2009 Suzuki XL7 Expert Review:Autoblog
Suzuki's swapped the ladder frame architecture of the past to create a more civilized XL7, a welcome change from the Vitara roots of the original. The XL7's unitized Theta II platform, on loan from General Motors, also serves as the basis for the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent. Suzuki also borrows the General's 3.6 liter V6, trying its very best in this application. The XL in the name is an apt descriptor, this is a lot of vehicle, and the price makes it a lot of value. So, what had to be sacrificed to bring such family friendly acreage in for the $22,000 of our trial unit?
Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
Suzuki's styling people have done well differentiating the XL7 from the other vehicles on same architecture, and added length in the XL7 makes the available third row more palatable. For passengers in the rearward dungeon to be the most comfortable, though, the XL needs a bit more width. Leave the seat at the dealer and there's a swell amount of cargo space instead. The two-box paradigm limits the design leeway, but this big slab has its own identity, and even carries a bit of visual interest. Out front, gestural headlamp clusters frame the wide slatted chrome grille, the largest piece of the minimal brightwork on the XL. Wheelarches flare boldly high above the wheels and add some muscle. At the rear, the liftgate bows out without looking bulbous, and the raked three-quarter windows distract from a D-pillar that's more squared off than suggested at first glance.
No matter where the underpinnings are from, the XL7 makes good use of them. The structure is solid, and while you're aware of the size of the vehicle, the ride and reflexes suggest muscle, versus a winded fatty. Bumps and thumps that would send a body on frame vehicle into a fit of jiggles are swallowed with little more than a tire thwack. Judicious ride tuning smothers the road into submission without porpoising motions, though a tick or two more plushness in the ride wouldn't be unwelcome. There's no mistaking this vehicle for a sports car, but handling is competent without excessive roll, dive, or squat, and it clings well to the tarmac. With such a stretch between the axles, some maneuvers might require a harbor pilot, but at least there's stability control and a full complement of airbags to keep you on course and safe.
From behind the wheel the impression is weighty, but the XL7 isn't the road crusher you might think. Weighing between 3,800 and 4,100 pounds is certainly substantial, but not very porcine when considering the space the XL7 offers. Acceleration is plenty quick, Consumer Reports managed to sprint one through the quarter mile in 16 seconds flat, and they found 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. Corvettes were once slower than the XL7, though it doesn't leave the impression of a scorching drag racer. GM's V6 (built by Suzuki in Japan in this case) is willing to spin out to redline with a smooth metallic caterwaul, and the 252 horsepower it delivers works hard. We tried a two wheel drive XL7, so assume that the AWD version gives up some speed. Geared tall for fuel economy, the 2.54:1 final drive teams with a five-speed automatic for serenity at speed. Time was, 250 horsepower was more than adequate for 4,000 pounds, anyway. The steering is weighted nearly perfectly, if devoid of feedback, and the XL7 drives with solid composure. The mission of this vehicle doesn't require constant updates from the contact patches, anyway. The firm ride contributes some head toss, preferable to vomity-soft springing. A solid structure all around doesn't jiggle or rattle over bad surfaces, though occasionally the second row of seats piped up over exceptionally damaged pavement that also got a jiggle out of the steering column.
We found the compromise, and it's inside. The gauge cluster and major controls look and feel high quality and are properly located, though the rear wiper control is devillishly hard to find. The plastic that comprises the lower portion of the dashboard and the door panels looks like a remnant from some 1970s house of funk, and overall there are more textures and finishes in the interior than there should be. Leather seating is available in the Limited trim level, but going that hog wild on the XL7 winds you up among some ultra-stiff competition in the low $30,000 price range. Our sampler had durable-looking twill-like cloth upholstery on seats that would do a little better with some more bolstering. The flatly-padded seats didn't make our legs fall asleep, and are reasonably comfortable once the manual adjustments are dialed in. The standard audio system has a CD player, a proper knob for both tuning and volume, and an auxiliary input -- not too shabby. The materials in the cabin of the XL7 unfortunately don't do the build quality justice. Cheap pieces assembled well are still cheap pieces at the end of the day. The top of the dash is impressive looking, its absorptive, low-luster black finish leads you to think it's soft to the touch, but it's formica-hard. Soft touch surfaces are indeed scarce, though the necessary bases are covered.
The XL7 is a long beastie, longer than its platform mates and able to swallow a stroller and a tripod the long way - an impressive feat. There's just acres of space here, though its a little narrower than you'd expect. The fifth door is a little difficult to operate for a couple of reasons. First, the latch is located near the license plate, which robs you of the leverage you'd get from a proper handle mounted low on the door. Also, the gas struts that hold the hatch up are stiff, requiring a good, hard slam before the latch will fully engage. More than once, we tried to depart, only to have the dashboard remind us the hatch wasn't completely secure. LATCH anchors abound, and the XL7 is brood-friendly with its size and available features. Even in the lightly equipped model we drove, there's a lot to like. There's a lot of vehicle that's very friendly to drive here, and the price per square foot, punchy motor, and well-behaved chassis make a strong argument for the XL7.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Big utility at a smaller price.
