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Based on the Suzuki Grand Vitara, the XL-7 seats up to seven passengers, with a tiny third-row bench as standard equipment. It's built on a longer wheelbase and features a more powerful V6 engine.
For 2002, the Suzuki XL-7 gets a significant power boost, a longer list of standard equipment, and interior improvements designed to enhance safety, convenience and comfort.
With its stretched wheelbase, the Suzuki 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, Honda CR-V, 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 is a comfortable 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.
For 2002, the 2.7-liter V6 engine produces 183 horsepower, 13 more than in 2001. Its power delivery was smooth and the XL-7 felt a little livelier than the Nissan Xterra but not as quick as the Ford Escape
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.