2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7
2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The long and short of it.
The new Suzuki XL-7 is more than just the largest sport-utility vehicle the company has ever made. Based on the smaller Grand Vitara, the XL-7 gets a longer wheelbase and a more powerful V6 engine. Plus, seats up to seven passengers, with a tiny third-row bench as standard equipment (a first in this class of SUVs). Overall, the XL-7 is longer than the Jeep Cherokee, wider than the Toyota RAV4, and more powerful than the Subaru Forester. Still, it's a lot smaller than either the Dodge Durango or four-door Ford Explorer. Suzuki calls the XL-7 'sensibly sized.'
The XL-7's advantages are price and maneuverability. Compared with the Durango and Explorer, the XL-7 is easier to park and costs thousands less.
Suzuki's XL-7 is available in four trim levels: Standard, Plus, Touring, and Limited. All can be ordered with either rear- or four-wheel drive.
Prices start at $19,799 for the rear-wheel drive Standard model, which includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. The four-wheel drive Touring we tested topped-out at just under $25,000 and included antilock brakes, alloy wheels, a premium stereo system, and a sunroof as standard equipment.
All models are powered by a 170-horsepower V6 and all trim lines but the Limited offer the choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
XL-7 offers a clean, uncluttered look. Because of its similarity to other small SUVs, however, the exterior of the XL-7 probably won't draw attention the way a Pontiac Aztek would (and that's a good thing).
Six-spoke aluminum wheels on our Touring model were handsome and helped give the XL-7 a purposeful but not overly fancy appearance. Tinted glass and the rear spoiler on our test model were a nice touch. The rear door is hinged on one side and opens conventionally; it doesn't come with a liftgate that swings up like most SUVs. The spare tire is mounted outside, to save interior storage room; it adds to the XL-7's truck looks.
With a roomy front seat and an adjustable armrest, we found it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. Like many SUVs, the XL-7 has a high, commanding view of the road. Analog gauges are straightforward, and most of the controls are intuitive and simple to use. Nothing about the cabin suggests ultra high-tech, but at least everything works. Some of the plastic interior trim is below par, but the interior fabrics seem rich and durable.
One ergonomic glitch: The switch for the overhead light is located too close to the sunroof controls. When we were trying to find the light, we accidentally opened the sunroof one night after an all-day snowstorm. A lap full of snow is no way to kick-off an evening out on the town.
Large doors make getting in and out of the cabin easy. Installing a child safety seat in the second-row bench (which has fore and aft adjustments) was uncomplicated. Access to the third-row seats, however, is difficult if you're any age under 10. Some reports we've seen have suggested that the XL-7's rear-most seats are 'usable' by adults. We think that only adults fewer than four feet tall would ride back there without vigorous protest, because there is scant legroom and only a very narrow cushion. In their defense, the third-row seats can be split and are easy to fold; but they aren't removable. With these seats stowed, storage space is very competitive with other models. However, if you plan on filling every one of the seven available seating positions, don't expect to find much space left for anything more than a lunch box.
There are two cupholders in the center console between the front seats and a number of bins and storage pockets sprinkled around the cabin to store maps and other odds and ends. One thoughtful touch: All XL-7s come with a first aid kit in the rear cargo area.
With its stretched wheelbase, the XL-7 offers a smoother ride than its sister ship Grand Vitara. But its driving characteristics are not even remotely related to those of a car. Minor bumps are soaked up readily, but big potholes will send shivers down your spine, as the XL-7's unsophisticated suspension and trucklike ladder-frame construction show their limitations. Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester and other car-based SUVs offer a smoother ride quality. The payoff for the Suzuki is its off-road capability.
Still, the XL-7 isn't an uncomfortable day-to-day vehicle. Our model was equipped with the automatic transmission, which helped this truck go about its business with little drama.
About 14 inches of snow provided an opportunity to check out the XL-7's four-wheel-drive capabilities. With all four wheels engaged and 7.5 inches of ground clearance, there wasn't one snowdrift or plowed-in driveway the XL-7 couldn't overcome. Stopping is required to activate the four-wheel traction. And there's a low-range set of gears for creeping up steep terrain.
Dry road handling was uneventful, and the XL-7 cornered without causing our hearts to skip a beat. We didn't push it too hard, though, since it is, after all, a truck and not a sports car. The XL-7 isn't our first choice for long Interstate trips because the ride is not very smooth and a good deal of wind noise creeps into the cabin. It's quieter and more comfortable than, say, a Jeep Wrangler, but that's not saying much.
The XL-7 is at its best when driving around town. Our Touring model was equipped with nearly every creature comfort you could think of (except heated seats, which we sorely missed during a winter storm). The stereo system had both a cassette player (great for listening to books on tape) and a CD player, which delivered pretty good fidelity.
The 2.7-liter V6 puts out 170 horsepower. Its power delivery was smooth and the XL-7 felt a little livelier than the Nissan Xterra (which has the same horsepower) but not as quick as the Ford Escape (which offers 200-horsepower V6).
Antilock brakes stopped the XL-7 well, as we discovered in heavy snow, rain and slush.
Suzuki has been building SUVs for the American market for a long time, and the inclusion of the third-row seat in the XL-7 makes a lot of sense. Without it, this would be just another SUV. The XL-7 is a decent alternative to a minivan or for a small family with a couple of kids who are too big for safety seats but not big enough to complain about being cramped in the 'way-back' seats.
The XL-7's part-time four-wheel-drive system works well when traveling off road, but doesn't offer the handling benefits on slippery roads of a full-time all-wheel-drive system.
Suzuki's XL-7 has the looks and off-road capability of a genuine sport-utility. And it's available at a good price. It'll fit in your garage, and just may fit in your budget.
2WD Standard ($19,799), Plus ($21,299), Touring ($23,299), Limited (NA); 4WD Standard ($20,999), Plus ($22,499), Touring ($23,499), Limited (NA).
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($1000); floor mats ($95).
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