2007 Suzuki XL7
We sensed a strange aura of familiarity when we got behind the wheel of the 2007 Suzuki XL7. Ah yes, the navigation and stereo interface were the same as in the GMC Acadia (and the Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon). But wait, we had also seen the same set of buttons--near the shifter--in these other cars. Had GM bought Suzuki, and no one told us?
No, but Suzuki turned to GM for help when it decided to build a seven-seat crossover. Suzuki licensed the engine design from GM, and builds the XL7 in an Ontario, Canada, plant it owns with GM. It shares characteristics with the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, built at the same plant. The result is a car that looks as boring as any other seven-seat crossover, with a few unique Suzuki touches.
For the most part, the XL7 is a box on wheels with a few raked surfaces. The only styling cue we found appealing was the headlights, which have an interesting angular design. But the hood floating over the entire front end of the car ruins the stylistic effect of the headlights. Toward the rear, the car has ultrawide D pillars, which make a rounded window-line along the sides, a styling cue that is pretty common. Those large pillars really only serve to hamper rear-quarter visibility, and there is no rearview camera option.
The XL7 seems to have been built to meet a marketing checklist. Seven seats, check. Navigation, check. All-wheel drive, check. V-6 engine, check. It has all the equipment that defines a large, modern crossover, but not much style. What it does have going for it is price. Fully loaded and around $30,000 makes it an attractive option for people shopping according to the same checklist that was used to build the XL7.
Test the tech: Los Angeles road trip
Nothing tests out a car like a good road trip, and because we needed to go to Los Angeles for the 2008 Lexus LS 600h L launch, we drove the XL7 down from San Francisco. As we had a little extra time for the trip down, we opted to take Highway 101, a nicer drive than Interstate 5. Although we generally like the navigation system in the XL7 (which we've also seen in GM cars), it wouldn't offer up the 101 as one of its three route options, instead insisting we take I-5. Well, gadgets can be turned off.
Plotting our course back from Los Angeles, the navigation system gave us a couple of routes to choose from.
Highway 101 runs through hills and valleys, with plenty of curves and grades, but it's straight enough to maintain speeds of 70mph for most of its length. The XL7's 3.6-liter V-6 was more than adequate to push the car along, giving us enough acceleration when we needed it for passing. And the car's handling for this type of driving was fine. But the lack of a sixth gear in the automatic transmission kept our mileage from rising above 21.8mpg, although its EPA-rated highway mileage is 23mpg.
After a few long hours driving at speed, we noticed a slow rattle from the body, a heavy and somewhat disturbing sound. We checked over the car at a rest stop, but as it seemed nothing was about to shake loose, we continued on. The rattle stayed with us for the entire trip, and while not a threat, it points toward some poor workmanship.
When we reached Los Angeles, we checked the navigation system's points-of-interest database for restaurants. It conveniently listed them based on distance from our location, but there was no way to sort by type of food. We found a nearby barbecue place and headed over for dinner.
A stop at Tommy's is necessary during any L.A. trip.
The next day we drove back on I-5, a straight run through California's Central Valley. And we made an obligatory stop at Tommy's, a Los Angeles institution that serves hamburgers and hot dogs covered in chili. Unfortunately, we couldn't easily find the place using our navigation system, as there are many places named Tommy's, and the system didn't make it easy to sort through them. We had to rely on the old-fashioned method of spotting the restaurant off the freeway.
The XL7 got us to Los Angeles and back in relative comfort. But the drive felt like flying along in coach on a shuttle flight as opposed to ripping along in your own private jet. The car's navigation system helped in some areas, while we had to ignore it in others. With the car's 18.6-gallon tank, we made it about 90 percent of the way down before we had to refill.
In the cabin
Suzuki concentrates on making inexpensive cars, so we weren't sure what to think when we got in the cabin of the XL7 and saw wood accents on the shifter and the dashboard. The leather seats also showed that the XL7 isn't your typical Suzuki. But we have seen these elements in cars from GM and suspect Suzuki got to rummage through the parts bin at the shared plant.
