2003 Suzuki XL-7
Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

Roomy, smooth, and quiet, but could use more passing power

Suzuki’s top-of-the-line compact SUV, the Suzuki XL-7, was introduced two years ago to generally favourable reviews. It’s essentially a longer version of the Suzuki Grand Vitara with a more powerful V6 engine, an available third row seat, and more features.

For 2003, the XL-7 receives an improved interior design, and a better warranty – as do all 2003 Suzukis. The previous 3 year/80,000 kilometre warranty has been replaced by a 3 year/60,000 kilometre warranty on the whole vehicle and a five year/100,000 kilometre warranty on the powertrain. That makes Suzuki’s warranty comparable with warranties from Honda, Toyota and Nissan.

The XL-7 comes in three trim levels: JX ($26,995), JLX 5 seater ($29,795), and JLX 7-seater ($31,295). These are only suggested retail prices, though – I checked Suzuki’s Canadian web-site (www.suzuki.ca), and found the 2003 XL-7 JX model priced at $23,995 (cash purchase price) or leased for $299 per month for 48 months (April, 2003). As a general rule, Suzukis are under-rated when compared with Hondas and Toyotas, and you can get better deals on Suzukis.

What you get

For an MSRP of $26,995, the base XL-7 JX model includes a 183 horsepower 2.7 litre V6 and a five-speed manual transmission, part-time shift-on-the-fly 4WD, air conditioning, power door locks and windows, a CD player and 6 speakers, power steering, outside temperature gauge, rear privacy glass, power mirrors, dual airbags, and a full-size spare tire mounted at the rear.

The JLX 5-seater ($29,795) adds a four-speed automatic transmission, a 6-disc in-dash CD changer, cruise control, heated mirrors, and alloy wheels.

The JLX 7-seater ($31,295) adds a third row two-person seat (which brings seating capacity to seven), front and rear air conditioning, a power tilt glass sunroof, and front halogen fog lamps.

Interior is roomy

2003 Suzuki XL-7
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The XL-7 is quite a bit longer than a Suzuki Grand Vitara. The body is 485 mm (19.1 inches) longer and its wheelbase is 320 mm (12.6 inches) longer. That extra length significantly improves the XL-7’s passenger’s legroom and cargo room.

With its long 110 inch wheelbase, a tall roof, and a relatively low step-in height, the XL-7 has big door openings, particularly the rear doors. Even tall adults should have no problem sliding into the front or rear seats of the XL-7. Interior legroom and headroom for front and rear passengers is very generous, but the rear seat is a bit narrow for three average adults.

The front seats are tall, like dining chairs, and the seating position is elevated with a good view through the large windshield and big side windows. The rear window is extra large, but the right rear head restraint and the rear-mounted spare tire partly obscure vision to the right rear. Still, I didn’t find it dangerous. The rear window includes an intermittent rear wiper and washer which are very useful in clearing accumulated condensation, dirt, slush, ice, or snow.

Behind the wheel, the driver faces a freshly redesigned instrument panel with a more expensive look and controls placed closer to the driver. The metal trimmed, overlapping gauges are backlit, even during the daytime, and are easy to read. I liked the thick-rimmed, tiltable three-spoke steering wheel which includes controls for the radio and cruise control which move when the steering wheel is turned.

The protruding centre stack is easy to reach without leaning forwards, and includes a high-mounted radio and CD player, and a new three dial arrangement for the heater and air conditioner. To keep the controls simple, the dials rotate on the outside and include pushbuttons in the centre of the dials.

The dashboard’s clean look continues in the lower console where there is a padded door panel for a storage compartment, and a flip-up lid for the two cupholders.

2003 Suzuki XL-7
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Just behind that is an attractive gear lever trimmed in wood, chrome and plastic, surrounded by a chromed border. The shift lever has an on/off overdrive button on the handle, and just to the left of the shift lever is a button for the ‘Power’ mode. A power point/lighter on the right is included for charging cell phones, etc.

A separate gear lever for engaging four-wheel-drive is located behind, and out of the way of the automatic transmission lever.

