Our other big complaint about the 2008 Grand Vitara was its less-than-stellar fuel economy. The old V-6 is rated at just 17 city/22 mpg highway, not great by 2008 standards. The new V-6 is EPA rated at 18 city/24 mpg highway in the 2WD form and slightly worse with 4WD, a small improvement over our last tester. The new four-cylinder is rated by the EPA at 19 city/25 mpg highway, and the rating appears accurate. Over the course of my trip, I covered 806.4 miles, spent $80.57 on regular-grade gas, and got an average of 23.92 mpg in 90% highway driving, achieving a personal best of 24.56 mpg. Given the long distances between gas stations on the 101, I typically filled up at around a quarter tank, so each tank got me an average of roughly 268 miles.

The Grand Vitara doesn't make any promises about being a top-tier luxury SUV. There is no Bluetooth here, nor is there a navigation system. Without optional adapters, the XM Satellite Radio and iPod interface don't work. HomeLink is available only on the most expensive model, and you can forget about adjusting the ride height or suspension. The keyless entry and ignition system is a nice feature, however. You have no idea how convenient one of these systems is until you're in a hurry and can walk up, unlock the doors, get in, and drive away without ever touching key fob.

One piece of technology the Grand Vitara does have that isn't quite up to par is its range calculator. While fairly accurate, it's incredibly slow to react to changing road conditions. Equally unnerving at first is the gas gauge, which begins to drop almost immediately after you fill up. It slows down drastically after about the two-thirds mark, but it creates the impression you're burning gas like it's going out of style. Both take some getting used to.

Before climbing into the Grand Vitara, another staff member had joked that it is "the definition of unrefined." After spending a weekend behind the wheel, I don't think that's fair. No, it's not an Escalade, but it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, either. This is an SUV for purists who want real 4WD and no frills. Ten years ago, it would've been near the top of the SUV pack. By 2009 standards, though, it's rough around the edges. It's easy to live with on a daily basis, but if you don't need the off-road capability, a crossover would probably provide a nicer ride for the same price. On the other hand, given the breadth of the improvements Suzuki has made in one model year, there's hope that the Grand Vitara will quickly catch up with its refined, high-tech brethren -- and remain a true SUV option in the process.


2009 SUZUKI GRAND VITARA LUXURY 2WD
Base price $19,249
Price as tested $24,113
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/166-hp/162-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Curb weight 3479 lb
Wheelbase 103.9 in
Length x width x height 177.1 x 71.3 x 66.7 (w/roof rails) in
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 19/25 mpg
CO2 emissions LEV 2/BIN 5 Compliant