2009 Suzuki Equator – Click above for high-res image gallery

Suzuki has chosen a rather dubious time to enter the pickup truck market with the 2009 Equator. As you are surely aware, trucks and SUV sales are way down from their apogee a few years back, and small cars like the ones that have historically filled Suzuki showrooms are all the rage. So, why would the Japanese automaker even bother with a mid-sized pickup truck based on the Nissan Frontier? That's a good question, and we aimed to find out when we grabbed the keys to Team Yellow's first-ever real pickup contender in the U.S. Read on to see what the Suzuki Equator has to offer.

All Photos © Copyright Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs Inc.

So why did Suzuki decide to enter the truck market in the first place? As one of Japan's largest makers of powersports products, the company has a very large customer base that already owns its off-highway line of vehicles. Whether they be motorcycles, dirtbikes, ATVs or watercraft, Suzuki's own research indicates that owners of its others products are 50-percent more likely to own a truck than the average person, so brand-loyal riders will now have the ability to haul their toys with the same brand of truck. Suzuki doesn't appear to have the delusion that it's going to sell a boatload of Equators, but any truck sales it does get are sales it wouldn't have otherwise, so it could be a winning idea in the end despite the current market conditions.

Anyone familiar with the inside guts of the latest Nissan Frontier is likely to feel right at home inside the Suzuki Equator. An easy-to-read gauge cluster sits behind a familiar Nissan-spec steering wheel and switchgear. While we generally aren't in favor of this kind of product-sharing, at least the truck is based on a credible and successful model and it's not badge engineering within the same automaker. Suzuki makes no bones about the fact that the Equator is based on a competing model, and in fact claims to have hand-picked the Frontier specifically for its off-road worthiness and overall truck-ability. We put those supposed off-road credentials to the test and we'll tell you how it fared a bit later. In the meantime, let's take a look at the outer skin of the Equator and see how it compares with its kin and closest rivals.

On the outside, and especially in profile, it may be easy to mistake the Equator for the Frontier. Most of the work that went into differentiating the two models was done to the front end. In comparison to its platform-mate, we prefer the looks of the Suzuki, which definitely has that square-jawed truck look that seems to be popular these days. On the highway, that big opening didn't add any undue wind noise that we could detect. What we could detect loud and clear was the big V6 engine at the helm along with the four rather aggressively tread contact patches at each corner. In was livable, but you may find yourself turning up the stereo a few notches on the highway.

Under the hood of all our test trucks was Nissan's excellent 4.0-liter V6 engine making 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, each mated to a five-speed automatic tranny. For those wishing to do a bit better than that combo's 15 city / 20 highway mileage, Suzuki also offers the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine from the Frontier with 152 horses and 171 lb-ft. That engine is available with either a five-speed manual transmission (19/23 mpg) or five-speed auto (17/22 mpg). A part-time 4WD system is available, as are an electronic locking rear differential, limited-slip traction control, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control. We took the truck off-road and put all of these features to the test. They worked as advertised, though switching them off proved much more fun.

The Equator was quiet and stable on the road with driving dynamics that are quite good for a truck. Though nowhere near as car-like as some competitors, namely the Honda Ridgeline, that truckiness is exactly what Suzuki wanted and the fully boxed frame and rugged suspension deliver on that promise. Suzuki offers two cab sizes and two bed lengths, mirroring those available for the Frontier. Choose either an Extended Cab with rear-hinged portals aft the front doors or a Crew Cab with four real doors, which comes with the V6 engine only. Road-biased tires and suspension settings come standard on base models while higher-spec models are equipped for the more adventurous among us.

Those wishing to drive off the beaten path should consider the RMZ-4 package that includes all that electronic gadgetry mentioned earlier along with Bilstien shocks, skid plates, heavy-duty Dana 44 axles and meaty 265/75R16 tires. A special interior package also comes with the RMZ-4 model, which borrows its name from Suzuki's line of off-road bikes. Those wishing to tote a two-wheeler in the back may appreciate the optional utility bed package that comes with two rows of tie-downs mounted in sliding tracks. The system worked well when demonstrated for us, and maximum trailer towing capacity is 6,500 pounds for the V6 2WD model.

Overall, the Equator is a decent truck that offers a good option for fans of Suzuki cycles, ATVs and watercraft who want to keep all their modes of transportation in the same family. What about buyers who don't already have an attachment to Suzuki? Why would you choose the Equator over the Frontier? Suzuki points to its warranty as one reason, which at 7 years / 100,000 miles on the powertrain is superior to the Nissan's 5-year / 60,000-mile coverage. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you'll have to make a judgement call for yourself when it comes to the truck's styling as well as the all-important issue of name recognition. Regardless, the Equator is a well-rounded truck that will likely sell in relatively small numbers, and in many cases to buyers who wish to remain loyal to their favored yellow-hued brand.

All Photos © Copyright Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs Inc.

Our travel and accommodations for this event were paid for by the manufacturer.

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