2007 Suzuki XL-7 First Drive

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    2007 Suzuki XL-7 Picture

    Soft suspension settings give the XL-7 a comfortable ride, but cornering performance isn't exactly what we would call precise. | September 29, 2009

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Suzuki enters the crossover game with a much-improved XL-7

It may have a Japanese design and a Japanese name, but the 2007 Suzuki XL-7 is about as Japanese as a Yoshinoya beef bowl.

You see, although this fully redesigned version of Suzuki's midsize SUV is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 built in Japan, the engine was actually designed by General Motors. Suzuki builds it under license and adds its own computers, but it's essentially the same engine found under the hood of the Pontiac G6.

As a matter of fact, the XL-7 is really little more than a stretched version of the Chevrolet Equinox and most of its engineering took place in suburban Detroit. Like its American cousin, the XL-7 is a front-wheel-drive unibody sport-ute with optional all-wheel drive. It rides on the same wheelbase as the Equinox, but by adding more than 7 inches to its overall length, Suzuki was able to add third-row seats to the options list.

Did we mention it's built in Canada?

Japanese design, American tastes
With so much international input, the XL-7 could have turned into a mess of conflicting automotive tastes, but this Suzuki was designed for SUV-loving Americans. Using GM's big V6 as the standard engine was just the start.

With 252 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, the overhead-cam V6 is the kind of power plant American buyers crave. Combined with a Japanese-built 5-speed automatic transmission, Suzuki says the XL-7 will accelerate from zero to 60 in less than 8 seconds and tow up to 3500 pounds. All that while maintaining EPA ratings of 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, figures equal to the previous XL-7, which had a much smaller 2.7-liter V6.

All-wheel-drive models weigh in at 4049 pounds, making the XL-7 slightly heavier than the Toyota Highlander yet significantly lighter than a similarly sized Honda Pilot. The Suzuki's average girth translates into average performance, as the XL-7 is competent but not fast. The light feel of the gas pedal encourages you to step into it hard but the V6's considerable torque doesn't deliver the pull from a standstill that one might expect.

At higher engine speeds the specs seem more believable. Between 3500 rpm and 6000 rpm, the XL-7 feels quicker than Honda's Pilot. It's just as smooth and equally as quiet too, something we couldn't have said about the previous XL-7.

Shifts from the 5-speed transmission are equally slick, although like most SUVs in this class, the response time is hardly rapid fire. There's a manual gate so you can choose gears yourself but it does little to quicken up the shift times.

Ditching the dirt
Most owners probably didn't even know it, but the previous XL-7 had real off-road ability thanks to its body-on-frame chassis, rugged suspension and low-range gearing. This time around, Suzuki took the crossover route by using a more carlike unibody structure attached to a fully independent suspension. And if you choose all-wheel drive, it's a light-duty automatic system instead of a true heavy-duty setup.

In the city the changes pay off as this XL-7 rides better than its predecessor in every respect. It no longer crashes over bumps and skips across rough pavement. Between the new independent suspension and the reduced road noise, the XL-7 has a refined feel similar to its competitors from Honda and Toyota. It's not as rock solid on the highway, but it doesn't feel as heavy in the turns either.

Suzuki replaced the electric steering box used in the Chevrolet Equinox with a traditional hydraulic unit for the XL-7. It's still no BMW, but it's far better than the lifeless response of the Equinox.

Standard traction and stability control keep the tires from spinning in dirt or snow, while an electronic rollover sensor helps keep the XL-7 on all 4 wheels in the first place. You get standard antilock disc brakes at each corner as well, although the pedal feel isn't what we would call precise.

Bigger, but not the biggest
Longer, wider and taller on the outside than its predecessor, the new XL-7 is bigger in almost every interior dimension as well. When it comes to head- and legroom, it measures within an inch of the Pilot in all 3 rows. Shoulder room is a different story, however, as the Suzuki is anywhere from 5 to 9 inches narrower than the Honda, depending on the row. Of the three trim levels — base, Luxury and Limited — only the Limited comes standard with the third row.

Numbers aside, the Suzuki has plenty of room for up to five adults, and two kids won't mind sitting in the third row. Seat comfort is about average across the board but the quality of the cabin materials is better than we expected. Combine that with a simple dash layout and the inside of the XL-7 looks pretty sharp.

It's stocked with features, too. Even though its base price is expected to come in around $23,000, all XL-7s will come standard with full power accessories, side curtain airbags for all 3 rows, automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, a trip computer and 6 speakers for the CD stereo.

Midlevel Luxury models add heated leather seats, wood trim, steering wheel audio controls and a sunroof. Opt for the third-row package and you get a DVD entertainment system and remote start as well. The top-of-the-line Limited is mostly a cosmetic upgrade with 17-inch wheels, foglights and an upgraded roof rack.

Putting together the right pieces
Crossovers are where the SUV market is headed and the XL-7 puts Suzuki right where it needs to be to take advantage of it. By ditching all the off-road hardware of the previous version and replacing it with a chassis designed for on-road comfort and handling, the XL-7 is far closer to the segment leaders it's hoping to take a bite out of.

Suzuki still doesn't have the name recognition of a Honda or Toyota, but with a lower price and a 100,000-mile warranty the XL-7 will make a good case for taking a chance on the Japanese manufacturer when it goes on sale later this fall.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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