Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jil McIntosh
One of my pet peeves with automakers is the way many of them describe their drivelines. “Four-wheel” and “all-wheel-drive” have pretty much become little more than marketing slogans, and not necessarily accurate ones.
Suzuki’s XL-7 is an exception: a button on the dash engages the transfer case, turning this mid-size rear-wheel-drive SUV into a true 4×4 that the manufacturer says can actually be taken off-road, unlike many others. Of course, when I hear “off-road” I don’t really picture 6-CD stereos and heated seats; buyers will more likely be skiers or cottagers, as opposed to mud-boggers or rock-crawlers.
It’s true 4WD makes it a rarity in the crowded SUV field and adds cachet to a nicely-finished vehicle that, despite a few blips, proves itself a worthwhile contender.
Built in Japan, XL-7 is the “grander” version of the venerable Grand Vitara: it’s longer and taller, with a larger engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission that can’t be swapped for Vitara’s available 5-speed manual.
Rather than offer options on base models, Suzuki equips each trim level with a series of features at a set price. The XL-7 starts as a five-passenger at $29,495 and as the “Plus” seven-seater at $32,295, topping out with leather interior at $33,495.
At the base JX level, that includes disc-and-drum brakes with ABS, aluminum wheels, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD system, air conditioning with automatic climate control settings, cruise, power windows, heated mirrors and locks with keyless entry, rear wiper, single-setting heated front seats, roof rails and variable intermittent wipers. The JLX adds a 6-CD changer, subwoofers and wheel-mounted controls to the stereo, along with fog lamps, power sunroof and rear spoiler; all that goes onto the JLX-Plus, along with second-seat walk-in mechanism and rear air conditioning.
The powerplant for all XL-7s is a 2.7-litre, 24-valve V6 that makes 185 hp at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It’s fine at cruising speeds, although acceleration is tepid and noisy when it has to get the 1,735 kg Plus off the line (an American magazine test-rated it at zero to 100 km/hr in 9.7 seconds).
Construction is body-on-ladderbox frame, with MacPherson struts up front and a 5-link rigid rear suspension with coil springs. The truck feels confident and well-balanced, and if cornering isn’t up there in Porsche territory, the truck responds to steering input smoothly and with less body roll than I’d expect from a tall SUV. The suspension soaks up bumpy roads fairly well, and while I didn’t take it on any extreme off-road trails, its 194 mm ground clearance got me through some sizeable and snowy dips in the field behind my house. You’d be hard-pressed to find the cottage or ski hill that the XL-7 can’t access.
That steering confidence is undermined somewhat by spongy brakes that bring the truck to a halt without decisive pedal feel.
Inside, the XL-7 is well-finished, roomy and comfortable, with an upright driver’s position that makes a simple task of backing the vehicle into a parking space.
The Plus version adds a third row of seats that lets Suzuki advertise it as a seven-passenger. That’s fine, but those two extra folks better be small children or keen bondage fans: the final row of seats is extremely cramped and is “seating” in name only. My Plus tester’s second row slid forward to give the unlucky third-row passengers a tad more legroom; if no one’s back there, the second row can be moved rearward on its track for more room.
All of XL-7 Plus’ second- and third-row seats fold (60/40 second row, 50/50 third row) to provide an almost-flat floor; rigid covers on the seatbacks flip forward to turn it into a single surface, although you can’t put cargo directly on the covers. With the third seat folded, there’s 96 cm of cargo floor; with all seats flipped down, it’s 173 cm.
Unless you regularly transport six or seven passengers, you’re probably better with the five-passenger XL-7. It provides 100 cm of solid, completely flat cargo space from the rear door to the second row of seats; when the third row of Plus’ seats are upright, there’s a mere 30.4 cm.
Lift the floor of that cargo area and there’s a shallow tray under it. The cargo area itself is level with the bumper, which has its pros and cons: it’s easy to slide long items in, but without a lip, grocery bags tend to slide back against the rear door and fall out when you open it. It’s also a long lift (and a messy one in winter weather) over the bumper. The rear door is hinged on the right, which means it opens on the wrong side for loading from the sidewalk. However, rear doors hinged on the left can close inadvertently if they are not locked in the full open position due to the slope of the road.
Up front, there’s plenty of small-item storage space, handy cupholders that don’t obstruct the controls, and trim made from only the finest plastic trees. The heater dials are large and simple to operate with gloves, and while the dash portion of the stereo is equally easy to use, the wheel-mounted buttons are hidden on the side and difficult to use if you’re not familiar with their layout. The heated mirror switch is hidden low on the dash and it’s easy to inadvertently leave it on, as the function light is hard to see.
The transfer case is engaged via buttons on the dash, and while it’s much easier than some of the stiff levers I’ve encountered on competitors’ vehicles, it does require that you take your time and follow the manual exactly: it takes several seconds for the system to shift out of neutral. Shifting from two-wheel to four-wheel can be done at any speed under 100 km/hr, provided the front wheels are pointing straight ahead. The system offers four-wheel high and low, and a power button that adjusts the shift points so the vehicle will rev higher between shifts for more power.
Click image to enlarge
As with any true four-wheel system, the XL-7 should only be used on wet roads or when off-roading; because the axles are locked together, dry roads might damage them.
The XL-7 remains one of the few less-expensive SUVs with true on-demand four-wheel capability; it’s actually longer than a full-time 4WD Jeep Grand Cherokee, and while that vehicle has a larger engine, it also has a starting price of $38,990.
Jeep fans being as diehard as they are, it’s doubtful Suzuki will woo many of them away from their “original SUV”. But the XL-7 is a viable choice for those who want to tackle the unbeaten path in relative luxury with “no surprises” pricing that doesn’t tack on the options afterwards.
My idea of roughing it is no room service, but if this is how it’s done, I might even warm up to the idea of the great outdoors some day.
Technical Data: 2005 Suzuki XL-7 Plus JLX
|Price as tested||$33,390|
|Type||4-door, 7-passenger SUV|
|Layout||Front engine, rear-wheel/four-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.7-litre, 24-valve V6|
|Horsepower||185 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||184 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Towing capacity||1360 kg (3000 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2800 mm (110.2 in.)|
|Length||4760 mm (187.4 in.)|
|Width||1780 mm (70.1 in.)|
|Height||1740 mm (68.5 in.)|
|Ground clearance||194 mm (7.6 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||1226 litres (43.3 cu. ft.) with rear seat up|
|2039 litres (72.0 cu. ft.) with rear seat down|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.6 L/100km (21 mpg) (Imperial gallons)|
|Hwy: 9.8 L/100km (29 mpg) (Imperial gallons)|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 years/100,000 km|