Not everyone has $50 grand for a sport/utility. Suzuki knows this and offers well-equipped rigs that don't cost a fortune, yet aren't classed as bottom feeders. We had a Grand Vitara in our One-Year Test fleet for a year, and it performed admirably, if not spectacularly. We asked for more rear-area cargo room and more power, among other things; apparently so did the marketplace, and Suzi responded with the Grand Vitara XL-7. It gets a 2.7L engine good for 170 hp and is 19.2 in. longer than its littler brother. Go for the 4WD Touring model with automatic trans as we did (base MSRP: $24,499), and we needed no options other than floormats ($95) and delivery charge ($500). Bottom line: a more-than-affordable $25,094. That's about what you'd pay for a well-equipped Escape-but, unlike the XL-7, the Escape doesn't offer a low-range transfer case, nor does it have a third-row seat; however, that Suzuki rear seating is severely limited in the legroom department.

The wheel alignment was a bit off upon delivery, though that was adjusted under warranty. An oil/filter change to prepare the XL for a cross-country trip ran us a mere $25.36