Science fiction tends to depict cloning in a dubious light, with a clone exhibiting a flaw or anomaly that spells its demise. Cloning also raises serious ethical, safety and feasibility questions. To a lesser degree, the cloning and rebadging of automobiles presents some questions as well. Of these questions, "Why?" seems to be the most prevalent. Beyond the twinned vehicles within a manufacturer's family — like Toyota/Lexus, Dodge/Chrysler and Ford/Mercury — there are a few "badge jobs" that cross over brand borders.
Such is the case with the 2009 Suzuki Equator. Fortunately, the Equator is based on the sturdy and proven platform of the Nissan Frontier. Besides the large chrome badging and cosmetic changes, the Equator is virtually identical to the Frontier. Because of this, the question of "Why?" emerges again. Did Suzuki need a midsize pickup truck in its lineup of economy cars and crossover SUVs? Perhaps it was banking on owners of the company's motorsports products (watercraft, dirt bikes) to carry over brand loyalty to their toy haulers? The answer is likely a bit of both.
Of the few Equator/Frontier differences, most are improvements, but they are not without a few drawbacks. The Equator's restyled grille appeals to those averse to the clunky look of the Nissan's, and Suzuki ups the ante with a generous seven-year/100,000-mile warranty (versus the Frontier's three years and 36,000 miles). For high-mileage drivers, the warranty alone may be reason enough to choose the Suzuki, but the drawback is that warranty service must be performed at a Suzuki dealer, rather than a much more common Nissan dealer.
The 2009 Suzuki Equator does manage to retain some of the Frontier's best attributes, though. The powerful 4.0-liter V6, city-friendly agility (for a truck), comfortable front seating and versatile cargo space all carry over. So this all goes to show that perhaps cloning isn't so bad after all, as long as you're cloning something that is worth duplicating.
As with all Suzuki Equator Crew Cabs, our test vehicle was powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is available, but only in entry-level extended-cab models. The only transmission available for V6-powered Equators is a five-speed automatic that executes surprisingly smooth and swift gearchanges. Towing capacity is an equally impressive 6,300 pounds.
Off the line, the 2009 Suzuki Equator launches easily thanks to a favorable balance of power and grip. In testing, our rear-wheel-drive Equator accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in only 8.0 seconds, which is on par with V8-powered pickups like the Chevy Colorado, Dodge Dakota and Toyota Tacoma. Around town or on the highway, the powertrain never felt overburdened by our demanding driving style, barreling up freeway on-ramps and passing other cars with ease. Unfortunately, this hearty V6 also comes with an eight-cylinder thirst. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 15 mpg in the city, 20 mpg on the highway and 17 mpg in combined driving. Under our heavy feet, we managed only 15.6 mpg in mixed driving.
The brakes scrub speed off efficiently, stopping the 4,346-pound Suzuki from 60 mph in 122 feet, but the Equator suffers from an unsettlingly soft brake pedal that tends to touch the floor under heavy foot pressure. Steering is precise and well-weighted at highway speeds, but in parking lots the wheel felt cumbersome. We found it a bit too easy to overwhelm the power steering with rapid spins of the wheel, resulting in molasseslike resistance. Compounding this problem is the large turning circle (typical for trucks of this size), which demands multiple-point turns in order to come about.
On curvy blacktop, the Equator handles just about how one would expect, which is to say its soft suspension tuning results in a lot of body roll. However, even at the handling limit, the Suzuki Equator remains stable and predictable. Even more impressive is that it accomplishes this without the assistance of electronic stability control (which is only available as an option on the range-topping RMZ-4 trim).
In Sport trim (such as our test vehicle), the 2009 Suzuki Equator is intended for on-road transportation rather than off-road excursions. The highway-friendly tires remain quiet well past the speed limit, while wind noise is likewise kept to a whisper. As is typical for most pickup trucks, the ride can be rather jarring — especially over concrete expansion joints and smaller road imperfections. Larger obstructions like speed bumps and dips are tackled with much more compliance.
A comfortable driving position was easily found for nearly any size driver, despite the lack of seat height adjustments or a telescoping steering wheel. The front seats provided enough support and legroom to make a long road trip bearable, but rear seating was a different tale. Adult passengers found the rear seats lacking thigh support and mounted too low, forcing their knees upward into a quasi-squat position. Still, the crew cab was spacious and versatile enough to justify choosing it over the cramped extended-cab interior.
The Equator's front seats, stereo and climate controls are easily reached and mounted high in the center dashboard. These controls, as well as the instrument panel, were legible in nearly any lighting condition. The Sport trim is only offered with a six-speaker CD audio system that delivers clean tones but lacks bass. Conveniences like steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth or an auxiliary audio input jack are available only as options with the RMZ-4 trim level, as is an upgraded sound system.
Interior storage is abundant throughout the cabin with deep door pockets, a cavernous center armrest bin, twin gloveboxes and smaller center console trays. The rear 60/40 split seats fold up to reveal two removable bins, and the front passenger seat folds flat. With the seats stowed, interior cargo space is increased to allow for bulky items that need protection from the elements or theft. The crew cab also provides ample space for front- or rear-facing child seats, though accessing the top tether anchors requires flipping the rear backrests forward and a bit of awkward jostling during installation.
Our 2009 Suzuki Equator's optional 6-foot cargo bed is available only on crew-cab models in Sport trim. Crew-cab models benefit from a standard spray-on bedliner and a track-type tie-down system. This tie-down system utilizes four beefy metal cleats that slide into five channels built into the bed's floor, side and forward walls. Suzuki also offers several channel accessories that include a sliding tool box, cargo dividers and bed extenders. Nissan offers even more compatible accessories.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Suzuki Equator's interior is identical to that of the Nissan Frontier, except for some badging. With that in mind, it shares the Nissan's advantages and weaknesses. The cabin is full of hard plastics that cheapen an otherwise pleasant design. Fortunately, these bargain materials have enough texture to reduce glare and, it's also worth noting that this interior is typical for most pickups in this segment.
The Equator/Frontier external differences are most evident in the grille, and for some among us, the Toyota-like truck grille is an improvement. Exterior gripes are minor and include the lack of trim at the front bed lip, which exposes a line of spot welds. But then again, it's the same in the Frontier — Nissan made the bed and Suzuki just has to sleep in it.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Suzuki Equator Crew Cab Sport makes for an excellent work truck and fun hauler — as does the nearly identical Nissan Frontier. Selecting the Equator over the Frontier would make sense for those with a local Suzuki dealer, who prefer the exterior styling or are fiercely loyal to the brand. The generous warranty should also appeal to those who rack up the annual miles.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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