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Suzuki forsakes its image as a small car manufacturer with the introduction of the XL7 crossover SUV. The 2007 Suzuki XL7 is all-new. Save for elimination of the hyphen the 2007 XL7 only shares its name with the old XL-7.
The new XL7 is longer, wider and more powerful than the outgoing 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.
The XL7 is a large mid-size SUV that offers even more 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.
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 traction 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.
If there's one design element on the 2007 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 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 new 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.
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.
While the XL7 shares its basic design with the Chevy Equinox it is powered by a different engine. The V6 is derived from a GM engine with dual overhead camshafts. It puts out 252 horsepower, which is considerably more than the overhead-valve engine found in the GM SUVs. It is also built in Japan rather than in the US or Canada.
We found the performance 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 $1600 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. That's not to say it's dangerous; just remember that the XL7 is no sports sedan.
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.
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