Four Wheeling's Best Kept Secret
If there is someone out there who doesn't like the bug-eyed little 'Zuk, we haven't met them yet. Everywhere we drive, people ask, "What kind of SUV is that?" With luxurious features such as jeweled headlamps, body-colored flares and moldings, aluminum wheels, and just the right amount of chrome, the XL-7 belies its sub-$22,000 asking price and oozes value by the truckload. Even the interior impresses with its high level of fit and finish, faux trim that does a good job of impersonating real wood, heated mirrors, CD player, and automatic climate controls.
Our Suzuki came equipped with a rev-happy little 2.7L V-6 mated to a five-speed manual transmission, a combo that makes our Suzuki one of the most fuel-efficient four-wheelers in our fleet. Although a little rubbery at first, the transmission takes little time getting used to and is very forgiving, making it an easy tool to train those who have never driven a stick before. The 2.7L V-6 is peppy enough and with the five-speed, downright fun to toss around twisty roads, or in and out of city traffic. When cruising on the highway, the smooth nature of the XL-7 catches drivers unaware that they are motoring along high above the posted speed limit. With relatively low wind and road noise, the only giveaway is the somewhat busy 3,500 rpm that it takes the 2.7L to fly at 80 mph. Every once in a while, it left us wanting a sixth cog to grab or a taller Fifth gear.
The attributes that make the Suzuki so much fun on pavement also make it a tossable delight down your favorite sandy wash or fire road. But the low ground clearance, street-oriented tires and short-travel front suspension conspire to limit the ruggedness of terrain it can traverse, although that is not to say the XL-7 isn't rugged, with its truck-style ladder frame, solid rear axle, and true two-speed, part-time four-wheel-drive system.
Suzuki has imparted everything you could want in an entry-level SUV, and for the price, a whole lot more. Being one of the few out there to still offer a real four-wheel-drive system and a frame, makes this trucklet a winner in our hearts.
Previous reports: Mar '05
Base price: $21,399
Price as tested: $21,749
Four-wheel-drive system: Pushbutton-activated two-speed transfer case
Miles to date: 13,427
Miles since last report: 2,739
Test Average (mpg): 17.6
Best tank (mpg): 20.4
Worst tank (mpg): 14.4
Problem areas: None
WHAT'S HOT, WHAT'S NOT
Hot: We love the excellent fit and finish and all of the features Suzuki packed into this SUV for the money-even the headlights are exceptional, along with the fuel economy and the driving dynamics. A tall roofline gives the XL-7 an airy feeling, while the split, fold, and slide second-row seating adds to the interior's flexibility.
Not: Despite a modest 185hp output, the 2.7L engine is well matched to the XL-7, but tends to be a little busy at highway speeds. We'd love to see taller gearing for 5th or an extra gear, along with some sort of limited-slip in the rear axle.
* "The XL-7 sure is fun to drive."
* "The XL-7 surprised me with a comfortable and quiet ride."
* "3,500 rpm at 80 mph! Needs another gear."
* "The stereo lacks good bass response."