- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

An all-new version of Suzuki’s seven-passenger XL7 SUV debuts for the 2007 model year. This model no longer shares its bones with the smaller Grand Vitara, but instead rides on a modified version of General Motors’ “Theta” SUV platform, the architecture underpinning Chevrolet’s Equinox and Pontiac’s Torrent. As both the Equinox and Torrent seat only five passengers, Suzuki faced the task of lengthening the body to allow third row accommodations.

Compared with its Chevrolet and Pontiac siblings, XL7 stretches 8.4 inches longer, although the wheelbase essentially stays the same. A curb weight well over 4,000 pounds means XL7 is heavy; Equinox and Torrent weigh in between 3,650 and 3,800 pounds, depending on equipment and driveline configurations.

Rather than sticking Torrent and Equinox’s less-powerful 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 in the XL7, Suzuki outfits all XL7s with a standard 3.6-liter V6 delivering 252 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 243 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. This high-revving 3.6 is a General Motors design, but has been licensed to Suzuki for construction. Twenty-four valves with variable timing allow the engine to breath and yield impressive figures from moderate displacement. A five-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available, although both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive is offered. Fuel economy is estimated at 17 city and 23 highway miles-per-gallon in the front driver.

Suzuki offers many ways in which to dress your XL7. Base models carrying five passengers and turning the front wheels only ring up at $23,534, with the $635 destination charge. Included are stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring, a security system, power windows/locks/mirrors, keyless entry with a panic feature, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, air conditioning with automatic climate control, a six-speaker single-CD audio system, 60/40 split second row seats, tinted windows and roof rails. Another $1,350 buys you third row seating with additional HVAC controls for those rear passengers. Plan on spending an extra $1,600 for the AWD hardware.

Mid-level Luxury models again carry five passengers as standard, although the same seven-passenger seating is available. At $25,234, the five-passenger Luxury XL7 adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver’s seat, leather seating surfaces with front seat heaters, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls and wood grain trim. Luxury models feature more options in addition to AWD and third row seats. The $1,100 DVD Package includes rear seat video entertainment with wireless headphones. A power sunroof costs $800, but Suzuki says it cannot be combined with the DVD system.

All top-level XL7 Limited models ferry seven passengers, starting at $28,584 in FWD trim. Fog lamps, remote starting, aluminum roof rails, front and rear bumper valance panels, an XM-ready seven-speaker audio system with subwoofer and rear seat DVD entertainment arrive standard.

Those customers who choose the $2,200 Platinum Touring Package forfeit the DVD system in favor of 17-inch chrome wheels, navigation and the power sunroof. This exclusion is too bad, since parents would undoubtedly enjoy the rear-seat distraction while trying to decipher the navigation system’s directions.

A host of accessories are available, including bike and ski modules, a cargo box, front bumper guard, roof rack cross bars, side step running boards, trailer hitch and even a rear spoiler. Fully optioned and accessorized, AWD Limited models sticker well into the mid $30,000 range.

Fully independent suspension keeps XL7 well grounded, while four-wheel disc brakes with ventilated front rotors and solid rear units employ standard ABS to shed vehicle speed when necessary. In addition to the third row seat and rear HVAC controls, seven-passenger XL7s include Nivomat self-leveling rear suspension, keeping the vehicles flat when loads increase. Drivers may enjoy the five-speed automatic’s manual gearshift feature, especially when utilizing XL7’s 3,500-pound towing capacity.

When Suzuki received the Theta platform this Japanese automaker embarked on the task of expanding the body. In doing so, the styling was changed dramatically, as well. Along the sides, Suzuki has ditched Chevrolet and Pontiac prominent C-pillars in favor of unbroken swaths of glass framed by oversized D-pillars.

The most striking styling element is the headlight shape. The pentagonal lamps also enclose side reflectors and signal lights while helping define the front fender bulges and bumper plane. As with the Torrent and Equinox, the hood is more of a lid sitting atop the front fascia.

Suzuki’s effort looks somewhat futuristic and unique. The Limited model’s tiny round front fog lights further emphasize the mass of the headlamps and front fender overhangs. XL7’s rear end reads a bit cleaner, but still looks bulky compared to that of the Equinox and Torrent. Suzuki says XL7 exhibits “Next Generation Styling.”

Interior touches include three round dials, dictating climate control actions, and a four-spoke steering wheel framing a symmetrical left-mounted speedometer and right-mounted tachometer. Suzuki chose to place the power window switches in the front center console for a bit of European flare.

Unfortunately, the audio controls on the steering wheel look tacked on rather than integrally combined. The available wood grain trim appears along the tops of the door panels, on the gear shifter and along the dashboard; XL7’s entire center stack remains plastic.

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