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Suzuki XL-7 4X4 Limited (2001)

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 24,499
     Price As Tested                                    $ 25,094
     Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 2.7 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 167 cid/2737 cc
     Horsepower                                   170 @ 5500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               178 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  110.2"/70.1"/183.7"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3923 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P235/60R16 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                      Seven-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                 15 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            17/20/18
     0-60 MPH                                       11.0 seconds
     Maximum cargo capacity                           900 pounds
     Maximum towing capacity                         3000 pounds
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

Suzuki is gaining strength at the right time. As mammoth SUVs get an endless stream of negative media attention, a sidebar gives positive media reaction to smaller, more sensible SUV alternatives like the company's new Grand Vitara XL-7.

Available in either two or four-wheel drive, in four trim levels and with one engine choice, XL-7's punchy ad campaign comes with the tag line "It Fits," which applies to both its size and reasonable price.

OUTSIDE - From the B-pillar forward, the XL-7 version looks identical to the standard Grand Vitara JLX. From there back, it's longer, with more rear overhang and less wrap of the rear doors over the wheel wells. Suzuki took a JLX, stretched the wheelbase by almost 13 inches and the overall length by over 19 inches and ended up with its largest SUV ever. The rear side windows are full-size and the rear doors are larger than the JLX, which facilitates easier entry into the back seat. The cargo area is accessible by a swing-open door that uses a gas strut for easy action. Styling changes are minimal: all Vitara models get a restyled grille and some new colors, and Limited models have new aluminum wheels and are fitted with side-step running boards.

INSIDE - The best feature of the Grand Vitara's stretch is the addition of a third-row seat. It's not a very roomy place to spend much time if you're an adult, but it's fine for kids. Climbing in back there is made easier by the second-row seats, which fold forward and slide fore and aft on tracks. The rearmost seat splits and folds flat, but it can't be removed. It nonetheless provides 73 cubic feet of cargo capacity with all rear seats folded. There are no perceivable design flaws in the layout of the dashboard, as controls, switches and knobs are logically-placed and simple to operate. The standard XL-7 models come with air conditioning, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, cruise control, tilt steering and a rear wiper/washer. The Plus model adds rear air conditioning, and an uplevel stereo. Stepping up to the Touring version brings an even better stereo and a power sunroof. Since the car we're evaluating this week is the top-line Limited model, it was fitted with sumptuous leather upholstery.

ON THE ROAD - The XL-7 weighs around 550 pounds more than its shorter sibling, so Suzuki added some horsepower to compensate. To start, under XL-7's hood is an all-aluminum 2.7-liter V6 engine. It uses dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder to produce 170 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Remembering that the XL-7 competes in an SUV segment where four cylinder engines are prevalent, it's a welcomed addition to have V6 power. And to give it a bit of extra punch off-the-line, the company lowered the ratio of its differential gearing. Its four-wheel drive system is a part-time unit, however, so it cannot be used on dry pavement. Many of its full-time 4WD competitors have systems that automatically deliver extra traction anytime. The XL-7's two-speed transfer case can be slipped into 4WD up to 60 mph, or put into an ultra-low mode for more assertive off-roading.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The XL-7 rides on a full-length frame, truck-like and rigid. It goes against the current trend of using platforms based on standard passenger cars, but Suzuki engineers say that full frames allow for stiffer suspension mounting points, and with Grand Vitara's thick steel side rails, the company's claim is true. There is no body flex over washboard roads, and semi-serious off-roading produced no noticeable jitters or jolts. Eight rubber insulators isolate the body from the frame and tend to keep things vibration-free. The front suspension consists of struts and lower control arms, with a solid rear axle located by two trailing links and a Panhard rod. Both ends use coil springs, while an anti-roll bar is used up front. Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard and the brakes are discs up front and drums in the rear, with an optional anti-lock braking system available.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact door beams, rear child seat tether anchors and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - Floor mats, $95.