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2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 Review

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MODEL:  Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 EX 4WD
ENGINE 2.7-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  185 hp @ 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.
TIRES: P235/60R16
ECONOMY: 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway
CARGO:  75.1 cu. ft.
STICKER PRICE: $26,394 (includes $595 destination and handling charge)

When Suzuki first introduced the Grand Vitara, I thought it was a pretty good compact small SUV. Then the economy-minded Japanese automaker decided to go for a grander image and introduced the Grand Vitara XL-7. This not only added 12.6 inches to the wheelbase and 23 inches in overall length, it also pushed the vehicle into the mid-size SUV segment. Now I don't want to argue with Suzuki or the EPA, but the Grand Vitara isn't in the same size class as the Ford Explorer or Chevy TrailBlazer, for example. At least it doesn't feel that way. Those two have wheelbases that are about three inches longer and cargo capacity that's a lot more as well.

So the XL-7 is in its own class. Size wise it compares more with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota Highlander. But it has certain luxury fittings that refine it to a certain degree while it still retains its small-car heritage. You can configure the inside to make it a hauler of a ton (not literally) of stuff, while it still retains the small-car feel. Suzuki claims that the XL-7 will tote as much as 75 cubic feet of cargo, almost 25 more than in the Grand Vitara.

We felt there was good cargo space behind the second-row seat for the grocery bags and small packages we carried. If we had larger stuff to carry, the XL-7 could have complied. Lowering the second-row seat, however, is a challenge, but once it's down there is a goodly amount of room. The rear door, with the spare tire mounted, opens easily from streetside, which we didn't' think was a problem.

The XL-7 can carry seven passengers in EX III form, versus five for the Grand Vitara. We drove the EX, which was set up for five passengers. Granted, the three passengers sitting in the rearmost seat aren't going to thank you for placing them back there, unless they're children. But if you're the designated driver and you're headed to the local restaurant for lunch, you can carry a couple of extra passengers so you only have to take one vehicle. And if you're carrying children, the rear seat is excellent for car seats.

I began driving the XL-7 after a week in the Suzuki Aerio, which is a subcompact economy vehicle. So the XL-7 at first glance was a luxury car. There is tasteful wood trim all around the cockpit, and the added size made it feel like a limousine. By the end of the week, though, the sense of the XL-7 was more in keeping with the real vehicle. But that ain't bad folks. The 2.7-liter V6 in the XL-7 was rated at 185 horsepower. This was enough oomph for the vehicle, even when tied to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The engine wasn't overly noisy, and the gearbox seemed to find the correct gear without a lot of searching. Economy was EPA-rated at 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway. This is fairly low, but don't forget that the XL-7 has a tall aspect ratio that cuts down on fuel economy.

The XL-7 has a MacPherson strut front suspension and a five-link rear setup, which gave the vehicle decent handling over twisty roads as well as Interstates. Actually, since the XL-7 is smaller than the competition, the handling tended to be sprightlier. We had a 4-wheel driver version that aided us in rainy weather. I still don't know if I'd try the XL-7 on a tough off-road trail, but for the driving that 90 percent of 4-wheel drive vehicle owners do, it's fine.

All the equipment in the XL-7 was standard. This included ABS, drive-select pushbutton 4WD, 6-disc CD/AM/FM audio system, cruise control, tilt steering wheel with remote audio controls, heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, power remote mirrors, power tilt/slide sunroof, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Suzuki has always offered good value for the dollar. In the XL-7 you get a mid-size SUV for less than you'd pay for some of the competition. You won't get a luxury SUV, despite my first impressions, but you will get a vehicle that can do the job in an economical fashion.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate