Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
Like your first main squeeze in high school, the 2007 Suzuki XL7 looks really good at first. Still, you can't shake the feeling that maybe you could do better.
When you're in high school, you can't help thinking that given the perfect storm of social circumstances you might have a shot at Jennifer Aniston, the hot mom from Gilmore Girls, George Clooney or Dr. McDreamy. You think you could do better.
Take the 2007 Suzuki XL7. It's all-new, stretched to dimensions that are pretty spacious and now powered by a 252-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. It's escaped the class of compact sport-utes and taken its place alongside competitors like the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Highlander.
Yet there's such a wealth of suitors for our affections filling auto mall sales lots, it's difficult to see the XL as anything more than a midpack contender in a marketplace overrun with attractive sport-utilities.
Plenty of fish in the sea Don't get us wrong, the 2007 Suzuki XL7 has the goods. Its V6 engine has variable valve timing, the stability control features an antirollover calibration, an optional DVD-based navigation system is part of the package of optional convenience items and there's the all-important third-row seat.
The extra row of seating is made possible because the 2007 Suzuki XL7 is far more spacious than last year's version, some 9.8 inches longer, 2.1 inches wider and 0.9 inch taller. The platform is based on that of the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, but Suzuki has stretched it significantly. There are 95.2 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the second-row seat and 14.0 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the third-row seat.
The 2007 Suzuki XL7 is actually longer than not only the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Highlander but also the Honda Pilot. And it rides on a 112.4-inch wheelbase, which is 6 inches longer than these competitors.
Once the XL7 is equipped with the third-row seat, a self-leveling Sachs-made Nivomat suspension system is standard. Suzuki also opts for conventional hydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering instead of the GM electric-assist steering from the Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent. We think the Suzuki's steering setup is noticeably better. Our test editor reports that the Equinox's steering feels "lazy," while the XL7's steering seems to perfectly complement its everyday agility.
We noticed the agile handling of our front-wheel-drive XL7 in our slalom testing, where the Suzuki made it through the cones at a fairly brisk 61.6 mph, a testament to its 235/60R17 tires (standard for the seven-passenger XL7) and accurate steering (although we had to switch off the XL7's excellent stability control, which includes an antirollover program, to get such a fast speed). During quick, fast cornering transitions, the front-wheel-drive XL7 is confident and stable.
Short for "Louise" There was no fear of commitment to the Suzuki on our part when we mashed the accelerator to the floor. The 3,886-pound, 252-hp XL7 rewards enthusiasm with a 0-60-mph run of 8.2 seconds. In comparison, the 3,846-pound, 242-hp Hyundai Santa Fe takes 8.7 seconds to reach the same speed.
Around town, the XL7's GM-designed (but Suzuki-built) 3.6-liter feels adequately powerful, as it makes 243 pound-feet of torque at 2,300 rpm, and variable valve timing broadens the power band. But the engine isn't terribly smooth and it can be rather noisy at full throttle — one editor went as far as to call it "wheezy," and we're pretty sure she didn't mean Mrs. Jefferson.
The V6 is matched with a five-speed automatic transmission that shifts positively and rarely gets confused enough to hunt for gears in traffic or on long grades.
We were equally committed to stomping the brakes but the distance it takes to come to a stop isn't exactly short enough to convince us that a long-term relationship is warranted. The brake pedal feels a little soft, the XL pitches forward noticeably on its long-travel suspension and there's some pretty coarse noise when the ABS system engages.
The Suzuki XL7 finally came to a complete stop from 60 mph in 150 feet. This is not a stellar performance, because the Hyundai Santa Fe requires 142 feet to come to a halt from the same speed.
Everyday hero But judging Suzuki's latest SUV solely on its merits at the track might be a little like taking your spouse to a beach volleyball tournament and asking why he/she is not more, uh, fit. Neither is the 2007 Suzuki XL7 a pro athlete with rock-hard abs, but it performs well on a daily basis — and probably does so with more friendly competence than your spouse.
