Suzuki is the underdog of the automotive world.
Outmatched by big automakers with more resources, they've made deals, created partnerships and carved out a business on the fringes of the North American market. A better warranty. Lower prices. A cute ‘ute that offers off-road capability. That's the Grand Vitara, and it's one of the shining stars that have helped Suzuki record sales gains in 2006. The Forenza, the Aerio SX – each caters to a niche crowd of shoppers like first timers and bargain hunters. That's fine and dandy, but the real gold – the brass ring – is in a mainstream dominated by front runners like Toyota and Honda. One must only look at the sad tale of the underpowered, Daewoo-built Verona midsize sedan as an example of what happens in the rough and tumble mainstream.
Suzuki has given up on the Verona – a smart decision – but tries again to crack the mainstream with a completely new seven-passenger crossover suv to replace the XL-7. Losing its hyphen for 2007, the XL7 has nothing in common with the outgoing model, which was an underpowered, ladder-frame, truck-based SUV that stood out primarily because it could go off-road better than most vehicles in its class. This new XL7 abandons the off-road niche for a more powerful pavement prowler, a car-like unibody vehicle designed for families who value comfort, convenience and three rows of seats. Vastly improved over the old XL-7, the new 2007 Suzuki XL7 is also slotted squarely into that fearful mainstream, going head-to-head against some mighty tough competition including the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe, the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander.
Talk about your underdogs. Convincing car buyers to choose the Suzuki XL7 is sure to be a struggle, but there is a sliver of opportunity thanks to the XL7's mixture of a long warranty, a powerful engine, and impressive safety features. And while a lack of overall refinement and a few better competitive choices may turn people away from this underdog, we like its chances to make a place for itself. It may not be thanking Mom and smelling roses, but when that final whistle blows, the 2007 Suzuki XL7 is sure to win some brand new fans.
With three trims (base, Luxury, and Limited) and a sticker price that's expected to run between $23,000 and $29,000, the Suzuki XL7 is priced competitively, especially if the competition carries names such as "Ford Explorer" or "Honda Pilot." The XL7 will come in either five- or seven-passenger configurations, with the Limited coming only as a seven-passenger SUV. All trims are available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, but there was no word at press time about the cost of the all-wheel-drive system. Every XL7 gets a 3.6-liter V6 engine and a five-speed transmission with manual shift feature, and safety equipment includes side-curtain airbags for all three rows, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, Suzuki's Electronic Stability Program (ESP), and traction control (TC). Standard wheels and tires measure 16 inches, while the Limited upgrades to 17s.
The base model, named XL7 (no word on whether that makes it the Suzuki XL7 XL7), comes with remote keyless entry; power windows, doors and mirrors; tilt steering wheel; cruise control; automatic headlamps; roof rails; privacy glass; satin silver interior trim; four 12-volt accessory outlets; and a single CD stereo system with six speakers. Seven-passenger models add rear air conditioning with separate controls. As the mid-priced model, the XL7 Luxury includes a six-way power driver's seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, leather upholstery for the seats and steering wheel, audio controls on the steering wheel, wood trim accents, and a power sunroof. The seven-passenger XL7 Luxury adds a DVD entertainment system in place of the sunroof. Stepping up to the XL7 Limited means fog lamps, a rear spoiler, an upgraded roof rack, 17-inch alloy wheels, auto-dimming mirrors, an integrated compass, and a stereo upgrade that adds a subwoofer, one more speaker, an MP3 player, and XM satellite radio.
Options are few, including a Platinum Touring Package which replaces the DVD entertainment system with a power sunroof while adding a DVD navigation system and chrome wheels.
