Road Test Reviews, Suzuki, Vehicles

2008 Suzuki XL7 JLX Navi – Road Test

The second generation of Suzuki’s largest SUV – the XL7 – is a considerable departure for the company. Following the lead of other manufacturers, Suzuki has moved the XL7 up-market in both quality and size, putting it into the intermediate SUV category. Using a unibody design, it more resembles a luxury CUV (Cross-over Utility Vehicle), than a true SUV (the previous XL-7 was a rear-wheel-drive SUV on a truck chassis). The all-new XL7 is a front-wheel-drive vehicle that offers all-wheel drive, and a Suzuki-built 3.6-litre, 24-valve DOHC V-6 engine with variable valve timing (up from a 2.7 litre V-6 in the previous model). According to Suzuki, this new more powerful engine will offer equal or better fuel economy than the outgoing engine. Think of it more like a Toyota Highlander, than a Jeep Grand Cherokee and you get the picture. In fact it’s so different from the previous model I’m surprised they even kept the same name – they did however change it from an XL-7 to a plain-Jane XL7.  The new model is big – about as big as a Chevy Trailblazer – and along with that increase in girth, comes a bigger and more powerful V-6 engine and standard seating for seven.

First Impressions
From a distance the XL7 looks like it’s an average size, but once you get right up beside it you realize – this is a BIG truck. Opening the door and jumping up into the XL7, I got a big surprise – you don’t have to jump up into it! You just slide in like you would any car. It’s very deceiving, and for several days I kept jumping up as if I was getting in to a much higher vehicle. The leather-wrapped steering wheel dominates the driver because of its size – it’s bigger than the average steering wheel and it looked very familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d seen it before – a Chevy perhaps? The cruise controls are logically placed on the left, while the audio controls are on the right. At first glance they looked awkward, but in reality they were very easy to use once you get used to the volume controls sitting behind the station controls. The steering tilts but does not telescope.

Adjusting the leather seats was easy with the lower seat being power operated and the reclining functions being manually adjustable. I found that it was difficult to adjust the electric part when I’d closed the door as there’s very little space to put your hands between the door and the lower seat. The seats themselves are extremely comfortable and I had no complaints the entire week we had the XL7.

Firing up the engine, it was whisper-quiet. Even at full-throttle the only sound you hear is a growl from the tail pipe. The XL7 doesn’t feel as big as it is when you drive it. From the driver’s seat you’d never realize it’s quite this big – even when parking. Initial response off the line was satisfactory – quick without being considered sporty. With the engine producing 252 hp and

243 lb/ft of torque at a very low 2,300 rpm, you can get this vehicle moving quickly considering it weighs in at 4,000 lbs. Stopping is uneventful thanks to the 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD. The shifts from the 5-speed automatic transmission are completely seamless. When I first saw the manumatic feature I was perplexed that something like that would be included in a CUV that isn’t really sporty, but I found it was something I used on a regular basis – go figure.

2008 Suzuki XL7 JLX, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

The instrument cluster and gauges are simple and legible, with a very good information centre located between the tachometer and the speedometer. The cowl is very low compared to a number of vehicles I’ve driven lately, and as-such the Sat-Nav screen sits a little too low. Thankfully the screen itself is nice and large, with the lettering and numbers equally legible. Using the system while driving isn’t an issue, because you can see the information instantly – there is no fear of spending too much time with your eyes off the road. The system was easy to program and employ, as is the audio system which is included in the same unit. Something that was strangely absent that I’d expected to see is a rear camera – for a vehicle this size it would be a huge bonus. A rearview camera is one of those things that once you’ve used it, you certainly miss it when it’s not there.

The automatic climate control system is typically Suzuki – the best you can get! It’s clean and simple to operate, with the heat kicking in far sooner than the majority of vehicles. The bum-warmers take a bit of time to heat up – but when they do, you can fry an egg on them! The power window buttons sit in the console between the driver and front passenger. They look like they’ve been lifted right out of a Saturn Vue … exactly the same buttons that my 2004 Vue had – including the drivers auto down feature.

Because the XL7 is more car-like than truck-like, the ride and suspension deliver a very comfortable ride – something I appreciated while driving on Toronto’s pot-holed highways. This is one vehicle you could never confuse with a sports car – in fact my wife commented almost immediately that it was more van-like than any SUV we’d driven of late. If you like your vehicles softly-sprung then the XL7 is definitely the one for you. As is the norm on my test drives, I like to take the many rail road tracks in our area at faster than normal speeds to see how well a vehicle handles them, and the XL7 got full marks for smoothness – almost pillowy-soft.

Suzuki claim the XL7 can do 0-60 mph in “under 8 seconds” but they seriously short-change themselves. I took two runs at it and got 7.3 and 7.18 seconds on the two sprint runs I managed to squeeze in on a dry morning and on a dry road. From the standing start it feels a little slow until you get to around 25 mph, then suddenly the power comes on in a rush with the transmission shifting at the red line each time. On one of the runs I just kept the pedal buried after passing 60 mph and the XL7 just kept on steaming ahead past 100 mph without breaking a sweat all the while maintaining its composure and near-silent interior noise levels – very impressive. Once I’d gotten over 100 mph I had to back off because of traffic, but the XL7 was just as relaxing in triple-digits speeds as it was in single-digit speeds. If I wasn’t using my accelerometer there’s no way I would have imagined the XL7 could have reached 60 or even 100 mph in such a short time. Incidentally, the ¼ mile time was 15.5 seconds.