Some definite elements from GM are the navigation and stereo module, the buttons between the spokes of the steering wheel for audio and cruise control (and maybe the entire steering wheel), and the buttons that display trip information such as range to empty and average fuel economy.
As we mentioned in the review of the GMC Acadia, it's pretty nice that you can get the same navigation and stereo head unit that's used in the Cadillac Escalade. There's a lot we like about this system. The touch screen interface uses a tabbed structure, making it easy to get to audio or navigation settings, and it has a split-screen mode that shows audio and map information. The music navigator is particularly nice, as it will scan an MP3 CD and let you view the contents by artist, album, track, or folder. The system also comes prepped for satellite radio and has an auxiliary input right in its faceplate.
The interface for playing MP3 CDs is very useful, showing complete information for the current track.
We did notice a few differences in the XL7's version of this system over what we've seen in GM cars. For one, a six-disc changer isn't available. On the plus side, the navigation system uses a 3D view for urban areas and shows particular buildings you can use as landmarks.
The audio quality of the stereo system was, like the entire car, serviceable, but it doesn't stand out. The Limited trim for the XL7, as on our test car, gets a seven-speaker audio system, which amounts to a midrange and tweeter on each front door, a midrange on each rear door, and a subwoofer. This system isn't really adequate for filling the fairly large cabin of the XL7. And we could barely tell that the system had a subwoofer, as the bass didn't stand out.
You have to make some odd choices in the upper-trim levels of the Suzuki XL7. With the top-level Limited trim, a DVD rear entertainment system is standard. But you lose the DVD system if you also get the Platinum option, which includes the navigation system. We think the $2,200 Platinum option should be discounted since you have to do away with the DVD system.
Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't available on the XL7.
Under the hood
As mentioned above, the car comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic driving all four wheels. The engine puts out 252 horsepower and 243 foot pounds of torque, which gets the XL7 moving along fairly well. The lack of a sixth gear means the RPMs run at around 3,000 at 70mph, which isn't going to do much for fuel economy.
The EPA rates the XL7 at 17mpg in the city and 23mpg on the highway. We spent most of our drive time on the freeway, at speeds from 70mph to 80mph. The best fuel economy we maintained during that time was 21.8mpg. In the limited city driving we did, we noticed the economy dropping rapidly, to around 16mpg. The engine is fairly clean, earning a ULEV II rating from California's Air Resources Board.
The interestingly designed headlights throw out a nicely defined area of illumination.
With its independent suspension, the ride in the XL7 is smooth. Although it has all-wheel drive, we wouldn't want to throw it around corners very hard. It's a little too tall and doesn't feel built for that type of behavior. It's also not an off-roader. It doesn't have great clearance, and its front and rear overhangs won't allow for steep angles of ascent or departure. The all-wheel-drive system in this car will mainly come into play for snow and other bad weather.
Halogen headlights define a nicely illuminated area in front of the car. The car also comes with the whole range of electronic road-holding systems, including antilock brakes, traction control, and a stability system.
Our 2007 Suzuki XL7 was a Limited model with three rows of seating and all-wheeldrive, with a base price of $29,549. We added the Platinum package, which brings in navigation, a power sunroof, and 17-inch chrome wheels, for $2,200. As mentioned above, the Platinum package gets rid of the standard rear-seat DVD entertainment package from the Limited trim level. Along with its $650 destination charge, the total price for our car was $32,399. The base trim level XL7, with front-wheel drive and two rows of seating, goes for $22,999.
The XL7 is functional, and drives home the point that crossovers are the minivans of our time. You can load a lot of stuff or people into them and get down the highway all right, but don't expect any real fun behind the wheel. The XL7 compares well to the Acadia in price, undercutting that car by more than $10,000. The Chrysler Pacifica is a better-looking option in this class of vehicle, but still more expensive by about $7,000.