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2005 Suzuki XL-7 4WD EX 5-passenger SUV Review

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2005 Suzuki XL-7 4WD EX 5-passenger SUV Sometimes the old way is best. Consider this in relation to small SUVs. All of the newer entries in that popular class are car-like ``crossover'' vehicles, with unibody construction and fully-independent suspension for comfort and car-like handling. They are basically front-wheel drive vehicles, and, if ``four-wheel drive'' is offered, it is a single-range light-duty system meant for wet or snowy pavement. Towing capacity is rarely over 2,000 lbs, if that high.

They are, in short, cars. Tall cars, with a good view of the road. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as very few owners would ever use them for any sort of driving that could not be done as well by an all-wheel drive car. But if you need to do truck things with one, like driving in conditions that require four-low or towing a moderately-sized trailer, you're out of luck.

In a Suzuki XL-7, no problem. Suzuki's SUVs, although small, are real trucks, with sturdy body-on-frame construction and an available dual-range four-wheel drive system. Suzuki has been building small utility vehicles for many years, and the latest are surprisingly refined. The top-level XL-7 EX is close to some more expensive luxury nameplates in appointment and comfort.

The XL-7 features a longer wheelbase than most other small SUVs and crossovers, for increased interior space. It can be had in two-row, five-passenger or three-row, seven-passenger configurations in two trim levels, LX and EX. Power for all is a 2.7-liter V6 with 185 horsepower, matched to either a five-speed manual (in the LX) or five-speed automatic transmission. Two-wheel drive means rear-wheel drive, and, as mentioned, the four-wheel drive system is the real deal, with low range. Standard equipment levels are high, with a good audio system, cruise control, automatic climate control with filtration, electroluminescent instruments, and carpet floor mats and more included in the base price of every model.

I've just wrapped up a week with a five-passenger EX 4WD version of the XL-7. The calendar says ``spring,'' but the weather still said ``winter.'' The XL-7 said ``no problem'' to the high, gusty winds and sheets of rain. Some of the other small SUVs I've had over the past winter have been noticeably affected by strong winds. Not the XL-7. With its longer wheelbase, stability was good, and there was plenty of room inside. Yet the XL-7 is not all that long, and narrow enough to be easy to park in the city - or be maneuverable on Forest Service logging roads come outdoors season.

APPEARANCE: There is nothing radical in the XL7's styling. It doesn't try to be anything other than a small sport-utility vehicle, but does have all of the contemporary styling cues. A long, relatively narrow two-box vehicle, it has gently-rounded contours, and the sculpted character lines on the hood and small fender flares are as functional, adding strength to the body panels as much as they are stylish. Suzuki's trademark side windows, which drop toward the front for improved rear-view mirror visibility, have been found on its SUVs since the days of the Sidekick years ago, and continue. Complex headlights under plastic covers and transparent covers over colored taillight lenses are concessions to current fashion. As in the old days, the spare tire is mounted on the tailgate, improving interior space with a minimal effect on rear visibility.

COMFORT: In EX trim, the XL-7 is as close to a near-luxury vehicle as Suzuki has made. Hey, the Sidekick and Samurai were a long time ago! Contemporary styling, perforated leather seating surfaces, and real-looking woodgrain trim give it an upscale look. It's on the narrow side, but long. Seat comfort is very good, and adjustment is easy even though the front seats are not power-adjustable. The moonroof, standard in the EX, is power-operated, as are the windows and mirrors. There is a reasonable amount of storage in the doors, console, and glovebox. Electroluminescent instruments are easy to see day or night, even with polarized sunglasses, adding to safety as well as looks. The rear doors are made longer than usual, for improved access in both five- and especially seven-passenger versions. The rear (second-row) seat is adjustable fore-and-aft, and split 60/40 with each back separately adjustable for angle, adding comfort for the oft-forgotten rear passengers. Each side folds separately for cargo versatility. In a vehicle smaller than a minivan, a third-row seat is best-suited for small children, so I didn't miss it in my five-passenger test vehicle. There is a large amount of space behind the rear seat with the rear seat in passenger configuration, and more useful space than some much larger SUVs with the seat in cargo mode. The tailgate is side-hinged, making access to the cargo area easy and painless.

SAFETY: The 2005 XL-7 has crumple zones and a strong central safety cage built into its body structure, which enabled it to receive the highest possible rating in the IIHS 40 mph offset frontal crash test. It has also scored well in government front and side impact tests. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard on all models.

ROADABILITY: Despite its old-school body-on-frame construction, the XL-7 is quiet and comfortable on the road. Front suspension is by MacPherson struts, with a built-in strut-tower brace adding rigidity to the front structure, and, although a solid axle is found in the rear, coil springs and well-designed five-link location keep it well-behaved. Standard light alloy wheels help, too, reducing unsprung weight in addition to improving looks. A relatively rigid ladder frame, and a body that is built like a unibody structure all contribute to its handling abilities and quietness. The long wheelbase and relatively heavy weight contribute to good stability.

PERFORMANCE: The only engine offered in the XL-7 is Suzuki's 2.7-liter V6. It's an aluminum alloy unit with chain-driven dual overhead cams and a variable-length intake system for a broader torque spread. With 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb/ft of torque at 4,000, and decent low-end torque, it's capable of moving the vehicle well, but the XL-7's solid construction means that it's heavy, with a curb weight over 3,700 lbs. So acceleration, while perfectly adequate for everyday use with a 0-60 time around 10 seconds, is not blistering. Hey, this is a small, off-road capable SUV, not one of Suzuki's ultra high-performance motorcycles. The EX is offered only with a five-speed automatic transmission, which helps both acceleration and efficiency. It shifts smoothly. The four-wheel drive system may be switched from two-wheel mode into four-high at any speed under 60 mph, and is designed for use in slippery conditions like snow, extreme wet roads, or dirt, not on dry pavement. Four-low will keep it going where other small SUVs fear to tread, with the 7.6 inches of clearance the limiting factor. Think forest roads that see little maintenance for XL-7 habitat.

CONCLUSIONS: The Suzuki XL-7 combines space, comfort, and off-road ability in a way unique in the small SUV class.

2005 Suzuki XL-7 EX 4WD 5-passenger SUV

Base Price			$ 25,799
Price As Tested			$ 26,394
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size			2.7 liters / 164 cu. in.
Horsepower			185 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			184 @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled
Wheelbase / Length		110.2 in. / 187.4 in.
Curb Weight			3759 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20.3
Fuel Capacity			16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/60 HR16 Bridgestone Dueler H/T
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  live axle with 5-link coil spring
Ground Clearance		7.6 inches
Drivetrain			front engine, on-demand dual-range 4-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 22 / 19
0 to 60 mph				est. 10  sec
Towing capacity				3,000 lbs

Destination and handling		$ 595