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Expert Reviews 1 of 8
By Mike Hanley
November 22, 2006
For 2007, Suzuki has overhauled its flagship SUV, the XL7, making it bigger and giving it a more powerful engine (that still manages to get better mileage than its predecessor). Despite that, the five- or seven-seat XL7 comes up short in comfort and utility when it's stacked against minivans. Those may not be the XL7's direct competitors, but they hold more cargo and passengers, and provide a similar driving experience. Exterior & Styling The 2007 XL7 looks markedly different than the model it replaces. It's distinguished by a three-bar chrome grille and wraparound headlights, and looks curiously similar to Ford's all-new Edge crossover SUV, which debuted first.
From the side and rear, the XL7 looks a bit top-heavy and lacks the front end's cohesiveness. The SUV is available with either 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels, but the 16-inch rims look decidedly small against its large profile. A Minivan in Wolf's Clothing... The XL7 drives a lot like a minivan, but its crossover-SUV styling allows it to avoid the dreaded van frumpiness. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of functionality, which I'll address later.
I like the XL7's low driving position, but I suspect some buyers will want to sit higher than the driver's seat allows. Even though you feel relatively low to the ground, the XL7 still has 7.9 inches of ground clearance. This is about the same as the Honda Pilot and redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe and better than the Toyota Highlander. Forward and side visibility is great, but the small rear quarter and liftgate windows make parking a bit more difficult.
The XL7 uses an extended version of the Chevrolet Equinox's platform and features a four-wheel-independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. Seven-seat XL7s get load-leveling shocks. The suspension is very good at damping rough pavement, and despite its comfort manages to keep body roll from getting out of hand. The SUV is a stable, quiet cruiser on the highway, and though it goes where you point it just fine, the numb steering feel doesn't engage the driver.
The XL7's 3.6-liter V-6 makes 252 horsepower and produces 243 pounds-feet of torque at a low 2,300 rpm, which in theory would make for strong low- and mid-range acceleration. That's not the case in the XL7. Though the V-6 provides acceptable power in city and highway driving and during passing situations, it doesn't feel as strong as its specs suggest. Contributing to this sensation is the accelerator pedal, which must be pressed farther than most for rapid acceleration. On the flip side, this characteristic makes smooth starts a breeze. The EPA estimates that front-wheel-drive models get 18/24 mpg (city/highway), while all-wheel-drive XL7s get 17/23 mpg. These figures equal or best the Pilot's EPA estimates, but they're slightly worse than the V-6-powered Highlander's.
The V-6 engine drives a five-speed automatic transmission that has a clutchless-manual mode for driver-controlled shifting. The automatic goes about its business of changing gears practically unnoticed by the driver; all shifts are smooth, and kickdown happens quickly enough when more power is needed for passing. ...Without a Minivan's Utility Despite what their names suggest, many sport utility vehicles aren't as accomplished as minivans when it comes to everyday utility — like comfortably shuttling a bunch of family members around town or moving a big piece of furniture. Though the Toyota Sienna minivan is notably wider than the XL7, its overall length and height measurements are comparable. On the inside, however, the Sienna has more passenger volume and total cargo room than the XL7, and it feels that way.
In the XL7's defense, the Pilot, Santa Fe and Highlander don't fare especially well against the Sienna in this type of comparison, either. The Sienna is admittedly larger, but its cargo room is the result of clever packaging, not cutbacks in occupant comfort. When the Sienna's third-row seats (which are more comfortable for adults than the XL7's) are in use, there's a deep well behind them that can hold extra cargo that's much more usable than the seven-seat XL7's hidden cargo bin. Also, unlike the XL7, the Sienna's second-row seats can be removed, which helps increase the van's cargo room.
That said, the XL7 has a nicely finished interior that comes standard with stylish, firmly supportive cloth seats or optional leather seats. My test model had a terrible new-car smell that made me dread getting behind the wheel at times, but this will likely fade with time. Most dashboard trim pieces fit together tightly, and the silver dash inserts don't look half-bad. Imitation wood trim is optional.
Manually adjustable front seats with exemplary rearward travel are standard, and a power-adjustable driver's seat is optional. Combined with the generous front headroom, the XL7 can easily accommodate tall drivers and front passengers.
Second-row passengers get a firm 60/40-split bench seat that can't slide fore and aft but does feature reclining backrests. Even with its higher, stadium-style position, the second row has lots of headroom. My only real complaint is that the center seat's backrest is uncomfortable.
The XL7's third row is tiny; small adults and children won't have a problem with it, but they're the only ones who won't. By including a handy pull strap, Suzuki does make it easy to fold the second-row seats for easier exit from the third row. Features Optional features include a power sunroof and a navigation system. A rear DVD entertainment system that includes two sets of wireless headphones is also optional, but it isn't available in XL7s with the sunroof or navigation system.
Standard safety features include all-disc antilock brakes, side curtain airbags and an electronic stability system. Each second-row seating position has a pair of Latch child-seat anchors and a top-tether anchor. XL7 in the Market I know, I know. I've been beating you over the head with the virtues of minivans, and I don't even have kids. It's just that the similarities between the XL7 and minivans like the Sienna can't be ignored — and neither can the minivan's advantages. Even for drivers who would never buy a minivan, the XL7 faces strong SUV competition from the Pilot and Highlander. Still, the changes for this model year make it better suited to the market than its predecessor, and it is very attractively priced. It'll be interesting to see how it fares.