2008 Suzuki XL7 Limited FWD Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 Suzuki XL7 Limited FWD
Things are not necessarily what they seem on the surface in the automotive world. One day during my week with a 2008 Suzuki XL7, I happened to pull up next to a Chevrolet Tracker at a traffic light. A moment for light amusement - the small SUV badged "Chevrolet" was a Suzuki product. And the Suzuki I was driving was, in large part, a Suzuki interpretation of a GM product, assembled in a Suzuki plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada from parts made around the world.
Welcome to the 21st Century. Sometimes it's hard to tell the players even with a scorecard.
Suzuki and GM have had manufacturing and joint-venture agreements for years, to the benefit of both parties, and their customers. Known for some seriously fast motorcycles, Suzuki has also been making four-wheeled vehicles for many a year, with an emphasis, at least in the US market, on small SUVs. As old-style body-on-frame vehicles like the Suzuki Grand Vitara and Grand Vitara-based first-generation XL-7 have lost favor to unibody crossovers, something new was needed. Since development costs of a new vehicle for the US market as high, and Suzuki is small, some sort of partnership was the way to go. And what better for a four-wheeled flagship than a crossover SUV?
Although it is built on the same GM "Theta" platform as the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, the Suzuki XL7 is hardly a case of badge engineering. It's longer than its domestic-brand cousins, with provision for namesake seven-passenger seating. The engine is GM's latest twin-cam alloy 3.6-liter V6, but it's assembled by Suzuki in Japan, with minor differences from its stateside equivalents.
For its second year, the XL7 model lineup has been changed slightly, with the addition of a Premium trim level above base but below Luxury. Limited still tops the line. Base models are five-seat only, Limited means seating for seven, and it's customer's choice for the others. All but the base model may be had in front- or part-time single-range four-wheel drive configuration. As expected, comfort and convenience features increase with trim level; unexpectedly a full complement of safety equipment is found in all.
My test XL7 was a front-wheel drive Limited, with the two new features of that level for this year - the standard remote engine start, which can also start the climate-control system, and the optional rear-view camera. Rear-view cameras are increasingly common, but this one is different. Unlike others, it doesn't use the navigation system screen on the dash, it uses a small screen embedded in the inside rear-view mirror - right where you look. While the image is not as detailed as with a larger screen, image detail is not the reason for a rear-view camera. Visibility of things, especially moving things, that are too close and too low to be seen out the rearview mirror is, and this system does just fine in that regard.
As for the XL7 itself, there are no major changes since last year, and there is nothing wrong with that. With room for up to seven people, or plenty of cargo, good power and much better handling than is the norm for the class, it's a well-equipped mid-size crossover at the sporty end of the spectrum. Like other crossovers, it's not meant for serious off-road duty, but then SUV owners rarely do that. With nearly eight inches of clearance, it can handle all of common the urban and suburban road hazards, and a 3500-pound towing ability increases its utility.
APPEARANCE: Suzuki is striving toward distinctive, recognizable styling for its four-wheeled offerings. The XL7's hood and grille shapes are echoed in the other new Suzukis, the SX4 crossover and sedan. Large diamond-shaped headlights distinguish the XL7 from anything else on the road. Within the constraints of the two-box crossover design, it signals both sport, from its car-like front and rear ends, with bumpers integral to the body styling and small but noticeable fender flares. Dark textured plastic at the lower edge combines a traditional SUV cue with some sports car cues as well - are the silvery plastic pieces at the front (especially) and rear aerodynamic or skid plates? In reality, merely styling, but the overall look is more sport than utility. Alloy wheels are standard for all models.
COMFORT: Inside, the XL7 is stylish and functional. It's also well-equipped - all versions, even the base model, have power windows and locks, with remote entry, automatic climate control with pollen filtration, cruise control, full instrumentation with an information display for mileage and such, at least an AM/FM/CD audio system, driver's seat height adjustment, and plenty of interior lights, storage spaces, and coat hooks. The second row seats flip and fold 60/40 for cargo versatility, and adjustable seatback angle and a flat floor add to passenger comfort. The front passenger seatback folds flat forward if long items like lumber need to be carried. In all, the rear liftgate is power-operated. Premium models get larger wheels and a choice of interior trim, while Luxury adds leather seating, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, a sunroof, upgraded audio, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls. Limited then adds an easy-to-use touch-screen navigation system, Pioneer AM/FM/CD/auxiliary MP3/XM audio system, the choice of a sunroof or rear-seat DVD entertainment system, standard seven-passenger configuration, and more. The front seats are above average in comfort, and instrumentation and controls simple and self-explanatory. Window lifts in the center console are the only unusual feature, and that's not a major issue. GM mirror and window controls are about all that gives away that connection. The second row has plenty of room for two, and a center passenger is not out of the question thanks to the flat floor. Each part of the second-row seat flips and folds for third-row access. The two people sitting there should best be under 5-6. Or, fold either or both parts of the third row flat into the load floor for more cargo. A handy organizer under the rear floor hides small or medium items from sight, and locating the space-saver spare underneath, outside, as in a pickup, further increases interior space.
SAFETY: You don't have to buy the Limited to get the full suite of safety equipment that gives the XL7 a five-star NHTSA rating for frontal and side impact safety, and four stars for rollover protection. All have four-wheel vented disc brakes, antilock with brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and the ESP electronic stability system. A tire pressure monitoring system is also standard. The XL7's unibody structure uses high-strength steel, with a safety cage around the passenger compartment and front and rear crumple zones. Front airbags are supplemented by full-length side curtain bags.
RIDE AND HANDLING: With no truck in its ancestry, the XL7 feels very much like a large modern front-wheel drive car, in particular today's equivalent to the station wagon of the past. Its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned moderately firmly, and, with the relatively long wheelbase, gives a smooth, comfortable ride. Steering effort is never too light for good control, nor too heavy. Self-leveling Nivomat shocks at the rear are standard in seven-passenger models, to better deal with varied loads. They also help to keep the vehicle flat when cornering, for improved performance and control.
PERFORMANCE: It's no Hayabusa, but the 3.6-liter V6's 252 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and 243 lb-ft of torque (at a nice, low 2300 rpm) and five-speed automatic transmission with manual mode have no problems moving the XL7 quickly. Because of its unibody construction, it's relatively light for an SUV at around 3900 pounds in front-wheel drive trim. That helps both acceleration and braking. Fuel economy, EPA 16 city, 22 highway and real-world 18 in a mix, is average for the class, and about right considering size and weight. The transmission has a manual mode, but I never found it to be a necessity given the engine's torque curve and the transmission's gearing. A little torque steer could be felt on hard acceleration, but plenty of torque is going through the front wheels at that time. A useful 3500-pound towing capacity adds to the XL7's abilities.
CONCLUSIONS: The Suzuki XL7 is a good choice in the midsize crossover class.
2008 Suzuki XL7 Limited FWD
Base Price $ 27,299 Price As Tested $ 29,948 Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 with variable cam phasing on all camshafts Engine Size 3.6 liters / 220 cu. in. Horsepower 252 @ 6400 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 243 @ 2300 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic with manual mode Wheelbase / Length 112.4 in. / 197.2 in. Curb Weight 3886 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.4 Fuel Capacity 18.6 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P235/60 SR17 Bridgestone Dueler H/T Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, ABS, EBD, TCS, ESP standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ independent multilink with Nivomat self-leveling spring/shock units Ground clearance 7.9 inches Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16 / 22 / 18 0 to 60 mph 7.7 sec Towing capacity 3500 pounds OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rear-vision camera $ 649 Destination and handling $ 0 (included with MSRP)