Review: 2008 Suzuki XL7

2008 Suzuki XL7 – Click above for high-res image gallery

Suzuki's swapped the ladder frame architecture of the past to create a more civilized XL7, a welcome change from the Vitara roots of the original. The XL7's unitized Theta II platform, on loan from General Motors, also serves as the basis for the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent. Suzuki also borrows the General's 3.6 liter V6, trying its very best in this application. The XL in the name is an apt descriptor, this is a lot of vehicle, and the price makes it a lot of value. So, what had to be sacrificed to bring such family friendly acreage in for the $22,000 of our trial unit?

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

Suzuki's styling people have done well differentiating the XL7 from the other vehicles on same architecture, and added length in the XL7 makes the available third row more palatable. For passengers in the rearward dungeon to be the most comfortable, though, the XL needs a bit more width. Leave the seat at the dealer and there's a swell amount of cargo space instead. The two-box paradigm limits the design leeway, but this big slab has its own identity, and even carries a bit of visual interest. Out front, gestural headlamp clusters frame the wide slatted chrome grille, the largest piece of the minimal brightwork on the XL. Wheelarches flare boldly high above the wheels and add some muscle. At the rear, the liftgate bows out without looking bulbous, and the raked three-quarter windows distract from a D-pillar that's more squared off than suggested at first glance.

No matter where the underpinnings are from, the XL7 makes good use of them. The structure is solid, and while you're aware of the size of the vehicle, the ride and reflexes suggest muscle, versus a winded fatty. Bumps and thumps that would send a body on frame vehicle into a fit of jiggles are swallowed with little more than a tire thwack. Judicious ride tuning smothers the road into submission without porpoising motions, though a tick or two more plushness in the ride wouldn't be unwelcome. There's no mistaking this vehicle for a sports car, but handling is competent without excessive roll, dive, or squat, and it clings well to the tarmac. With such a stretch between the axles, some maneuvers might require a harbor pilot, but at least there's stability control and a full complement of airbags to keep you on course and safe.

From behind the wheel the impression is weighty, but the XL7 isn't the road crusher you might think. Weighing between 3,800 and 4,100 pounds is certainly substantial, but not very porcine when considering the space the XL7 offers. Acceleration is plenty quick, Consumer Reports managed to sprint one through the quarter mile in 16 seconds flat, and they found 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. Corvettes were once slower than the XL7, though it doesn't leave the impression of a scorching drag racer. GM's V6 (built by Suzuki in Japan in this case) is willing to spin out to redline with a smooth metallic caterwaul, and the 252 horsepower it delivers works hard. We tried a two wheel drive XL7, so assume that the AWD version gives up some speed. Geared tall for fuel economy, the 2.54:1 final drive teams with a five-speed automatic for serenity at speed. Time was, 250 horsepower was more than adequate for 4,000 pounds, anyway. The steering is weighted nearly perfectly, if devoid of feedback, and the XL7 drives with solid composure. The mission of this vehicle doesn't require constant updates from the contact patches, anyway. The firm ride contributes some head toss, preferable to vomity-soft springing. A solid structure all around doesn't jiggle or rattle over bad surfaces, though occasionally the second row of seats piped up over exceptionally damaged pavement that also got a jiggle out of the steering column.

We found the compromise, and it's inside. The gauge cluster and major controls look and feel high quality and are properly located, though the rear wiper control is devillishly hard to find. The plastic that comprises the lower portion of the dashboard and the door panels looks like a remnant from some 1970s house of funk, and overall there are more textures and finishes in the interior than there should be. Leather seating is available in the Limited trim level, but going that hog wild on the XL7 winds you up among some ultra-stiff competition in the low $30,000 price range. Our sampler had durable-looking twill-like cloth upholstery on seats that would do a little better with some more bolstering. The flatly-padded seats didn't make our legs fall asleep, and are reasonably comfortable once the manual adjustments are dialed in. The standard audio system has a CD player, a proper knob for both tuning and volume, and an auxiliary input -- not too shabby. The materials in the cabin of the XL7 unfortunately don't do the build quality justice. Cheap pieces assembled well are still cheap pieces at the end of the day. The top of the dash is impressive looking, its absorptive, low-luster black finish leads you to think it's soft to the touch, but it's formica-hard. Soft touch surfaces are indeed scarce, though the necessary bases are covered.

The XL7 is a long beastie, longer than its platform mates and able to swallow a stroller and a tripod the long way - an impressive feat. There's just acres of space here, though its a little narrower than you'd expect. The fifth door is a little difficult to operate for a couple of reasons. First, the latch is located near the license plate, which robs you of the leverage you'd get from a proper handle mounted low on the door. Also, the gas struts that hold the hatch up are stiff, requiring a good, hard slam before the latch will fully engage. More than once, we tried to depart, only to have the dashboard remind us the hatch wasn't completely secure. LATCH anchors abound, and the XL7 is brood-friendly with its size and available features. Even in the lightly equipped model we drove, there's a lot to like. There's a lot of vehicle that's very friendly to drive here, and the price per square foot, punchy motor, and well-behaved chassis make a strong argument for the XL7.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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