at Desert Oasis
by Marc J. Rauch, Executive Vice President & Co-Publisher
Introduction at the L.A. Auto Show
Introduction at the NAIAS
SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide
I've always enjoyed going to Las Vegas, and have been going there pretty regularly since 1972 - some years as frequently as every few weeks. I don't go to gamble, I go for various trade and consumer shows or other business meetings. However, even though I don't gamble, I still love the "gambling atmosphere", the non-stop 24 hour nature of the city, and I love seeing all the incredible new casinos and hotels. I always like to think that I'm up on all the latest Vegas happenings.
The media introduction of the XL-7 at Lake Las Vegas was a fitting locale. Both provide vast roominess, versatility, comfort, and good looks. And, at least one, the XL-7, offers the extra benefit of considerable economy.
Lake Las Vegas and the XL-7 set new benchmarks for what we've all come to expect from their respective antecedents. About the only thing similar between the new community and the old community is the name. Lake Las Vegas seemed so remote from Glitter Gulch, that in walking around the grounds at night, I don't even remember seeing a glow in the sky from the Strip's world famous lights (although we did see the lights from all the jets as they came in for final approach at McCarran Airport).
Analogously, the XL-7 is equally far removed from any similarity between it and Suzuki's first four-wheel North American road vehicle, the Samurai - for which the marquee is still most closely associated. Just as Honda and Subaru's efforts over the last 20 years have nearly obliterated any recollection of their first teeny-tiny North American cars, product like the XL-7 will undoubtedly erase any previous questionable memories and establish Suzuki in the minds of American consumers as another great Japanese-based automaker.
While the Suzuki XL-7 is an extended version of their successful Grand Vitara, it's really more than just a "long wheelbase" interpretation: so much so that perhaps they should have developed a completely new name for the vehicle. Of course, on the other hand, by retaining the close association with the standard model, Suzuki can capitalize on all the positive effects and goodwill already earned by the Grand Vitara, making the marketing of the XL-7 a far easier project. By the way, XL-7 was so named to signify "extra long" and because it is the 7th Suzuki vehicle designed specifically for the North American market.
The XL-7's second seat leg room also falls into the median range by comparison to its competitors; however, two of the thoughtful features added by Suzuki's designers were extra large rear doors and sliding second row seats. The large doors make getting in and out of the vehicle extremely convenient and it provides sensible access to the third row seats. Although the second and third row seats are not removable, they both fold down flat for more than ample cargo space when necessary. Rear seat air conditioning controls and vents are another added comfort feature of the XL-7 that's not found in its lower priced competition.
The XL-7 comes standard with a 2.7 liter V6 engine (the only engine currently offered) that delivers 170 horsepower, and is available in two or four wheel drive and with either a 4-speed auto transmission or a 5-speed manual. Complete engine comparisons and specification for all of the XL-7's competitors can be found on The Auto Channel's New Car Buyers Guide at http://www.theautochannel.com/db/newcars.html?DB. The price starts just under $20,000 and tops out at about $24,500.
As is usual during these media introductions, an extensive ride & drive was laid out for us to test the vehicle, and this drive was one of the most spectacular that I've been on. The route took us from our hotel at Lake Las Vegas, which is located about 25 minutes south-east of the LV Strip (slightly north-east of Hoover Dam), to the Valley of Fire. The Valley of Fire is breathtakingly beautiful. It's like Sedona, but without all the convenience stores and factory outlet malls. The funny thing about the drive is that although it kept getting more and more beautiful, it wasn't until we finally made a left turn into the Valley of Fire, that there was a road sign stating, "Begin Scenic Route". Begin Scenic Route? What were we just on? But the sign was correct it did get more scenic and more incredible. For my money, I would rate the beauty of Valley of Fire right up there with the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Yosemite.
My companion for the drive was North American Suzuki's Vice President of (Automotive) Sales, Gary Anderson. This was cool for two reasons: I was able to drive the entire journey without having to switch off and become a passenger (I'm always more comfortable with my unsafe driving habits than anyone else's), and it gave me a chance to learn much more about Suzuki's intentions and goals.
We encountered virtually every road condition possible, and I found that the XL-7 rides and handles wonderfully. It had plenty of zip going up hills; effortless passing power; and because of the long wheelbase, it's a smooth mover even on rough unpaved surfaces. There is absolutely, positively no relationship between the driving characteristics of the XL-7 and the "bronco-busting" like ride of the Samurai or other small SUVs.
Later that afternoon, we took the XL-7s on a fairly rugged off-road course in the mountains surrounding the hotel area. While the course might not equal a Camel Trophy race over the Andes, it was significantly more challenging and daring then the great majority of American drivers are ever likely to face. And the XL-7 performed flawlessly. In addition, yet another feature of the XL-7 is its filtered air conditioning system, which helped to keep the dust and dust effects of the desert to an imperceptible level inside the vehicle.
Gary told me that Suzuki is scheduled to produce 30,000 XL-7 units in its first year. Based upon the price, ride, and features of the vehicle, I'd be surprised if they didn't sell out in 6 to 9 months. Suzuki predicts the market for the XL-7 will be predominantly female - soccer mom types (70% or so). I don't know. The XL-7 has everything, including an attractive price that could easily lure a young male customer: plenty of room for all their sports stuff, power, authentic off-road capabilities, and towing power. The XL-7 is rated to tow up to 3,000 pounds: enough for smaller boats, snowmobiles, jet skis, and trailers. And while I'm on the subject of towing, another great feature of the XL-7 (which is also shared by the standard Vitaras, Grand and otherwise), is that it can be towed without accruing road miles - making the XL-7 the perfect vehicle to tow behind a motor home. You can schlep it all across the country and legally only add miles when you're actually driving it. For a serious RVer, this could save thousands of depreciating miles over the life of the vehicle.
I liked the old Grand Vitara, but I'm really enamored with the new XL-7. It has the features and capabilities of the most popular mid-size SUVs, but a price that competes with all others in the small SUV class. Last year, the Grand Vitara garnered a number of prestigious awards and accolades. The XL-7 deserves to enjoy no less acceptance and notoriety. For someone who wants and/or requires a full use SUV, the XL-7 is the best all-around buy on the SUV market for 2001.