- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

MODEL: Suzuki XL-7
MILEAGE: 17 city, 20 highway

Not only is the XL-7 sport utility the largest vehicle ever built by Japanese manufacturer Suzuki, it's also the nicest. That's obvious to anyone who's seen earlier models, both the ones imported by Suzuki and those sold by General Motors as Chevrolet or Geo Trackers.
With prices starting at $19,799 (plus $500 delivery), the Suzuki Grand Vitara line peaks with the $24,499 "touring" XL-7, which comes with just about everything but floor mats (a $95 add-on that was the test vehicle's only option) and leather seating.
It definitely doesn't drive like previous Suzuki SUVs, either. The test XL-7's ride was nice and stable, with wind and road noise created by the less-than-perfect aerodynamically boxy body and the 16-inch tires better suited for paved surface travel than for serious off-road slogging.
Both driver and up to six passengers are surrounded by visibility-affording glass with the quality of seating decreasing from the multiadjustable front buckets to the fold-down rear that makes it possible, but problematic, to carry six passengers.
The XL-7 has drink holders, storage spaces, a strong blower for the heater and front/rear air conditioner and rear windows that surprise go all the way down. The shifter can get in the way of the stereo controls, but there's little about the layout to cause real awkwardness.
Suzuki, which started the small SUV craze about 15 years ago with the Samurai, has given the XL-7 the utility of a van without the not-in-vogue look of one.
Stability and maneuverability proved very satisfactory both in traffic and on roads slickened by rain and ice. Although clearly not a powerhouse, the 170-horsepower, V-6 engine enabled the test XL-7 to move out smartly from stop lights, and it had enough top-end power to zip along with the speed-limit busters in the left lane had it been desired.
The five-speed automatic transmission, equipped with a manual transfer case instead of the push-button types seen on many four-wheelers today, did offer limited shift-on-the-fly capability. (Keep the front wheels straight and the speed down to shift.)
So the system may seem clumsy, but who drives along constantly shifting from two- to four-wheel drive, anyway? Besides, the Suzuki system is not intended for full-time four-wheel-drive operation. Use it only as needed, in other words.
Although it is possible that test-fleet vehicles get extra attention before being sent out, the fit and finish of the XL-7 seemed really good. It had no squeaks or rattles. Everything from the CD-cassette stereo to the rear wiper-defroster worked just fine, and the interior materials, while not upscale, didn't suggest bottom-of-the-line quality.
The white-on-black instrumentation is very basic 105-mph speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. Top torque of 178 pounds-feet comes at 4,000 rpm, but the tester pulled steadily up to its maximum horsepower at 5,500 rpm.
Suzuki proudly notes that the aluminum engine has four valves per cylinder, which it links to its line of high-revving motorcycle engines, some of which have as much horsepower as the XL-7 and run close to 200 mph.
But leave the performance to the two-wheelers. The XL-7 is another thing entirely, the biggest and best-ever Suzuki SUV.

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