The most conspicuous technology feature in our Limited test vehicle was also a piece of GM gadgetry: the XL7 comes with the same in-dash navigation and media system as that we liked so much in the Cadillac Escalade, the GMC Yukon, and a host of other upscale GM models. Even more impressively, the XL7 Limited gets the navigation system as standard equipment (a rear-seat DVD entertainment system is also available as a no-charge option on the Limited, but, bizarrely, only with the deletion of the in-dash navigation system.)
In GPS navigation mode, the nav system's touch-screen LCD features bright, colorful, and informative maps. Although we noticed a slight lag when entering a destination, programming the system is very straightforward, thanks to a dedicated DEST button. Destinations can be entered either by address or by selecting from a vast points-of-interest (POI) database, which conveniently lists entries based on distance from the current location. To enter a destination, drivers simply use the onscreen key pad to punch in letters; for searching the POI database there is a nice one-touch scrolling feature. When under route guidance, the XL7's navigation system gives turn-by-turn directions and a useful split-screen feature with a zoomed-in view when approaching turns. The XL7 Limited also has the option of a voice-command interface for its navigation system, which is activated by a button on the steering wheel. Without the voice-activation option, the button serves only to mute the audio. We liked the navigation system's 3D view for urban areas, and especially the inclusion of individual icons for noteworthy buildings and landmarks. There is also a useful display setting that enables drivers to split the navigation screen between a view of the map and a panel showing information on currently playing audio.
The XL7 Limited's standard stereo system can play a range of audio sources, including music from regular CDs and MP3- and WMA-encoded discs. With one of the latter inserted into the single disc slot (there is no option for an in-dash 6-disc changer), the audio system takes a few minutes to digest the information on the disc's files and folders, then makes the content available via a very useful Music Navigator interface. Drivers are given a readout of name of the currently playing song on the LCD screen, as well as information on album and artist, and an intuitive menu structure makes it easy to find songs quickly. Other audio sources include available XM satellite radio, and an auxiliary input jack for connecting portable audio players.
The XL7 Limited's standard Pioneer-branded audio system features seven speakers including a subwoofer, and audio output can be tweaked using a graphical equalizer on the touch-screen LCD. In our experience, audio quality leaves something to be desired compared with the GM SUVs with which the XL7 shares so many components: high-end output is tinny and shrill, while low-end bass distorts at higher volumes.
Under the hood
As with many of its cabin features, the XL7 also relies on General Motors for its engine, which is the same global 3.6-liter V-6 found in a range of other Saturn, Cadillac, and GMC models. For a car that is marketed as a crossover SUV, the XL7 is a large vehicle, and its 252-horsepower plant borders on feeling underpowered at times, especially with the car fully laden. Power is put down to the pavement via a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode, which is activated by snapping the shifter over to the left. With the optional third-row seating package, the XL7 gets Nivomat self-leveling rear suspension, while an optional four-wheel-drive system is available on the Premium, Luxury, and Limited models.
In around-town driving, the XL7 wallows through turns and feels cumbersome to maneuver, a characteristic made worse by its large turning radius. On the freeway, the XL7 trundles along comfortably although the absence of a sixth gear leads to considerable engine noise at cruising speeds. When called upon for acceleration for on-ramps or passing maneuvers, the XL7 feels listless even under pedal-burying acceleration, and we found it useful to switch over to manual shift mode for one particularly dicey freeway entrance on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The lack of an overdrive gear also hurts the XL7's fuel economy: over 200 miles of mixed city and freeway driving, we observed an average gas mileage of 17.9 mpg--in line with the EPA ratings for the XL7, but hardly impressive for a car with a V-6 engine. One of the most impressive aspects of the XL7 is its 100,000-mile non-deductible and fully transferable warranty, which Suzuki touts--with some justification--as the best in the country.
Our seven-seater 2008 Suzuki XL7 came with a base price of $27,299, which included the navigation system, leather upholstery, the upgraded seven-speaker audio system, and heated front seats. The Rear Vision Camera with Display was the only option on our tester, adding $649 to the sticker and bringing the total price of the car to $27,948. For that kind of money, the XL7 is a relative bargain to its competition: a comparably equipped Acadia is around $5,000 more expensive, while a fully loaded 2008 Toyota Highlander is more than 10 grand more. If you've got a large family, a desire for a decent cabin tech package, and $30,000 to spend, the 2008 Suzuki XL7 is very possibly the car for you.