In a recent trip to Canada to testdrive the '06 Suzuki Grand Vitara, we realized that most of the OEMs are destroying what we know and love about 4x4s. Suzuki is a company that made a very capable off- road vehicle in the past, the Samurai, and in fact still offers a current version of it in other parts of the world (with the classic Jimney nameplate, airbags, and two coil-sprung solid axles), but all we get in the states is the fully independent-suspended, ground-clearance lacking, Grand Vitara (GV) and claim it to be an Off Road Athlete. Don't get us wrong, the Grand Vitara is a valuable contender in the Soft-Roaders class, which includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, and Jeep Liberty, but most of those vehicles are more destined to a life being towed behind motorhomes or driven by soccer moms than one in the dirt.
The Grand Vitara has some very redeeming characteristics like an all-aluminum V-6, a low-range transfer case, and a manual transmission in a class of sissified dork-utes where the number of cup holders is more valuable than off-roadability. But simply adding a 1.97 low range to the most expensive optioned rig does not satisfy those of us looking for a serious off-road machine. Suzuki has the technology and know-how to make premier off-road vehicles. But like most of the OEMs, they seem more concerned with what most asphalt-driving Americans want rather than what will sell to niche markets that desperately want more than another company's soft top, solid axle, serious off-road machine. Would we let our mom drive one? Sure. Would we buy one to drag behind our motorhome? Not while we can still find a Samurai on eBay.