Nuts and Bolts
Based on the same platform as GM's Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, the Suzuki XL7 is a unibody crossover SUV that's eight inches longer than the Chevy and the Pontiac. It also gets more power than the Equinox and Torrent, using a GM 3.6-liter V6 assembled in Japan by Suzuki and shipped to Canada where the XL7 is assembled. This is a curious arrangement; one we assume is a by-product of Suzuki's 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The Suzuki version of this V6 makes slightly less power than similar engines in GM products, generating 252 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 243 lb.-ft. of torque at a low 2,300 rpm. Power is managed by a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature, driving either the front or all four wheels. EPA fuel economy estimates range from 18 in the city to 24 on the highway for the front-wheel-drive model to 17/23 for the XL7 AWD. During our test drive, we averaged slightly less than what the EPA estimates, coming in at 16 mpg for combined driving. Towing, of course, puts a big crimp in fuel economy, and with the XL7 you can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
Compared to the outgoing XL-7, you get more power and better efficiency, more towing capacity and a better ride, the latter thanks to that unibody frame and a four-wheel independent suspension comprised of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back. For all those improvements, however, the one thing you can't do in the new model is go off-roading. Suzuki has positioned the Grand Vitara as the off-roader in the family while the new XL7 is the pavement prowler, though when equipped with all-wheel-drive the XL7 should prove rugged enough to handle a dirt road. Another improvement over the outgoing XL-7 is a four-wheel-disc antilock brake system with traction and stability control. The steering setup remains the same – hydraulic rack-and-pinion – and while the base XL7 and XL7 Luxury come standard with 16-inch wheels wearing P235/65R16 tires, Limited models get 17-inchers that wear P235/60R17 tires.
Based on the Suzuki Concept-X that debuted at the 2005 North American International Auto Show, the new XL7 is for you if you like trapezoidal headlights. That's what the 2007 Suzuki XL7 has, in addition to an exterior that bears a strong resemblance to the 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara. Consider it the continuation of a more mainstream look for the automaker, one that so far seems to have been received quite well. Given that, perhaps designers at Suzuki went a bit too far with those headlights, for they stand out quite a bit – as does the large grille. Fender flares, however, are nicely integrated with tall doors and a sweeping roofline that caps off the look nicely. This is an unpretentious crossover, and that's exactly what it should be: modern, yet conservative – except for those headlights. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, though our eye thinks the headlights attract too much attention.
The contemporary look follows inside the cabin, with a well-proportioned and functional design that largely delivers what crossover buyers are looking for: comfort, space, utility, and ease-of-use. Driving controls are within easy reach, as are climate and stereo controls. The XL7 comes across as the most upscale Suzuki offered in the U.S., a point echoed by elements such as durable and comfortable seat materials (either leather or fabric) and chrome accents throughout. The seats up front are sturdy.
It's a shame, then, that some of the plastics and trim pieces fall short. Better quality plastic and more soft touch surfaces applied throughout the cabin would be a nice start. We're hoping that some of the loose panels, exposed screws and wide gaps we saw on our tester get tightened down by the time the vehicle gets to dealer lots. Be sure to check the plastic trim around the headliner and the vents inside the dash. Depending on the model, the interior features faux wood or satin nickel trim on the instrument panel and doors.
There's plenty of legroom up front and for middle-row occupants, with more than 40 inches and 38 inches, respectively, which compares nicely with the new 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe, the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander. Those vehicles, however, offer a more refined interior, with better overall quality – especially the Santa Fe. Utility is assured by a reclining 60/40 split-folding second-row seat that tumbles and folds, and a 50/50 split-folding third-row seat that can be folded flat into the floor for additional cargo room.
Today's crossover SUV buyers are a picky lot. And well they should be. There's a plethora of models from which to choose, all of which do pretty much the same thing – and a few that do more. For Suzuki and its new 2007 XL7, that's actually good news: this all-new seven-seat crossover does most things right, a few things wrong and, from a driving perspective, gives shoppers a strong and viable alternative.
Consider: the GM-sourced and Suzuki-assembled engine is the most powerful ever to get bolted into a Suzuki vehicle. At 252 horsepower and 243 lb.-ft of torque, it's plenty powerful enough, more powerful than the Honda Pilot, the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe, or the more expensive 2006 Ford Explorer. It falls short of the Toyota RAV4 in terms of power, but offers more room inside. On the road, this translates into a peppy engine with a nice amount of power and zip, though the powertrain comes across as a bit noisy and unrefined. Off the line, pickup is acceptable, and passing at cruising speeds is handled nicely, but under hard acceleration the powertrain seems to thrash and whine a bit too much. Based on our experience, you'll get more power from the Suzuki XL7, but more polish from the Hyundai Santa Fe. It does, however, feature a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs., making the XL7 just as capable and versatile as most crossovers of its ilk when it comes to towing.
