The 2008 Suzuki XL7 Limited is about as much crossover SUV as you can get for the money. Its ride quality and cabin materials might not be on a par with those of other models in the segment, but the XL7 Limited does pack an impressive payload of features--including one safety-tech system that we've not seen anywhere else.
Test the tech: Objects in the rear view mirror
One of the most advanced tech features in the cabin of the Suzuki XL-7 Limited is its optional Rear-vision Camera with Display. Available only at the Limited trim level, the system comprises a regular central rear-view mirror with an integrated 2.4-inch LCD color display, which is activated when the car is put into reverse. In a clever design touch, the monitor is invisible when the car is in drive mode and appears as part of the mirror. While the in-mirror back-up display has plenty of "wow" factor, we weren't too sure how the device would work for gauging distances and parking assistance. Driving in and out of parking lots, we noticed that the color display was useful for notifying us of the presence of moving objects behind us--especially because of the camera's ability to pick up bright objects, such as car fenders--but that the fisheye perspective made us less than confident in trusting the camera for precise reverse maneuvers.
Rather than evaluate the effectiveness of the camera by trying to reverse in between two cars, we resolved on a safer accuracy test with a couple of trusty pylons. We would attempt to reverse park the XL7 between two cones spaced apart at a distance just wider than the width of the XL7 with the sole assistance of the in-mirror display.
The test parking spot was just wider than the Suzuki XL7.
Having set up the course, we hopped back into the driving seat and put the XL7 into reverse. As the display is integrated into the rear-view mirror, its visibility depends on whatever is currently being reflected in the mirror, and we found that the camera image could be easily blown out by bright sunlit reflections. To improve visibility, we closed the sunroof and started toward our target parking space. At longer range, it is very difficult to gauge distances and details using the small mirror-mounted display, and we headed in the general direction of the pylons without much confidence. When they came into view, we tried to position the two cones at the edges of the display, which proved to be harder than it sounds due to the display being offset to the left of the mirror.
The XL7's in-mirror display is a useful means of spotting moving objects behind the car.
After a correction, we backed up using only the display for a guide. Unsurprisingly, the pylons disappeared from the camera's view after the back end of the car passed them, and we kept the wheel straight until the pylons appeared at the front of the car (or until we heard the sound of mangled pylon under one of the rear wheels). Impressively, we managed to direct the bulky XL7 between the cones without touching on either side. Despite our misgivings about the camera's accuracy, we had managed to maneuver the XL7 into a parking space smaller than almost any real-world spot.
In the cabin
As we noted in the review of the 2007 XL7, Suzuki drew a lot of its inspiration--and materials--from General Motors when building the latest version of its flagship SUV. Much of XL7's switchgear (steering wheel buttons, HVAC dials, trip buttons) and many of its cabin appointments (shifter, stereo module) are directly from the GM parts bin, and from the inside, a GMC Acadia or Chevy Equinox driver could be forgiven for doing a double-take on the Suzuki badge in the middle of the steering wheel.
Aside from its leather seats (standard on the Limited), the XL7's cabin appointments are spartan and uninspiring: the cowl and dashboard are covered with a mixture of hard, black plastic, simple gray plastic, and some matte-silvery trim. We also found the placement of the window controls in the middle of the console to be frustrating. More useful was the panel of buttons forward of the shifter, which provide an intuitive means of turning on and off the heated seats, controlling the driver information display, and turning off traction control--although why drivers would want to do the latter is a mystery to us. Behind the front seats, there is plenty of legroom for second-row passengers, and a surprisingly large amount of leg- and headroom in the third-row seats, and a tumbling second row seat give the infantry an easy means of entry and exit from the very back.
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.)
We like the navigation system's colorful maps and bespoke landmark icons.
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 Music Navigator interface is a great way to search digital audio libraries.
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.
Despite its self-leveling suspension, the XL7 wallows around town.
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.