Suzuki's XL-7 doesn't just look like a tough, off-road SUV,
it's the real thing. Unlike its car-based competitors, it rides on a truck-style frame
that makes it durable enough for extreme off-road driving.
The XL-7 has the roomiest interior in its class, both in terms of
passenger space and cargo volume. Plus, thanks to improved materials on its redesigned
dash and several fancy features, it doesn't feel cheap.
When it comes time to test a low-priced SUV I've learned not to
expect too much. After all, most of them are just overgrown versions of economy cars.
Suzuki, though, takes a different approach with its inexpensive XL-7.
It's basically a small version of a heavy-duty SUV, complete with a
rugged suspension, available four-wheel drive, relatively roomy interior, and even a
third-row seat for families. It has all the traits that made SUVs popular in America and
has a tough-looking body too.
Starting at $20,099, the XL-7 is priced to compete with the many
car-based SUVs for sale today, including the Ford Escape, Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4,
Mitsubishi Outlander, and Hyundai Santa Fe. But instead of using car-like construction,
the XL-7 rides on a truck frame to give it greater durability for off-road driving than
those car-based SUVs can offer.
This truck-based platform has some major downsides though, if you
plan to use it primarily for driving on pavement. First off, it has a rough, bouncy ride
that isn't nearly as comfortable as the car-based SUVs it competes with. Hit a pothole,
and it feels like it has Pogo sticks for shock absorbers. It's also noisier than most of
its competitors, and it feels heavy and cumbersome in city traffic.
Despite having the road manners of an old pickup, this Suzuki is one
of the best off-road bargains around. It has a large amount of interior space for its
price range, with more passenger room and cargo volume than the competition. It's also the
only SUV in its class to offer a third-row seat.
It comes well equipped too. Standard features include automatic
climate control with air filtration, a great seven-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD
player, cruise control, keyless entry and power locks and windows. Thanks to these
features - and a redesigned dash for 2004 that includes improved materials - the interior
now looks very nice.
And if you're worried about the long-term quality of a Suzuki,
dont, it now comes with a great warranty, seven years, 100,000 miles, and
thats better than all but one of its competitors. Only the Hyundai Santa Fe beats
its protection package with a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
The XL-7's 2.7-liter, six-cylinder engine makes 185 horsepower and
184 foot-pounds of torque, plenty for comfortable acceleration around town and on the
highway. Coupled with a new five-speed automatic transmission, it's a perfect match for
the Suzuki's rugged off-road capability.
Not surprisingly the XL-7 drives a lot like a small pickup truck.
It's not particularly responsive to driver input, steering seems a tad sloppy, and it
feels top-heavy in corners. Fuel economy is average, with a government rating of 18 miles
per gallon in town and 22 on the highway.
But overall, the XL-7 is a terrific bargain, assuming you need its
off-road durability. While the many car-based SUVs have better performance on pavement,
none of them can match the Suzuki's spacious interior and rugged performance.
Why buy it? If you need to travel off road with up to seven
passengers, this is one of the best SUV bargains around. It has rugged capability and a
roomy interior and starts at a surprisingly low price.