A True Off-Roader?

Even though the spare tire isn't strapped to the undercarriage, the departure angle isn't great: 26 degrees. The offroad-capable Jeep Patriot's measures 32 degrees, and even the Escape — which makes no claim of offroad chops — has a 28 degree departure angle. The Grand Vitara's approach and breakover angles are similarly competitive but not exceptional.

It doesn't help that the Grand Vitara's ground clearance is listed as 7.4 inches. A true offroader has to provide better clearance. This is roughly what you get in the CR-V and RAV4; the Escape rides 8.4 inches off the ground and the Patriot starts at 8 inches and grows to 9 inches of clearance with the Freedom Drive II package.

The Grand Vitara's ostensible advantage over the others — excepting rock-crawling stalwarts like the Wrangler and Liberty — is its dual-range transfer case (the Patriot's atypical lowest CVT gear ratio is an effective alternative, but it's not a true separate low gear). The optional driveline is technically a permanent four-wheel-drive system, which means it's always activated and can't be switched to a rear-drive mode, even though it's based on rear-wheel drive. In normal driving, traction is aided by a standard electronic stability system and its four-wheel traction control. A dashboard knob offers 4H (4WD high) and 4H Lock, which locks the center differential. The low range is labeled 4L Lock. There's also an N (neutral) setting that lets you tow the Grand Vitara four-wheels-down behind, say, a motorhome.

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