Traveling east from Sacramento on either Interstate 80 or 50, the capital
of California extends into ever-expanding suburbs. Sierra Nevada
foothill communities soon follow and then respectively the well-known
gambling and recreation meccas of Reno, Nev., and Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Busier freeways exist, but both Northern California thoroughfares have
their share of hectic commuter traffic and every other conceivable
Both freeways therefore provide perfect arenas for vehicle testing,
particularly the consistent, steady ascents into the foothills and toward
ski resort elevations. There's nothing too steep, but the steady grades
can abruptly help showcase a vehicle's power strengths or weaknesses.
In my recent test drive of the 2005 Suzuki XL-7, the new midsize SUV
offered by the Japanese manufacturer, the latter applied.
The XL-7 has its share of attractive features, including a good price point
and plenty of impressive standard features. But acceleration and overall
engine performance is not the vehicle's strong suit.
On out-of-town journeys on both Interstate 50 and 80, the XL-7 was
noticeable sluggish on the steady climbs out of the flatlands. The XL-7
has a 5-speed automatic transmission and 2.7-liter, 24-valve, 185-
horsepower, V6 engine. Yet, even on solo treks into moderat elevation
locales, in highway passing situations, or in other needed acceleration
scenarios, a foot-to-the-floor effort was required.
The XL-7, however, should not be dismissed It's been introduced as an
extended version of Suzuki's compact Grand Vitara, with a 2.9-inch
longer wheelbase, 22.9 inches of added length and the aforementioned
Nearly a dozen model options are available, from base model, 2WD,
LX-4-door wagon with manual transmission ($19,499) to the 4-WD EX
wagon with automatic transmission and third-row seat ($26,899). My
test vehicle was the 4-WD EX-wagon with automatic transmission. With
standard features including heated front seats, leather front and rear
seats, 6-disc CD and AM/FM audio system with seven speakers, 16-
alloy wheels, power-tilted sun and moonroof and Suzuki's 7-year,
100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the $26,394.00 price point is
So, too, are the XL-7's controls and materials, and the vehicle's cargo
space is generous, if not less-than simply designed and orchestrated via
Like other Suzuki models, the XL 7's instrumentation is simple and
nicely designed. Large control dials offer ease of use and the console
materials are attractive, even the faux wood trim. Likewise, Suzuki has
some innovative ideas for storage cubicles and the cargo areas for
groceries, sports equipment and the like is on par with the available
other vehicles in its category. Seating is comfortable, and from driver's
perspective vision is good and without blind spots.
As a 4-WD drive vehicle, Suzuki offers a push-button, part-time system.
It's convenient and has a low-gear ratio. Unlike other manufacturers,
however, the Suzuki 4-WD option should not be left engaged in dry
The XL-7 is Suzuki's offering against the Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy and
Toyota Highlander. All are higher priced and have established niches in
the resale market. The Suzuki doesn't have any history — yet. The XL-7
doesn't get high marks in ride quality, and it certainly isn't quiet on the
road, either. The manufacturer claims 17 mpg gallon in city driving, but
the Consumer Guide testers documented a city average between 13.6
and 15.4 mpg.
There's nothing wrong with a manufacturer having pride its brand name,
either. But the "S" insignia on the front grill is particularly large, and it
can't help remind one of the Superman "S." In short, it's just too large.
Beyond cosmetics, however, the XL-7 has offer a good supply of
standard features for its price. But it's not the best choice in its class and
won't be until it at least gets more horsepower.
Safety features —Driver and front-seat passenger front and side
airbags, Antilock brakes; 24-hour roadside assistance.
Fuel Mileage (manufacturer estimates) —17 mpg (city), 22 mpg
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain 7
years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 3 years/unlimited miles.
Base price range — $19,499-26,899.
James Raia is journalist, author and publisher in Sacramento, Calif. To
read more car reviews or other examples of his work, visit his web site: ByJamesRaia.com