2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara

An ingenious solution to distracted driving.

2012 Suzuki Grand VitaraBelieve it or not, I am a big proponent of simple, cheap cars. Yes I do own a Range Rover but I did just sell my 1969 FIAT 850 Spider. And few cars get simpler than that thing.

It had a water-cooled 903cc inline four-cylinder engine producing something like 54 horsepower mounted in the trunk. It had a four-speed manual transaxle and was designed without a roof. At 1,600 pounds, it was a bright orange, Italian deathtrap with a 0-60 measured on the geologic scale.

Given my history and love of plain-Jane automobiles, I was so surprised to find myself grimacing when behind the wheel of the 2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara ?Ultimate Adventure Edition? with four-wheel drive and navigation.

For a suggested retail price of $24,569, customers get a small, four-door, five-seater SUV with a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 166 horsepower and 162 pound feet of torque. The EPA has rated the four-wheel drive Grand Vitara at 19 MPG in the city and 23 MPG on the highway.

Suzuki Grand Vitara - Side ViewOn the Ultimate Adventure Edition, Suzuki has fitted the Grand Vitara with full-time four-wheel drive that sends the power to the road through some great looking wheels complete with sporty yet beefy looking tires.

The Suzuki Grand Vitara has a fantastic driving position with plenty of headroom and lots of forward visibility. The seats are covered in what feels like supple two-tone blue and black leather but is presumably just very soft vinyl.

This, unfortunately, is where the niceties of the Grand Vitara end. The interior design and build quality is on par with what most global automakers were churning out during Clinton?s first term.

Let me cut to the meat of my complaints: cell phone signal interferes with the radio. I am sorry; but it?s 2012. What self-respecting automaker is willing to install a stereo system in a brand-new car that suffers from cell phone interference?

Suzuki Grand Vitara - InteriorWhile you might not know based upon its dismal US sales, Suzuki is an automotive powerhouse in the rest of the world. If they were?as they appear in the US?to be a rinky-dink operation, this sort of oversight might be acceptable. But they?re not. They?re on par with Fiat and Toyota.

If Suzuki can?t source a radio that works on frequencies not utilized by cellphones they have no business selling cars. Period. I had honestly forgotten this sort of thing was an issue, as I hadn?t heard cell phone interference on a radio?in or outside of a car?in half a decade.

If you wish to listen to the radio in the Grand Vitara, you must have your cell phone off. Or if you wish to have your cell phone on, you must drive in silence. Other automakers are making cars that park themselves with Bluetooth as standard and satnav systems with 3D renderings of your surroundings. In a Suzuki, however, you can?t even listen to NPR without turning off your phone.

While we?re on the topic of satnav, Suzuki?s answer to a satnav system is a pop-up cubby unit with a Garmin clipped into it. While this is great for a rental car, in a showroom-fresh SUV, it feels a bit cheap.

The Suzuki Grand Vitara starts at $19,649 in a rear-wheel drive setup with a manual transmission. Considering all Suzukis are backed by a 100,000-mile, seven-year transferrable warranty, the Grand Vitara is not bad investment. Add any more optional extras than the base model, however, and the Grand Vitara is overshadowed by any number of small SUVs: the Mazda CX-5 for example.

Suzuki Grand Vitara - Action shotWhile the Suzuki Grand Vitara is painfully out of date, it is the best possible car for one demographic: first-time teenage drivers. Think about it, if a teen wishes to crank up the newest song by Justin Bieber (and we know they will) they?ll need to turn off their cell phone to even hear it; thereby negating any worry of texting while driving.

So there we have it. Counter intuitively; Suzuki has solved the distracted driving epidemic not through new technology but with sheer laziness. Who would have considered our roads could be made safer through subtraction instead addition?

Mercedes, eat your heart out.

More from Our Auto Expert