Between the front seats is an armrest that will slide forwards to rest your right arm. Underneath it is a small storage bin for CD’s – and by flipping the armrest over backwards, it can be used as a cupholder by rear passengers.

The rear seat cushions are high, and occupants sit up tall with a good view through the large side windows. The rear seats recline and move backwards and forwards – a rarity in any vehicle. The rear seat area includes a fold-down centre armrest, map pockets, door pockets, and two adjustable rear head restraints.

Generous cargo area

For a compact SUV, the XL-7 has a generous amount of cargo room. With the split rear seats folded down there is 2,067 litres (73.0 cu.ft.) of cargo space – that’s better than the Grand Vitara with 1266 litres (44.7 cu. ft.), the Ford Escape with 1835 litres (64.8 cu. ft.), the Jeep Liberty with 1954 litres (69 cu. ft.), the Nissan Xterra with 1858 litres (65.6 cu. ft.), the Saturn VUE with 1807 (63.8 cu. ft.), and the Honda CR-V with 2039 litres (72.0 cu. ft.), and the Toyota RAV4 with 1909 litres (67.4 cu. ft.). Only the Hyundai Santa Fe with 2209 litres (78.0 cu. ft.), has more cargo space in the compact class.

The XL-7’s rear door opens sideways from the driver’s side towards the curb. It’s easy to open and close, but it blocks your way to the sidewalk when parked on the street. The cargo opening is large (42 inches wide, 35 inches tall) and the loading height is low (28 inches). A black plastic shield protects the body-coloured rear bumper from scratches when loading. The cargo floor is 39 inches to the back of the second row seats, and with the rear seatbacks folded down, the cargo floor is a generous six feet in length.

Unusual in an SUV, both split rear seats have forward/backward adjustment, which allows one or both of them to be pushed right up against the front seats when you want to carry longer loads. For even longer loads, the 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks fold flat, however they’re not flush with the cargo floor. The cargo area includes four tie down loops, a covered storage bin on the right side, and a removeable privacy cover.

XL-7 7-seater models include a small two-person third-row seat which can be folded flat when not in use. I would recommend getting this option because there’s no loss in cargo space when the seat is folded down, and you have a couple of extra seats if you need them. Of course, to get the third-row seat, you have to buy the rear air conditioning, sunroof and fog lights too.

Driving impressions

“Smooth” is the best way to describe the XL-7’s performance: smooth ride, smooth-running engine and transmission, and a quiet, comfortable cabin. Though I experienced this the first time I drove the XL-7 a few years ago, it still surprised me. After all, it’s supposed to be a truck – it’s built on a body on frame platform with a rigid rear axle just like most trucks. Nevertheless, the XL-7 is undoubtedly one of the most refined small SUV’s on the market.

2003 Suzuki XL-7
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Its 2.7 litre quad cam 24 valve V6 offers 183 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 180 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm, certainly not class-leading – the Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty both offer 200 horsepower plus with their V6 engines – but off the line acceleration is peppy, and for normal around town and highway use, the engine has adequate – and smooth – power.

Independent acceleration tests by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (www.ajac.ca) show the XL-7 going from 0 to 100 km/h in 10.5 seconds, a reasonable time for a compact SUV. However, its 80 to 120 km/h passing time of 9.9 seconds is one or two seconds slower than most of its competitors, indicating that its mid-range performance is weaker, particularly with a load on board. With 183 horsepower, 180 lb-ft of torque, and a curb weight of 1690 kg (3,726 lb.), the XL-7 feels strained going up hills with five people and their luggage in the back. I wouldn’t describe it as underpowered, just not powerful.

Suzuki says the XL-7 will tow up to 1,360 kg (3,000 lbs), but I would expect its performance under these conditions to be anemic.

Cruising down the freeway, the engine does 2900 rpm at 100 km/h and 3500 rpm at 120 km/h in fourth gear, and it feels very smooth and quiet.

