We at Four Wheeler have always looked at the compact SUV segment with curiosity and admiration. These smaller, lighter, more affordable vehicles play an important role in the hierarchy of traffic culture. Around here we've listened to faultfinders complain about long-term vehicles and their burden of size, ever increasing like the lunch lines of a fast food joint. Not so with the XL7, which is small enough to squeeze into compact parking spots, yet big enough to seat seven. This micro machine fills the gap where larger vehicles must continue onward, longing for a void absent of potential door dingers.
Our XL7 is a five-speed model, so it feels even more go-cartish and nimble than predicted. A torquey 2.7L V-6 produces 185 hp and does so sparingly when it comes to fuel consumption. Our long-term logbook has produced some impressive mpg numbers, making it a staff favorite for commuting and road trips alike. Interior comfort is average, and all the modern conveniences you'd expect to find in an SUV are present and easy to operate. The optional seven-speaker stereo system features a separate powered subwoofer under the driver seat, which we found adequate for most of today's pop music.
Base price: $21,399
Price as tested: $21,749
Four-wheel-drive system: Pushbutton-activated two-speed transfer case
Miles to date: 10,688
Miles since last report: First report
Average mpg: 17.3
Best tank mpg: 20.6
Worst tank mpg: 14.8
7,500-mile service: $31.74
WHAT'S HOT, WHAT'S NOT:
Hot: The 2.7L, six-cylinder, 24-valve DOHC engine supplies its bountiful 184 lb-ft of torque at a low 4,000 rpm; the suspension is well matched for the lightweight chassis and has no problem taking speed bumps way too fast (in mom's opinion); well-balanced proportions of cargo room and seating capacity for those who venture beyond the paved confines and cramped parking lots of the city.
Not: The XL7's five-speed manual transmission has very narrow gates, which make shifting difficult. At least two of our testers complained about missing a shift during normal driving conditions; the not-so-flexible suspension system makes the 'Zuk less than impressive off-pavement; no traction control and no locking differentials mean the little XL7 is left spinning its tires with the slightest variation of loose terrain.
* "Very little road noise."
* "Quick and zippy around town."
* "Great gas mileage out of the small tank."