The new, bigger XL7 is still maneuverable enough to ply the crowded streets for weekend errands. It's a practical package that drives like a car, which is what makes compact sport-utilities so popular. At the same time, it's spacious enough to measure up against midsize sport-utes.
If we had one major bone to pick it's that the XL7 doesn't feel very refined overall. The ride is comfortable, but when the pavement turns rough, you definitely feel it. This lack of chassis refinement is unfortunately reinforced by a slight tingle from the 3.5-liter V6, and it all gives you that low-buck feeling.
Big space, some style On the other hand, the larger XL7 has an interior that offers both the comfort and style we'd scarcely expect from Suzuki. The XL7 Limited's faux wood trim and chrome rings around the gauges lend a sense of luxury to the cabin, and the heated leather seats prove to be comfortable for the most part.
The XL7's optional third-row seat gives this Suzuki a pretty unique feature in its market segment. Once you're in, it's obvious the third row is for kids only, yet the seat is well-padded and comfortable. The Suzuki's second-row seat tumbles forward to make a pathway to the third row, so access is fairly hassle-free.
We also found ourselves wishing the second-row seats would slide back and forth to increase rear-seat legroom, a feature that's gaining popularity. Still, there are 38.8 inches of second-seat legroom, and plenty of clearance to fit a forward- or rear-facing child seat.
In Limited trim, the XL7 offers many standard features we haven't normally associated with Suzuki vehicles. Once you factor in items like heated front seats, foglights and curtain-style head protection airbags for all passenger rows, you're reminded that the XL7 is far nicer than the old Grand Vitara you might remember.
Of course, our XL7's $30,729 sticker price reflects all this feature content, especially the $2,200 Platinum Touring Package that adds a sunroof, chrome wheels, XM Satellite Radio and a navigation system.
Not a cheap date Perhaps the chrome wheels and navigation system should have tipped us off but we're a little surprised by the two-wheel-drive XL7 Limited's $30,729 as-tested price. At this price, we were at least expecting four-wheel drive.
Then we remembered that the XL7 is a lot more ute than a Grand Vitara. Its price starts at about $22,000 for a base five-passenger model, and it's not easy for much of the sport-ute competition to stay beneath the $30,000 barrier.
As an added persuader in the purchase process, the XL7 carries Suzuki's seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. General Motors, Hyundai and Kia have similar warranty programs, but few of the new XL7's mainstream midsize competitors can match this, so the warranty gives the 2007 Suzuki XL7 some unique luster.
Can you do better? The Suzuki XL7 is no superstar but it's not a wallflower either. It's a solid, reliable, down-to-earth companion that shows slightly better than it performs.
Like the four-door Suzuki sport-utes of the past, the new 2007 XL7 delivers lots of big sport-ute features at the price of a compact sport-ute. And now the package is enhanced because you get big sport-ute passenger space at the price of a compact sport-ute.
Come to think of it, maybe you couldn't do better than your first high school flame. You could take your chances with Jennifer Aniston or George Clooney if you like, but you might be smarter to love the one you're with.
Managing Editor Donna DeRosa says: I like Suzukis. And when I first spotted the 2007 Suzuki XL7 basking in the sunlight, I expected to like it, too. But my love-at-first-sight ended as soon as it opened its mouth — er, door.
I climbed in and I felt claustrophobic, even though this is a new, roomier XL7. The armrest on the driver door stuck out so far that it was hard to operate the positioning controls located on the left of the driver seat. Everything in front seemed crammed in. Good thing I have small hands, because the parking brake lever housed between the front seats has little room around it for fingers.
Driving did nothing to spark my interest. The engine was sluggish and wheezy. It sounded like an asthmatic trying to jog uphill, even when traveling on level ground. This might seem melodramatic but that din is consistent while you're accelerating.
While driving on a freeway that had been scoured for resurfacing, I felt like I was driving on ice, despite the long wheelbase. You expect a little funny business on a funny surface, but it still put me off the XL7.
So I thought I had found my true SUV, but I was glad to get away at the end of our awkward date.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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