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Suzuki picks up its SUV game with the XL7

September 08, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

There's a lot more to love at Suzuki dealers with the arrival of the 2007 XL7.

The company didn't exactly originate the concept of a seven-passenger sport-ute, but its XL-7 became a bar-raiser by providing seats for more than a half-dozen passengers in a compact space.

The all-new second-generation model comes in a shape that, in so many ways, won't cramp your style. In fact, the XL7 (no longer XL-7) had no where to "grow" but up, both in terms of size and overall performance, especially since there are a number of competing three-row entry-utility vehicles that have emerged. That list includes the current Toyota RAV4 as well as the '07 Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander. And you can bet your split-folding rear seat that more will follow.

It should be noted that the new XL7 isn't entirely new. The platform upon which it's built is a stretched offshoot of the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent (all three vehicles are built at the same Canadian plant). Both five-passenger General Motors models share the same wheelbase as the Suzuki, but their overall length is nearly 8.5 inches less, all that was apparently required to squeeze an extra-cost folding bench seat into the XL7.

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Visually, this new Suzuki hides its Equinox/Torrent origins well, aided by chunkier blackened bumpers, Popeye fenders, curved liftgate glass and a sweeping rear roof pillar that accentuates its bigger dimensions.

The XL7 features a wide range of flexible seating and storage options. The three-place second-row and/or optional two-place third-row split seats can each be folded flat for max cargo capacity. In addition, the second row can be tumbled forward to create a deep floor-to-ceiling multi-purpose area. The inside also contains a variety of cubbys and other compartments suitable for keeping all sorts of valuables well hidden. There's also the practicality of four 12-volt power outlets.

Choosing the seven-seater XL7 automatically gets you a pair of self-leveling shock absorbers for those occasions when there's a full load of people or cargo aboard.

Under the hood is a GM-designed (but Japanese-built) 252-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 that replaces last year's 185-horsepower 2.7-liter V-6. The bigger engine (33 percent more displacement) operates through a five-speed automatic transmission. The previously standard five-speed manual gearbox is no longer available.

Suzuki has dropped the shift-on-the-fly dual-range transfer case, instead opting for an all-wheel-drive setup that seamlessly adjusts the power to the front or rear wheels, depending on what's beneath the tire tread. Of course, Suzuki will sell you a front-wheel-drive version of the XL7. Either way, the automaker promises improved fuel economy.

Two distinct trim levels, Premium and Luxury, will vie for your close inspection. Exact base content has yet to be announced, but count on lots of standard safety gear such as side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, tire-pressure monitoring and stability and traction control.

At an estimated base price of $23,000, the XL7 appears to be a solid value in the rapidly growing entry-ute league. Its impressive size, youthful good looks and rugged powerplant should be enticement enough for anyone shopping this vehicle class.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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