The vehicle had barely rolled to a curbside stop in midtown Manhattan when two NYPD officers who had been standing on the sidewalk sauntered over to the driver’s side window and told me to move it.

“But …”

“No buts,” they said. “This is a no-standing zone. That means you can’t stop here.”

 “But I just stopped to ask you for directions. My GPS said this is my destination, but I don’t see …”

 “Your GP-what?” they asked.

 “GPS,” I said. “Global Positioning Satellite. It’s the little screen sticking out here from the dashboard.”

It was the mid-1990s and I was driving an Oldsmobile (remember them?) that was one of the world’s first consumer vehicles offering a satellite-guided navigation system. GPS was such a novelty at the time that the cops were spellbound. They spent the next 10 minutes asking me how it worked and talking about how useful it would be in their patrol car.

Satellite-guided navigation systems are no longer a novelty. They’re about as common in cars and trucks as zits are at a junior prom. Yet Suzuki’s Grand Vitara is the first non-luxury vehicle I’ve tested in which it is standard equipment.

At first glance, the Garmin-supplied unit looks like an afterthought in the Grand Vitara. It resides in a hump on top of the vehicle’s otherwise attractive and functional instrument panel.

Push down on the hump and the Garmin unit pops up. The implementation seemed cheesy at first, as if someone seeing vehicles roll off Suzuki’s assembly line said, “Geez, our competitors are offering GPS, maybe we should, too.”

But I warmed to the unit when I began using it. And I gained a whole new level of appreciation after learning that Suzuki made GPS standard even on the least expensive Grand Vitara.

Because it’s a Garmin, the unit’s navigation functions are first-rate. Garmin makes some of the most intuitive, accurate and dependable GPS systems available. This one lived up to those standards, and its sharp 4.3-inch screen is generally very legible where it’s mounted.

Although the mount seems like an afterthought, the unit is nevertheless fairly well integrated into the Grand Vitara’s electronics. Like more conventional, built-in GPS units, it is powered by the vehicle and linked to its sound system. For example, driving directions play through the Grand Vitara’s speakers, and the CD player automatically mutes and pauses when the GPS announces an upcoming turn.

There’s also a fringe benefit to Suzuki’s GPS setup: The Garmin unit can be easily removed from its mount and used as a handheld or in another vehicle. Suzuki even provides a carrying case for scuff-free transport.

Suzuki also provides several other goodies that make the Grand Vitara a pretty good value in its class. For under $20,000, buyers get an auto climate control system with air filtration, a trip computer, auto on/off headlights, remote keyless entry, tilt steering wheel, an AM/FM/satellite radio with CD player and auxiliary input, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

The starting price on a top-of-the-line Grand Vitara Limited V6 like the one tested is $27,000. The added $7,000 gets buyers a bunch of extras. Among the creature-comfort additions are cruise control, leather upholstery with heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls and Bluetooth hands-free calling. Also: Keyless ignition, power moonroof, HomeLink integrated garage door opener, tinted glass, alloy wheels and a cargo cover.

Functional features include roof rack rails, fog lamps, 18-inch tires, a four-mode 4WD system with hill-hold and hill-descent control systems, and a 230-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 engine.

The engine, which according to a Suzuki spokesman was developed in conjunction with General Motors (a version of it powers Cadillac’s acclaimed CTS), impressed the heck out of me. Its thrust and refinement exceeded all of my expectations and make it a class leader among small SUVs and crossovers.

Nudge the throttle and the Grand Vitara leaves the launch pad instantly. It ultimately isn’t as quick as it seems, but its responsiveness is satisfying and there’s plenty of power for highway passing and hill climbing.

All of that power is delivered with a polish and sophistication more typical of a luxury car such as the CTS than a robust and off-road-capable compact SUV such as the Grand Vitara.

Its off-road capabilities, achieved through a rugged suspension and body-on-ladder frame construction, will appeal to a certain group of consumers. The Grand Vitara is constructed the way nearly all SUVs were before car-like crossovers started winning converts. That makes it more capable than most crossovers of transporting its occupants to a favorite fishing hole or hunting cabin deep in the woods.

It isn’t as smooth on well-paved roads leading to those locations as the best small crossovers, but neither is it miles behind in refinement. I was actually quite surprised at how comfortable and pleasant the Grand Vitara’s cabin proved to be during a 900-mile round trip on the interstate.

Wind, road and mechanical noises are fairly well muted even at 75 mph, and the Grand Vitara’s firm ride never seems unpleasant. Its handling also impressed. The Grand Vitara is no Kizashi, but its rack-and-pinion steering isn’t the least bit sloppy or unresponsive, the way many SUVs used to be.

Body lean is evident in turns, but Suzuki’s small SUV delivers decent grip and responds predictably when tossed around.

Calling it small is somewhat inappropriate because the Grand Vitara is big enough to accommodate five passengers and has good cargo space for its class. That cargo space is easily accessible thanks to its swing-open rear gate. But being hinged on the passenger side is a disadvantage for loading and unloading from curbside.

And don’t expect police officers to cut you a break in the Grand Vitara if you pull up to unload in a no-standing zone. Its ruggedness, value and standard equipment list might distinguish it from similar vehicles, but GPS has been around long enough that cops won’t care that it’s standard fare on the Grand Vitara.

Scott Wasser is executive editor of MaineToday Media. He writes a weekly auto column for the Sunday Telegram and other newspapers. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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