The 2008 Suzuki XL7 is a large mid-size SUV that offers space for three rows of seats with sufficient room for adults to sit in reasonable comfort in the third row. The name XL7 denotes that this Suzuki can be equipped to carry up to seven passengers. Fold all the passenger seats down, including the front one, and there's a generous amount of cargo space.
All-new for 2007, this latest XL7 is longer, wider and more powerful than the previous model. If its look seems faintly familiar that's because it's based on the same platform as the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent models from GM, though it shares no sheetmetal with them. The XL7 is assembled in Canada alongside the Equinox and Torrent. The XL7's V6 engine is built in Japan, however.
As with other crossover utilities, the XL7 offers a much smoother ride on the highway than truck-based SUVs. All-wheel drive is available, improving traction and stability in foul weather and on dirt or gravel roads. With one of the most powerful engines in its class, the XL7 offers decent acceleration performance yet it delivers reasonable fuel economy. It's aided by its smooth-shifting five-speed automatic.
For 2008, Suzuki offers a new, more affordable base model; while adding a sunroof and other items to the list of standard equipment on the Luxury and Limited versions.
For 2008, Suzuki expanded the XL7 line to four trim levels: base ($21,349), Premium ($23,249), Luxury ($24,949) and Limited ($27,299). The base model now comes only with front-wheel drive and only with seating for five. All-wheel drive ($1,600) is optional on the other three models. The Premium and Luxury are available in both five-passenger and seven-passenger ($1,350) configurations, while the top-of-the-line XL7 Limited features standard seven-passenger seating.
The base XL7 comes with a five-speed automatic transmission with Manumatic manual override. Standard features also include remote keyless entry; power windows, door locks and mirrors; tilt steering wheel; cruise control; trip computer with driver information center; auto on/off headlamps; black roof rails; 16-inch alloy wheels; privacy glass; overhead storage compartment; air conditioning with automatic climate control; and an AM/FM/CD stereo system with six speakers.
The XL7 Premium adds floor mats and 17-inch alloy wheels. Interior trim is woodgrain or satin-nickel, depending on upholstery color. More significantly, buying the Premium model allows you to choose seven-passenger seating and/or all-wheel drive. All three-row, seven-passenger XL7's feature Nivomat load-leveling rear suspension, rear cargo under floor storage, and rear air conditioning with separate controls.
The XL7 Luxury adds leather seating surfaces, power driver seat, heated front seats, and brushed aluminum-look trim on its bumper valances. For 2008, a sunroof, a six-CD changer, and leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls are standard as well.
The XL7 Limited adds fog lamps, rear spoiler, upgraded roof racks with silver-colored rails and cross bars, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 17-inch chrome wheels, Pioneer premium AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio with seven speakers (including subwoofer), touch-screen navigation, and a remote starter. (XM Satellite Radio requires a subscription.) A DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones may be substituted for the sunroof and navigation at no cost. A new rear-vision camera ($649) is also available, and exclusive to the Limited.
The only other factory option is pearl white paint ($200), which is available on all models, even the base.
Safety features that come standard on all XL7 models include driver and passenger front airbags, side-curtain airbags for all rows of passengers, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESP) with traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
If there's one design element on the 2008 Suzuki XL7 that's going to cause controversy it has to be the large triangular front turn signals that are integrated into the headlights to match the style of the Suzuki badge. The edges of the turn signals wrap along the top of the pronounced front fender flare while the top side marks the edge of the hood, which covers the full width of the body ahead of the windshield.
Although the XL7 has the same wheelbase as the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent its overall length is nearly nine inches greater. Some of this increase in length is in the front, giving the vehicle an unusually long hood line.
The rear three-quarter view of the XL7 is the most awkward angle. It has a heavy D-pillar that slopes down from the roof line, leaving a relatively small third-row side window. The one-piece rear tailgate has an exceptionally curved window that tends to accentuate the bulk of the vehicle.
The front bumper is cleverly built in to the front valence with the center portion painted black to make it appear smaller. The rear bumper is also painted black, but it appears hefty.
The XL7 is built on a platform known as Theta that was designed for use as an SUV and is sold only in North America. All the vehicles are made in Canada at a factory that is jointly owned by Suzuki and General Motors.
Since a sport utility is supposed to provide utility, it's good to find Suzuki put plenty of thought into making the XL7 as versatile as possible while providing an inviting interior, especially in the top trim level.
In five-seat configuration, the XL7 provides a decent amount of interior space in both rows of seats. Indeed Suzuki claims the leg room in the second row of seats is the most generous in the segment.
There is plenty of cargo area behind the rear seats of the five-passenger models.
Getting in and out of the rear seats is easy, an added benefit to the XL7's long wheelbase. The rear wheel well is located behind the seats, allowing for a wide door opening with no intrusion from the wheelwell.
