, however, do have some options in this price segment.

He: I think $23,000 is still pretty reasonable for a sport-utility vehicle. I'm not so sure it's a good deal on a Grand Vitara. Yes, the four-door hardtop is, hands-down, a better vehicle in just about every way than the two-door soft-top, which starts at under $14,000. But that's a little like saying a one-eyed hunting dog is better than a blind one. As an off-roader, the Grand Vitara falls short of such competitors as the Nissan Xterra and the Subaru Forester, while on the highway it's not nearly as pleasant to drive as a Honda CRV or a Toyota RAV4. It does one or two things better than some of its rivals, but doesn't really excel in any category - certainly not enough to justify this sticker price.

She: Isn't the whole sport-utility field getting kind of crowded? And what does the name Grand Vitara mean anyway?

He: You should be happy. In Japan, they call this puppy the Escudo. I think that was some old Portuguese money. Go figure.

She: When I mentioned all those traits that I liked in the four-door, I wasn't figuring on spending 23,000 dollars or escudos. Maybe on a Ford Explorer, but not on a Suzuki or a Chevrolet. I suppose one good thing about the Limited package on the Grand Vitara is that literally everything is standard, from air conditioning and antilock brakes to leather upholstery and a six-disc CD changer.

He: You can load it up with all kinds of goodies, but it's really what's underneath that counts the most. Like a full ladder frame, with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink rear suspension.

She: OK, Mr. Tech-head, don't you think you're missing a critical point here? Remember what your doctor told us about what he looks for in a car. Something about wanting to feel like you're "putting the car on and wearing it." I found it a striking remark, because it sounded like something a woman would say. And that's the feeling you have when you get into the Grand Vitara. You don't feel like you're in a massive sport-ute that's driving you. It's got excellent maneuverability. In fact, that may be the Grand Vitara's greatest attribute - next to its cuteness.

He: I hate cute in a sport-ute. What do you want? A sport-cute?

She: Might be a great way to get dates.

He: Sure. Just don't try fooling around in the backseat. In fact, I could barely squeeze my bulky torso and long legs into the rear of the four-door which, believe it or not, is way bigger than the two-door. And you'll probably be disappointed by the paltry cargo capaci ty, which is about a third less than what you get in a Forester.

She: I'd rather talk about the ride quality. The four-door hardtop does have a much better ride than the two-door, partly because it's longer and absorbs bumps better. The Grand Vitara wasn't as bouncy as the two-door Tracker, although I don't think the ride is as comfortable as a CRV or a RAV4. The Suzuki also struck me as being overly noisy at highway speeds -wind noise and engine noise.

He: I'm not sure what to think about the V-6, which is a sweet little twin-cam unit that displaces only 2.5 liters and would probably be a jewel in a lighter compact car. The V-6 is an unusual offering in the compact SUV segment, although you can get one in an Xterra for less money, and its six-cylinder is bigger and considerably more powerful. Heck, even the four-cylinder in the Forester delivers more horsepower and torque than the V-6 in the Suzuki, plus it gets way better fuel economy. The automatic transmission in the and Vitara is not geared to exploit the engine's torque curve, so the V-6 always sounds and feels like it's working too hard. I suppose it's better than either of the two four-cylinder engines that are offered in the regular Vitara. But, again, that's damning with faint praise.

She: You want the big picture? I say if you don't want to see yourself coming and going every day, the Grand Vitara might be an alternative to all those mass-produced sport-utes.

He: Just start salting away those escudos.

2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited

Anita's rating: above average

Paul's rating: acceptable

Likes: Appealing exterior design. Quieter, sturdier than two-door soft-top model. Compact dimensions, easy to maneuver. More capable off-road than RAV4 or CRV. Good gas mileage for a six-cylinder.

Dislikes: Rear seat cramped. Optional V-6 engine lacks energy. Not as much character - or room - as a Nissan Xterra. Too noisy at highway speeds. Not much cargo space behind the rear seat. Pricey, at $23,000. Dumb name.

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, four-passenger utility vehicle

Price: Base, $22,699; as tested, $23,149 (inc. $450 destination charge)

Engine: 2.5-liter V-6; 155-hp; 160 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/20 mpg highway

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,232 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Iwata, Japan