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2004 Car Review: Suzuki XL-7 EX 4WD

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MODEL: Suzuki XL-7 EX 4WD
ENGINE: 2.7-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 185 @ 6,000 rpm/184 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 110.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 187.4 x 70.1 x 68.5 in.
STICKER PRICE: $24,899 (base)

Suzuki's XL-7 is more than just an extended version of the Grand Vitara. It's a near-mid-size SUV with all the trimmings of the bigger ones, yet the charm and practicality of a smaller SUV.

For example, the XL-7 has a 2.7-liter V6 engine that's rated at 185 horsepower. This isn't the biggest number you'll find in a V6, but it's enough power to propel the XL-7 to illegal speeds in almost every state of the nation.

That engine is attached to an all-new 5-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. The new transmission is smoother than the four it replaces, yet still doesn't hold the XL-7 back. We drove it in an extended test in our area of the country, and in a shorter, but more rugged, test at the 2004 Suzuki introduction, and found it to be a delight. The best part about the new transmission is that it's "invisible." You don't know it's there, and that adds to the usefulness. There's nothing more annoying that a car part that's always making itself known - like a noisy engine or exhaust, for example.

A five-speed manual is also available.

Among the "big car" features on the XL-7 is seating for seven in three rows. The front row contains two bucket seats, or captain's chairs. The middle row is a three-person bench, while the rear row is a two-person bench. Kudos to Suzuki for not claiming that third row as a three-person seat, because those people would have to be very small. Small children would have no problem back there, though.

Rear air conditioning is standard in the seven-passenger version, giving those back there some creature comforts.

If you aren't carrying a lot of people, you can fold down the rear seat back and create additional luggage space. The cargo area is listed at 6.6 cubic feet with the third seat back up, 41.6 cubic feet with it down, and 72.0 cubic feet with the second row seats folded. That's a lot of space for a small vehicle. With two seats in operation, for example, we put four golf bags in back, although the rear seat passengers were slightly cramped in regard to leg room. Still, there's a lot of carrying capacity.

Since this is a sport utility, it's designed for some off-road travel, even if it isn't rock climbing. The XL-7 has a 4WD system that can be shifted "on the fly" between two- and four-wheel-drive high at speeds up to 60mph.We've driven the XL-7 off-road and found it to be capable in normal off-roading conditions.

One neat feature about the XL-7. A lot of buyers use them as support vehicles to motor homes. The XL-7, as well as all Suzuki 4WD SUVs, can be towed behind a recreational vehicle. Nothing has to be disconnected and the vehicle does not accumulate odometer mileage while being towed.

Our top-of-the-line EX trim level had a six-disc in-dash CD changer, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel and transmission lever, four-wheel ABS, front fog lamps and heated front seats. There's also a side-step running board that makes access to the rear seats easier.

The XL-7 was Suzuki's first "up-scale" vehicle that has now expended with the introduction of the Verona. It's a small mid-size SUV that is almost in its own class market-wise, and is in its own class among its competitors.

2003 The Auto Page Syndicate