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2005 Suzuki XL-7

Hey, This Thing Only Seats Five!

    A few years ago, when the “XL-7” descriptor first showed up attached to Suzuki vehicles, it represented a special stretched version of the Grand Vitara small SUV. The longer wheelbase made room for a third row of seats that brought the seating capacity to, you guessed it, seven. The ability to seat seven passengers in a vehicle roughly the size of a Grand Cherokee and sell it in the low $20,000 range was a unique strategy that put Suzuki on the forefront of the race to stuff a third row of seats into every SUV larger then a RAV4.
     Fast-forward to the 2005 model year when the XL-7 has since become a standalone model and the flagship of the Suzuki lineup. We found out, however, that not all XL-7s are created equal. Contrary to popular belief, and, indeed, the consensus of AT’s crack staff, not all XL-7s can seat seven people—as the name would suggest. The third row seat is a $2,000 option that brings with it rear A/C and running boards. Even without the aide of my calculator I know that’s an extra grand per seat! The moral of the story: owners should be certain they’d use the back row often enough to warrant the substantial investment. Logic would also dictate Suzuki call standard five-passenger models, like our tester, the XL-5 and the seven-seater version the XL-7, but logic doesn’t always triumph in the marketing department.
     With that confusion straightened out we can now talk about our impressions of the five-passenger XL-7 that recently spent a week in our hands. The first thing we noted is that the XL-7 looks good—especially so in Classic Red Pearl paint. Actually, Senior Editor Muxlow didn’t agree with that judgment. Now that I think about it, he didn’t really like anything about the Suzuki, which is probably the reason I’m writing this review. Suzuki PR: you can thank me later. But I digress. The XL-7 looks good thanks to healthy amounts of chrome trim, dark tinted windows and a stylish set of alloy wheels. We’re not fans of the rear-mounted spare tire but at least it gets a body-color cover.
     Powering every XL-7 is a DOHC 2.7-liter V6 rated at only 185hp and 184lb-ft of torque. That may be enough engine for Suzuki’s small car lineup but this is a 4×4 SUV capable of hauling seven people and their stuff. Find an XL-7 loaded to capacity and undoubtedly it’ll be in the right lane. Luckily, with only a few passengers on board, the XL-7 gets rolling as well as most SUVs in this price range thanks to the standard 5-speed automatic transmission. The 5-speed makes good use of the limited power but Suzuki, and XL-7 owners, would be better off if it got the torque output north of 200lb-ft.
     Under the extended XL-7 body is a stretched ladder frame. Suzuki uses body-on-frame construction to “challenge difficult natural terrain”. Fed through our patented BS decoder that translates to “it’s cheaper and all we had available”. True off-roaders will not be taking this stretched people-mover and its 7.6-inches of ground clearance to the Rubicon anytime soon. To their credit, Suzuki has added numerous high-class features like a strut tower brace and hydraulic engine mounts to refine the ride and handling and quell annoying vibrations. Suzuki’s four-wheel drive system includes a low range and is operated by push buttons on the XL-7’s dash. The P235/60R16 all-season tires do their best to keep power flowing to the ground.
     A well-equipped cabin meets passengers regardless of model but our EX tester had every convenience feature Suzuki offers included as standard equipment. Air conditioning, 6-disc in-dash 7-speaker audio system, steering wheel mounted stereo controls and heated leather seats are all part of the package. The stereo’s sound quality was only decent but the unit was easy to use thanks to large buttons and rotary knobs. Unlike every other manufacturer’s heated seats, the Suzuki had only one setting and it proved too hot to leave on continually. We were hoping for a low setting to leave on throughout the day but it was either frostbite or first-degree burns. We also found that the front seats aren’t particularly comfortable and they don’t adjust back far enough to provide adequate room for a six-foot frame. I was always too close to the pedals in what resembled a barstool posture more than a comfortable driving position. Anyone sitting in the driver’s seat will also notice an area where a little too much cost cutting was performed. Sound deadening material seemed to be MIA in the XL-7 because wind noise is far too hard to ignore. The interior layout itself was fine with solid switchgear, ultra easy to read gauges and a little faux wood trim to divert attention from the hard plastic dash materials.
     Because our XL-7 was sans the third row of seats the cargo hold was vast but getting to it required swinging open an equally vast and decidedly outdated side-hinged door. That swinging rear door could cause some problems in tight parallel-parking spots. EX models come with a standard Tire Pressure Monitoring System for the 2005 model year; a security feature that you don’t often see in this price range.
     Our fully loaded Suzuki XL-7 EX five-passenger had not a single option and rang the register at a reasonable $25,799. For around $25k you get a fully loaded 4×4 that looks good inside and out. Yes, it could use some refinement in the cabin and the excessive wind noise needs to be reduced, but on the other hand, you can sleep easy knowing your Suzuki is covered by America’s #1 warranty. If you can get comfortable in the driver’s seat and you aren’t in a hurry there’s a feature-packed smooth-riding XL-7 out there for you. But just so you know, it may only seat five.

The Good:
5-speed automatic, tire pressure monitoring system, push button 4WD.
The Bad:
2.7-liter barely adequate, uncomfortable seats, heated seats need hi/lo setting.
The Verdict:
A dose of refinement and another liter under the hood would fix a lot of the XL-7’s problems, as it sits, it’s not our first choice.


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