The smallish 2.7-liter V6 surprised us with its spirited performance. Power delivery is smooth, and with a four valve-per-cylinder engine that redlines at 6,500 rpm, it makes most of its useable power at the top of the rpm band. Our best run was achieved by short-shifting the engine at 6,200 rpms on each shift instead of revving to the 6,600 rev limiter cut off.
Braking performance is adequate but a little off the class leaders' (which all range in the 120 bracket). That includes the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute and Toyota RAV4, all of which we have recently tested. The ABS system does have a moderate amount of noise while in operation, and the XL7 has only fair stability while in full-on braking mode.
We may have a new SUV slalom king here. The Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 is one of the best SUVs we've ever taken through the field of cones we call the slalom. Granted, suspension design and driving skills have improved since we last tested one of its competitors, but this vehicle is a handler. Generally, tossable should not be a term that comes to mind when thinking of SUVs, but that is exactly how we felt about the XL-7. It does have body roll, but it is a controlled amount that instills confidence rather than fear. The steering is quick and precise, allowing you to slice and dice your way through life's obstacles. Neil G. Chirico