Launched during the 2001 model year and initially named Grand Vitara XL-7, Suzuki's largest sport utility vehicle later adopted only the XL-7 designation to differentiate it from the automaker's smaller Grand Vitara. The XL-7 name denotes the vehicle's ability to hold seven people; in contrast, the Grand Vitara seats only five occupants. Seven-passenger seating is actually optional; standard seating is for five.
For 2004, the XL-7 got a new five-speed-automatic transmission, and new DriveSelect push-button-operated four-wheel drive could be shifted on the fly. Suzuki has adopted a simplified model strategy for 2006. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are newly standard, and the CD/MP3 radio is XM Satellite Radio-ready.
General Motors owns a stake in Suzuki, but the XL-7 platform isn't shared with any GM division.
It's easy to see the family resemblance between the XL-7 and Grand Vitara. At 110.2 inches, the XL-7's wheelbase is more than a foot longer than the pre-2006 Grand Vitara's, and the XL-7's overall length is 23 inches greater at 187.4 inches. Ground clearance is 7.6 inches.
Like other SUVs in Suzuki's lineup, the XL-7 is built with body-on-frame construction on a truck chassis. Its side-hinged tailgate opens to the right, and all models have 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Roof rails, a fuel-tank skid plate and a hard spare-tire cover are included.
Seven-passenger XL-7s have two front bucket seats, a three-place 60/40-split bench in the center and a 50/50-split, folding rear seat that holds two. Five-passenger models lack the third-row seat. The middle and rear seats fold down but aren't removable. Cargo capacity is 75.1 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded.
All XL-7 models have automatic-temperature air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, an overhead storage console, heated power mirrors, and power windows and locks. Suzuki's Premium Package for the seven-passenger model adds leather seating surfaces, a six-CD changer with seven speakers, fog lamps, running boards and a power moonroof.
Under the Hood
Offered with either rear- or four-wheel drive, the XL-7 carries a 2.7-liter V-6 that produces 185 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission. The available DriveSelect four-wheel-drive system incorporates a Low range.
Antilock brakes and a tire-pressure-monitoring system are included. Side-impact airbags are not available.
The XL-7's performance is eager but not astonishing, and Suzuki's automatic transmission yields quick, crisp shifts. This SUV maneuvers easily through corners and curves, though a little body roll is evident. Ride quality scores just above the SUV norm, but you do notice nearly all pavement imperfections.
Front-seat occupants get plenty of space, but the second row is short on legroom and would be a squeeze for three occupants. There's only a narrow rear cargo shelf when the third-row seat is in place. When looking into the inside rearview mirror, the second- and third-row headrests can be more distracting than the protruding spare tire.