Ride quality, for the most part, is competitive too. With unibody construction and an independent suspension, the ride is comfortable, isolating passengers from most bumps, potholes and other road irregularities. However, there's too much body roll at times, and the XL7 shudders a bit too much when greeted with uneven pavement. Vibration inside the cabin is also noticeable, though for the most part it's a quiet ride. From stopping to starting and cruising, it feels light and maneuverable on the road. The brake pedal felt a little soft with some play, but performed admirably during casual red-light braking, though it felt as though you'd really have to stand on it during hard braking. Steering was also along those lines – capable but vague, and too floaty at higher speeds.
The cabin experience is good, not great, featuring a nice amount of legroom up front but a general lack of refinement in terms of plastics and construction. Case in point: Suzuki probably uses a magnet method to hold up the headliner in the XL7. We know this because it's easy to grab an edge, yank down and listen to it snap back up again. There were also plenty of exposed screws and loose plastic parts on our tester, so shoppers should pay careful attention to the details when they sit inside the cabin. It's the little things that may wind up being big things after around 50,000 miles, such as loose panels, irregular gaps, and non-flush fitting vents. This type of thing depends greatly on the actual production of the vehicle, so you should take careful note of the XL7 you're interested in buying.
Another thing to pay attention to is the level of comfort afforded third-row passengers. We found the second-row seating to offer quite a bit of leg and head room, though the seat bottoms felt as if they were tilted slightly upward, at an odd angle. The third row in the XL7, as with many of its kind, offers cramped quarters for regular-sized adults but seems perfectly suitable for children. Highlights in the back include rear air conditioning vents, an easy folding third-row seat, and sizable cargo room with the seats down into the floor. A relatively low liftover height is also a plus, though the liftgate itself takes a little too much effort to close properly.
What's new for the 2007 Suzuki XL7?
Everything; even the name changed, slightly, with Suzuki scratching the hyphen. Based on the same platform as the Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, but stretched longer to accommodate a third-row seat, the new XL7 is significantly more powerful, nicer to look at and more comfortable to drive than the outgoing model.
Will I be able to go off-road in the new Suzuki XL7, like the old XL-7?
Not really. While some off-pavement driving is fine, keep to well-traveled dirt roads. Suzuki's plan with its redesigned SUVs is to offer the smaller Grand Vitara for off-roaders and the XL7 as the larger, more comfortable on-pavement driver.
Why would somebody buy the 2007 Suzuki XL7?
Value would be the primary benefit you'd get from purchasing a Suzuki XL7. It's a competitive seven-seat crossover SUV with most of the things people require. It's ideal for those who want a great warranty, appreciate the XL7's styling, and require a capable crossover vehicle that seats seven for less than $30,000. Just keep in mind that aside from the styling, this is an apt description of many competing models.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Suzuki XL7
Price Range: $23,000 - $29,000 estimated price range
Engine Size and Type:3.6-liter V6
Engine Horsepower:252 at 6,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 243 lb.-ft. at 2,300 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,886 (2WD) / 4,049 (AWD)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 18/24 mpg (2WD) / 17/23 mpg (AWD)
Length: 197.2 inches
Width: 72.2 inches
Wheelbase: 112.4 inches
Height: 68.9 inches
Legroom (front/middle/rear): 41.2/38.8/30.9 inches
Headroom (front/middle/rear): 41.3/40.0/38.8 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Seven
Max. Cargo Volume: 95 cu.-ft.
Max. Payload: 1,127 lbs.
Max. Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs.
Ground Clearance: 7.9 inches
Competitors: Buick Rendezvous, Chevrolet Equinox, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Explorer, Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mercury Mountaineer, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Pontiac Torrent, Saturn Outlook, Subaru B9 Tribeca, Toyota Highlander, Toyota RAV4
Photos courtesy of Suzuki Motors America