Those who opt for the third row of seats will find there is limited cargo space behind the rear seats when they are in use. However, they split in half and can be folded down to provide a flat surface for cargo carrying.
Compared to some third-row seats offered in other midsize SUVs, the XL7's are relatively comfortable. There is actually enough depth and leg room that a person nearing six foot can sit back there for more than just a few miles. However, because of the small rear side windows it's fairly claustrophobic sitting in the far rear. As with most SUVs, however, the seating is far from being as comfortable as that found in any minivan.
Naturally, the center row of seats fold down for cargo carrying. Unusually, the front passenger seat can also be folded down providing a really long, but far from flat, surface for carrying long pieces of lumber or a ladder or surfboard or what-have-you.
The dashboard is a relatively simple affair, with an easy to see instrument pod in front of the steering wheel containing three gauge clusters. The center stack has a high mounted gearshift lever with window switches mounted alongside. The climate control knobs are well located, as are the radio controls.
A rearview camera is offered on Limited models, and it's available with or without navigation. That's because instead of integrating with the navigation screen, the Suzuki camera uses new technology to display an image on an otherwise-invisible screen on the left side of the rearview mirror. According to Suzuki, this enables drivers to back up while looking where they would naturally look: at the mirror. The thinking is that this makes it easier for the driver to monitor the mirror itself, the view through the front windshield, and the view over his or her shoulder; all of which are more difficult to see while peering down at a display screen in the center stack. When the XL7 is in Park or Drive, the rearview display disappears, and the rearview mirror looks normal. The mirror display is not nearly as effective as the large dash-mounted displays, however, and we prefer the dash-mounted variety.
The previously optional remote starter is now standard on Limited models. The system operates from nearly 200 feet away, and not only starts the engine but also the climate control system and, if the outside temperature is below 41 degrees F, turns on the driver's seat heater as well.
If you like the feel of a traditional, truck-based SUV but want a smoother ride you're likely to find the Suzuki XL7 to your liking. In a way that's an oxymoron as the XL7 is not truck based, nor is it based directly on a car platform. Instead its platform is somewhere between a car and truck, an approach that's becoming more popular as interest in crossover SUVs grows. Its handling falls somewhere between SUV and car, as well.
The XL7 shares its basic design with the Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, and its engine is derived from the 3.6-liter dual overhead cam V6 that powers the premium Equinox Sport and Torrent GXP. For reasons which are not clear to us, however, Suzuki rates its version of this engine at a more modest 252 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, compared with the 264 horsepower and 250 pound-feet claimed by the two GM divisions. Still, the XL7 engine is considerably stronger than the 3.4-liter pushrod V6 that's standard in the Equinox and Torrent, which rates only 185 horsepower and 210 pound-feet.
We found performance in the XL7 to be quite adequate, at least in a straight line. The five-speed auto shifts gears smoothly but the engine is somewhat noisy. The transmission includes a manual shift feature. We found it somewhat disconcerting that the selected gear does not show up on the marking beside the gearshift lever itself. The only readout is located in the center of the instrument pod.
As we turned on to a freeway on-ramp and accelerated, we discovered the front-drive XL7 we were testing suffered from some torque steer. (Torque steer is a phenomenon that occurs on front-wheel-drive vehicles and is experienced as a gentle tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration.)
Presumably the all-wheel-drive models do not suffer from this, though we were unable to verify this because we only managed to snag a few minutes in an AWD model while driving on a very short off-road course, which was so mild that it could be traversed in a small front-drive sedan without any problem. However, we found the ride to be very smooth over this unpaved course. The XL7 is not designed for serious off-roading.
The all-wheel-drive version is intended to provide added security while driving in adverse weather conditions. If you can afford the extra $1,600 for the AWD option, we'd recommend it as it makes the vehicle a better all-rounder.
We were pleased to find the steering felt better in the XL7 than in the Chevrolet Equinox we last drove. Upon checking the specs we discovered why: the Equinox has electrically powered rack-and-pinion steering while the XL7 gets more traditional hydraulic powered rack-and-pinion steering. Judging from our experiences with electric steering, this still seems to be a case where the old is better than the new. Our only complaint is that the turning radius is too big, which is not conducive to parking in tight parking lots. Handling is what one would expect from a large and somewhat heavy SUV: It needs respect while cornering.
The Suzuki XL7 is ideal for those who need the roominess and smoothness of a minivan but want the look and feel of a SUV coupled with decent performance and reasonable fuel economy. Although the XL7 is offered with AWD it's worth noting that it is not as capable off-road as the smaller Suzuki Grand Vitara. An added bonus is Suzuki's generous 100,000-mile, seven-year, fully transferable, zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie test drove the Suzuki XL7 near San Diego.
Suzuki XL7 ($21,349); Premium ($23,249); XL7 Luxury ($24,949); Limited ($27,299).
Options As Tested
Suzuki XL7 Limited ($27,299).
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