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 transportation concern.
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 larger engine.
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 appealing.
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 confusing levers.
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 pavement.
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 (highway).
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