It's a big year at Suzuki, which adds its largest vehicle to its U.S. lineup.
The newly revamped Suzuki XL7 debuts for 2007 as a bigger, five- and seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that's longer, wider and heavier than its predecessor. The XL7 also is restyled, inside and out, has a more powerful V-6 than before and drops the hyphen from its previous XL-7 name.
Price is up. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $23,534 for a base, five-passenger 2007 XL7 with two-wheel drive. All models come standard with V-6 and automatic transmission.
The pricing also means the XL7 relinquishes its ranking as the lowest-priced, seven-passenger SUV in America.
Starting retail price for a seven-passenger SUV is $24,884 for a two-wheel drive model, compared with $24,145 for a base, 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe with seven seats, which also comes with two-wheel drive, V-6 and automatic transmission.
The lowest-priced 2007 XL7 with all-wheel drive starts at $25,134 and has seats for five.
Besides the Hyundai Santa Fe, competitors to the XL7 include the 2007 Chevrolet Equinox, which starts at $22,680 for a V-6-powered, five-passenger SUV with two-wheel drive, and the 2007 Pontiac Torrent. The Torrent starts at $22,885.
Suzuki's XL7 is based on the same platform as the Equinox and Torrent SUVs and is built at the same Canadian assembly plant as the two vehicles.
Suzuki Motor Corp. of Japan and General Motors Corp., which owns the Chevrolet and Pontiac brands, have worked together for years on vehicles and components.
The XL7 is 8.4 inches longer, a tad wider and nearly 2 inches taller, overall, than GM's Equinox and Torrent. It's the only one of the three to offer three rows of seats and has a noticeably more powerful engine.
Specifically, the powerplant in the XL7 has a 3.6-liter displacement, instead of 3.4 liters in the GM SUVs, and it's tuned to deliver 252 horses and 243 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm.
This compares with 185 horses and 210 foot-pounds of torque at a higher, 3,800 rpm in the Equinox and Torrent versions.
It also compares with the Santa Fe's base, 185-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 with 183 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm and uplevel, 242-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 with 226 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm.
As the numbers indicate, the XL7 doesn't lack power. The tester cruised highways easily and passed other vehicles without fuss. Power came on smoothly and impressively via the five-speed automatic transmission.
Still, I noticed the heft of this vehicle, which, in the top-of-the-line tester with all-wheel drive and seven seats, topped 4,040 pounds.
I found myself wrestling with the idea that a Suzuki could be this large and heavy. I also was surprised to see that the top XL7 surpassed $32,000 in final window sticker price.
Suzuki, after all, has built a reputation as a low-price, small-vehicle manufacturer.
Don't look for fuel savings in the XL7. Rated at just 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway, the tester was midpack among all SUVs - big and small.
The considerable weight, plus a softly sprung suspension and some notable body motion in curves and turns, urges moderate, mainstream driving. There's no real sporty feel here.
And watch when making U-turns. The XL7 has a sizable, 41.8-foot turning circle, which compares with 35.8 feet in the Santa Fe.
The quieter ride, though, is a definite improvement over the vehicle's truck-based predecessor.
Indeed, this is the first time Suzuki's seven-passenger SUV has monocoque body construction, similar to that of cars. It characterizes many crossover SUVs and contributes to a more carlike ride. Still, with 7.9 inches of ground clearance underneath, the XL7 can travel over - and above - some obstacles.
All seats, including those in third row, are roomier than I expected.
In fact, I found that the third row doesn't need to be relegated to kids-only status.
Second- and third-row seats split and fold down flat to allow for a maximum and surprisingly roomy 95.2 cubic feet of cargo space. The XL7 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
At highway speeds, riders front and rear noticed wind noise in the test vehicle, and the plastic dashboard seemed overly expansive.
There were a lot of amenities, though, including leather-trimmed, heated front seats, a seven-speaker audio system and chrome, 17-inch wheels.
Traction and stability control are standard, as are anti-lock brakes and curtain air bags.
THE VEHICLE: 2007 Suzuki XL7, a front-engine, all-wheel drive, seven-passenger, midsize crossover sport utility vehicle
BASE PRICE: $22,899 for front-wheel-drive model; $29,549 for Limited all-wheel-drive model
DESTINATION CHARGE: $635
PRICE AS TESTED: $32,384
ENGINE: 3.6-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic
MILEAGE: 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
LENGTH: 197.2 inches
WHEELBASE: 112.4 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 4,049 pounds
BUILT AT: Ingersoll, Ontario
OPTIONS: Platinum package (includes power sunroof, navigation system and chrome wheels), $2,200