Suzuki XL7 makes inroads in the crossover game

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We were in Atlanta earlier in the year at a press event driving a series of new cars, some with price tags approaching the ridiculous.

There were the usual stars, some sports cars, a couple of new hardtop convertibles, a handful of top-line luxury sedans. So later we thought it was interesting that one of the standout experiences of the six-hour driving smorgasbord was the 2007 Suzuki XL7.

Strange, indeed, that a smallish sport utility vehicle from a second-tier Japanese company with a price tag below $30,000 would stick in our minds that evening as we discussed the day's driving experiences over a couple of brews and a big steak.

But there it was.

We spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the redesigned XL7, talking about its larger size that gracefully accepts a third-row seat, its standout good looks highlighted by an unusual but attractive headlight treatment, its decent driving dynamics and its energetic 3.6-liter 252-horsepower engine.

Perhaps we were more impressed with the new XL7 than people who had never experienced the previous XL-7 (note the difference in nomenclature structure), an under-powered stretched version of the company’s smaller Grand Vitara.

Anything Suzuki did would be an improvement. As we discovered during a week long test in early summer the Japanese company known more for its motorcycles and small cars, pulled off a remarkable feat — with some help from General Motors — in creating a new car-based crossover that is large enough to house three rows of seats and with decent performance and handling.

The new XL7 is based on the same platform as the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent and is built on the same assembly line in Canada.

There are some significant differences. For one thing, the XL7 is seven inches longer than the GM crossovers. And it’s powered by a General Motors-designed 3.6-liter V-6 generating 252 horsepower. Suzuki builds the engine in Japan under license and adds its own computers.

It’s basically the same engine that powers the Pontiac G6 and the Saturn Aura. The Equinox and Torrent make due with a 3.4-liter V-6 and 185 horsepower.

Suzuki has mated the engine, which is standard across the lineup, to a Japanese-built five-speed automatic transmission.

Although the XL7 carries a rather hefty curb weight of 4,049 pounds, the engine-transmission combination handles chores in a snappy manner capable of clearing 60 miles per hour in 7.6 seconds and a quarter mile in 15.9 seconds at 89 miles per hour. Suzuki gets the job done but pays the price of power and weight with mediocre fuel economy of 17 city and 23 highway on regular gas in the all-wheel drive version and 18/24 in two-wheel drive.

The ride from the four-wheel independent suspension is pleasant, and the steering is accurate with good on-center feel. Suzuki has replaced the electric steering found in the Equinox with a hydraulic unit giving the XL7 better response.

Perhaps it’s more perception than reality, but the windshield seems to offer a bigger expanse of visibility than the average mid-sized crossover.

An undesirable trait the XL7 inherited from the General Motors’ platform is an incredibly large truck-like turning circle of nearly 42 feet. This makes the Suzuki far from nimble in tight situations. Talk about a multi-point turn. Be prepared to approach a tight spot a couple of times before getting lined up.

The XL7 has grown 10 inches in length and more than two inches in wheelbase over the vehicle it replaces making it a true family hauler. Luggage space — the room behind the third-row seat — has grown from a slim 6.6 cubic feet to a useable 14 cubic feet. There are 49 cubic feet behind the second row, and total cargo area with all seats folded flat has jumped from 75 cubic feet to 95 cubic feet. For comparison, a Ford Explorer has 86 cubic feet of cargo room.

A neat bonus is a large storage bin under the rear floor for hiding away larger items such as a purse or a laptop to put them out of sight of those people up to no good.

Passenger comfort is good in both first and second rows. The second-row reclines just enough to make a long-haul ride back there endurable. We found the driver’s seat accommodating, and reaching a good driving position was an easy task. Like most mid-sized vehicles, the third row is not a place to relegate adults for long periods. But it is reachable even for age-challenged adults as the second-row seat tumbles out of the way creating easy access.

Straps are hooked to the rear seatbacks making them easy to pull from a stored position back into a passenger configuration.

If the dashboard layout has a familiar look that’s because you've probably seen a version of it before. It comes straight from the General Motors parts bin. And that's a good thing because the new GM layouts have an upscale look with easy-to-operate switchgear.

The XL7 starts at $23,534 for a front-wheel drive model without the third seat. Standard equipment is generous and includes automatic climate control, audio system with CD player and auxiliary jack, power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, automatic headlights and a full-sized spare tire. Standard safety is impressive and includes four-wheel ABS, traction control, anti-skid control and side-curtain airbags for all three rows.

Prices move up to $32,384 through three trim levels. All-wheel drive, which sends up to 50 percent of the power to the rear if a slip is detected, can be added to all vehicles.

The third row seat comes standard in the Limited edition starting at $28,584. And with it comes a self-leveling rear suspension.

Our test vehicle with rear DVD entertainment system and all-wheel drive carried a sticker price of $30,184.

The XL7 is far from perfect but we think Suzuki has engineered a vehicle capable of making inroads into the exploding mid-size crossover segment.


Base price: $23,534; as driven, $30,184

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6

Horsepower: 252 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 243 foot-pounds @ 2,300 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/3/2

Turning circle: 41.8 feet

Length: 197.2 inches

Wheelbase: 112.4 inches

Curb weight: 4,049 pounds

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

Cargo capacity: 95 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 18.6 gallons (regular)

EPA mileage: 23 mpg highway, 17 city

0-60: 7.6 seconds (MotorWeek)

Also consider: Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander

The Good:

• Energetic modern V-6 engine
• Third row seat will accommodate adults

• Large cargo capacity

The Bad:

• Must keep foot off of the accelerator to get close to advertised gas mileage

The Ugly:

• Truck-like turning circle makes XL7 unfriendly in the mall parking lot