- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

Suzuki, which actually pioneered the small SUV concept, ups the ante, concentrating in the automotive arena (the company operates highly successful motorcycle and marine divisions) and continually improving its offerings by increasing the size and content without overcharging.

New for the 2004 model year, the XL-7 sports a stylishly revamped grille, fog lamps, bumper, headlamp and taillamp treatment, and a hard spare tire cover. Not only that, an optional five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission is offered, which improves acceleration and boosts fuel economy at the same time.

Last year, the XL-7’s 2.7-liter aluminum V-6 engine — though closely related to the 2.5-liter engine powering the Grand Vitara — went further. Unlike its major competitors, the engine resides longitudinally, rather than transversely, for better weight distribution and balance, not to mention outstanding off-road handling characteristics.

The 2.7-liter mill now puts out 185 horsepower and generates 184 foot-pounds of torque.

Two trim levels exist for the Suzuki XL-7: LX and EX, each available in either two-wheel-drive-rear (2WD), or four-wheel-drive (4WD). The latter features an improved “Drive-Select” push-button four-wheel-drive system with an IP indicator and “shift-on-the-fly” capability up to 60 mph.

The XL-7 is engineered to be towed without disconnecting anything, and it doesn’t accumulate mileage on the odometer while being towed.

In terms of its design elements, the Suzuki XL-7 has benefited from many significant refinements.

The suspension is rugged and sophisticated.

And the advanced four-wheel-drive system makes for smooth on-road, or capable off-road, travel. The suspension componentry is quite compliant yet tough and durable.

Base pricing for my Black Onyx Suzuki XL-7 4WD EX III was set at $27,249 with only the $500 destination and handling charge tacked on, moving the final price to $27,749.

The Suzuki XL-7 EX III 4x4 is capable of fording streams, climbing hills and zipping along over irregular terrain with ease. It will fit in areas where larger SUVs don’t stand a chance.

The transmission shifts smoothly and the turning radius is surprisingly short. The test vehicle was a seven-passenger model with the optional third-row seat, denoted by the “III.”

The XL-7 is loaded with standard features including 16-inch steel-belted radial tires mounted on alloy wheels; dual power remote-control side mirrors; power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with tilt steering column; two-speed intermittent wipers; tachometer and trip meter; ABS anti-locking brake system; air conditioning; dual front air bags; power windows and door locks, to name but a few.

As usual, my beef is that the tailgate opens the wrong way for the U.S. market, making it inconvenient to load and unload from the curb when parallel parked.

The XL-7 offers a sporty versatile package that is utilitarian while still being fun to drive.

It is an ideal special-purpose vehicle for the avid outdoor person who enjoys living an active life.

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