Pick your poison
While we have our reservations about the Subaru Outback, it's the clear winner here. Yet we could justify each of these cars for a different buyer. The Grand Vitara's charm lies in its old-timey SUV feel with excellent outward visibility and a can-do attitude. However, that also means the Grand Vitara feels less civilized than either the Outlander or the Outback. Considered with the dated interior and modest driving behavior, it can only be recommended to those who insist they need its off-road ability.
Subaru is the safe choice with hardware and dynamics suited to the comfort-oriented family driver. While the Outback is a bit soft for our likings, it is a practical package for moving four people. The interior is excellent and the engine is without competition in this group. Mitsubishi's Outlander does live up to its sporting intentions with impressive steering and handling that imbue it with an eager-to-play liveliness. However, the coarse, sluggish V-6 and a few interior rattles are distinct drawbacks.
Subaru has proven that it can build a very competitive product, but chasing a mainstream market has compromised the Outback's underground appeal and dulled the driving dynamics. The Outlander and Grand Vitara are understandably on the periphery of the compact crossover segment for a lack of polish in this demanding market. To follow ambitious Subaru, though, Mitsubishi and Suzuki don't need to shed their identities, but address the shortcomings that keep unique vehicles from becoming standouts.