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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.
The base XL7 includes a five-speed automatic transmission with manumatic shift. 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, satin silver interior trim, overhead storage compartment, air conditioning with automatic climate control and an AM/FM/CD stereo system with six speakers.
The three-row, seven-passenger models 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 wood trim accents. The Luxury model with three-row, seven-passenger configuration offers an optional sunroof ($800) or an optional DVD entertainment package ($1100) with wireless headphones and a remote start feature.
The XL7 Limited adds fog lamps, rear spoiler, upgraded roof racks with silver-colored rails and cross bars, aluminum lower bumper valances, 17-inch wheels and tires, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 with seven speakers (including subwoofer), DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones and auto-dimming antiglare rearview mirror with compass. (XM Satellite Radio requires a subscription.) The optional Platinum Touring package ($2200) for the Limited adds a navigation system, sunroof and unique, plated 17-inch alloy wheels.
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 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.