By Derek Price
CNHI News Service
— If you're shopping for a roomy family vehicle, you've typically got two categories to pick from: SUV or crossover.
Traditional SUVs are tough and built like trucks, with a full ladder frame that the body sits on top of. They're better for off-road driving, but they get worse gas mileage and have a bouncier, rougher ride.
Crossovers are built like ordinary cars, which gives them a smoother ride and better gas mileage than their heavy SUV cousins. But they're not ideal for off-road use.
Suzuki's Grand Vitara tries to bridge the gap between crossovers and SUVs, though. It's designed in an unusual, mixed-breed way that combines elements of crossovers and SUVs in one platform.
Depending on what you need in a car, that could be a great thing.
Obviously, if you never go off-roading, you could save money and be more comfortable driving a regular crossover vehicle. There are plenty of good ones on the market.
And if you do serious off-road driving, you'll still need a Jeep or a Range Rover — something built for the purpose.
For folks who fall somewhere in the middle, though, doing a little off-road driving on occasional camping trips but wanting to drive as comfortably as possible the rest of the time, the Grand Vitara represents a sort of Goldilocks middle ground.
It gets good gas mileage, not great. It's rated for 19 mpg in city driving and 26 on the highway, which is better than the quintessential off-roader, the Jeep Wrangler, but nowhere near what you would expect from a modern crossover.
It also has a Goldilocks driving feel. Again, it's far quieter and smoother than a Wrangler or similar built-for-the-trail vehicles, but it's not as sublime as the silky, silent ride of a good crossover.
Power comes from a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 166 horsepower. It's the same excellent engine that powers the Suzuki Kizashi, with a smooth-revving feel and quick response, although it seems slightly underpowered in the heavier Grand Vitara.
The Grand Vitara has been freshened for 2013 both inside and out.
Outside, it comes with a new face, including an updated grille, turn signals and chrome trim on select models. It looks cleaner and more upscale than last year's design.
Inside, Suzuki has upgraded the Grand Vitara's materials and look. It has a two-tone design now, along with better fabrics and more technology.
A high point is its new navigation system. Not only is it easy to use, but it can connect with smartphones and stream audio through Pandora and other online services. It worked flawlessly with my iPhone 4S.
A rear-view camera is also available, something increasingly in demand in this class of car.
Pricing starts at $19,949 for the two-wheel-drive version with a manual transmission. It tops out at $25,949 for the all-wheel-drive Limited model with an automatic.
Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.