Fuel consumption, particularly on the highway, is rather thirsty. Urban results are 13.8 litres per 100 km (20 mpg) and highway are 10.9 litres per 100 km (26 mpg).

The XL-7’s four-speed automatic transmission provides quick, smooth shifts, and I found that the engine’s performance could be ‘improved’ by pressing the transmission’s ‘Power’ mode button. It causes shifts to happen sooner when accelerating, and generally makes the XL-7 feel more lively.

Though it’s taller than a car, the XL-7 doesn’t feel tippy when cornering at speed, and handling is very stable. The body is very tight, and the suspension absorbs bumps very well. The highway ride is excellent, and despite its tall ‘greenhouse’, wind noise isn’t excessive. Its standard Bridgestone Dueller HT P235/60R-16 tires on 6-spoke alloy wheels provide good traction in dry and wet conditions, and aren’t noisy on the freeway.

The power assisted rack and pinion steering feels tight and responsive, but not heavy, but its turning diameter of 12 metres (39.4 ft.) is not tight. The brakes (front disc/rear drum with ABS) offer a firm pedal feel and average braking distances. AJAC recorded a stopping distance of 44 metres (145 feet) from 100 km/h to 0 in braking tests – more than a Jeep Liberty and less than a Saturn VUE.

The XL-7 includes a part-time 4WD system which engages the front and rear wheels in a 50/50 split. It can be engaged at speeds up to about 80 km/h, but unlike AWD, it should only be used on slippery or loose surfaces. I’ve driven the XL-7 off-road, and offers excellent traction and hill-climbing abilities. A low range gear is available for really steep hills. Its only drawback is a fairly long wheelbase which limits it abilities over sudden steep humps.

The XL-7 did well in recent independent crash tests. It scored a ‘good’ rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 40 mph frontal offset collision. The IIHS ratings include ‘good’, ‘acceptable’, ‘marginal’, and ‘poor’.

Competitor Overview

The XL-7 has plenty of competitors. These include the Ford Escape XLT 4X4 ($30,300) and Mazda Tribute V6 LX AWD ($30,400); Honda CR-V EX AWD ($28,900); Hyundai Santa Fe GLS AWD ($29,850); Jeep Liberty Limited Edition ($29,790); Nissan Xterra SE 4X4 ($34,298); Saturn Vue 3.0 AWD ($29,695); Subaru Forester XS ($32,195); Toyota RAV4 2.0 ($23,095).

Worth noting is that many of these are available with front or rear-wheel-drive as well as four-wheel-drive, and many have permanently engaged all-wheel-drive rather than part-time four-wheel-drive like the XL-7. Also, some such as the CR-V and RAV4, are only available with four cylinder engines. In general, the XL-7 is narrower than most of its competitors, but longer; and it is the only one available with a third row seat. It’s also one of the few offered with front and rear air conditioning. Many of the XL-7’s competitors offer faster acceleration, but few are as smooth and refined as the XL-7. The XL-7 is also an excellent vehicle off the pavement, although its longer wheelbase can be a problem over humps. The XL-7 is priced competitively, considering its high level of equipment.


A quiet, comfortable easy-to-drive compact SUV with lots of passenger and cargo room. Negatives include weak highway passing performance and thirsty fuel consumption.

Technical Data: 2003 Suzuki XL-7 JLX 5 passenger

Base price $29,795
Freight $995
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $30,890
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/RWD/PT 4WD
Engine 2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24-valves
Horsepower 183 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 180 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic with Power mode
Tires P235/60R16
Curb weight 1690 kg (3,726 lb.)
Towing capacity 1,360 kg (3,000 lbs)
Wheelbase 2,800 mm (110.2 in.)
Length 4,663 mm (183.6 in.)
Width 1,780 mm (70.1 in.)
Height 1,727 mm (68.0 in.)
Ground clearance 190 mm (7.5 in.)
Cargo volume 2,067 litres (73.0 cu.ft.) rear seats down
Fuel consumption City: 13.8 l/100 km (20 mpg)
  Hwy: 10.9 l/100 km (26 mpg)
Fuel Regular Unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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