2008 Suzuki XL7 JLX, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

The audio system is an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital satellite radio. This was our first experience with a full-blown, all the stations satellite radio, and to be honest it had mixed reviews. The nice thing was you don’t have to listen to all those mindless DJ’s blabbing on about utter rubbish between hundreds of commercials – oh and a couple of songs… the downside is that the music disappears if you go under a bridge or going down a hill and you get into a valley. Overall it was very good. As for the audio system in the XL7 – it was great! With 6 speakers plus a subwoofer, the sound was very good, but I was disappointed it was only a single-disc unit.

3rd Row Seating
In the U.S. the XL7 is offered with the third-row seating as an option while it comes standard in Canada. Do not buy the third-row seating!! According to Suzuki, the XL7 “delivers comfortable first, best-in-class second- and ample third-row seating.” In reality it delivers best in class front, acceptable second and deplorable third-row seating. There is nothing to complain about in regards to the front seats – they are terrific. The second-row seats are very firm and even though the seatback can be adjusted, they’re still not that great. When you close the door and lower the centre armrest it feels quite claustrophobic because there isn’t much room. Lifting the centre armrest helps (it’s basically useless anyway because it sits too high). Leg, foot and knee room are very good, but someone with short legs ie: anyone shorter than 5’7” won’t be able to touch the floor. Headroom is good but not great. It’s like sitting on a chair instead of sitting in a seat. Hip room is uncomfortable for three, but is OK for two – two people would be semi-comfortable, but three only in a pinch. I was surprised to see that the second-row passengers get their own climate controls – that’s a nice touch. Getting in and out is easy thanks to the large doors, but getting into the third row is a chore…..

2008 Suzuki XL7 JLX, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

Unlike other SUV’s with a third row, the XL7’s second row doesn’t slide fore and aft – it’s fixed in place. Also, instead of using levers to move the seat, Suzuki went with straps that are awkward to get to and completely out of sight. To get back there you have to fold the seatback flat, grope around behind the base for a strap, and then pull the strap and the seat at the same time. The seat now tips forward against the front seat opening a nice sized area to get into the third row. While climbing in you have to watch you don’t bash your head against the roof, while twisting and turning to sit down. This procedure can’t be done if someone is sitting in the middle of the second row because you both would now be rubbing those large welts (or sopping up the blood) from when your heads clashed together. Once seated in the third row you’ll find that yes you can get your knees higher than your head while sitting, as the seat base appears to be sloped at a 45 degree angle while the seat back is completely upright.

OK now let’s get the second-row seat back into its upright position, but first, let’s unscrew those legs of yours – there’s no room for any legs once the seat comes back! No kidding – the second-row seatback almost touches the seat of the third row. For Suzuki to call that “ample space” they must have been using stuffed animals as test subjects! Sitting back there is very uncomfortable – there’s no room to even move to get into a comfortable position – and that’s while the second row is still folded forward. There is virtually no space to put your feet either.

Getting back out is just as incomprehensible. Assuming you don’t have any legs, you have to lift the latch to release the seatback, pull it back and then push it forward. Once that’s been accomplished you’ve still got to find that strap to pop the seat forward, then half-stand while twisting and stepping out backwards.  Confused yet?  I hurt my back getting out. At that point I went into the rear and folded the third-row seats into the floor – no one was going back there while I was driving this thing!

2008 Suzuki XL7 JLX, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

As I’ve said before – if you need to transport more than five people – GET A MINIVAN!!!!! Seven or eight-passenger SUV/CUV’s force way too many compromises to make it work properly.

On the positive side, the rear cargo area is gi-normous! I can only imagine how much storage space would be available under the floor without the third-row seats taking up all that space. The second-row seating can stow completely flat giving a cargo space that is competitive with a minivan at 95 cu/ft. (I measured: 76” x 37 1/2” x 32”). The seats split 60/40 and with the front passenger seat folded forward, you can accommodate 9’ items and still close the rear door (I measured 112” x 14” x 12”). With the second row up, there is still an impressive 44” x 37 1/2” x 32” of cargo room. If you’re transporting people with legs that screw off, there’s 15” x 41” x 32” of space to stow the legs during the journey in the cargo area – while they sit in the third-row seats. As a bonus there is a good-sized storage compartment in the floor, but the headrests from the third-row seats take up a lot of the room available if they’re folded flat.

2008 Suzuki XL7 JLX, Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org

One problem I ran into was with the power locking system – it had a brain-fart – after a couple of days it just stopped working – well sort of. Most of the time I could lock the vehicle with the key fob, but I couldn’t unlock it. I ended up having to open the driver’s door with the key, open the door  – the alarm then went off (what a joke it’s the quietest alarm I’ve ever heard in my life!), then I pressed the unlock button on the fob and the alarm would stop. I could then unlock the rest of the doors using the fob. I couldn’t check the owner’s manual because someone had absconded with it, so I have no idea what I did or didn’t do to make it happen.

The Suzuki XL7’s comes in three models in the U.S (Base, Luxury & Limited) and two in Canada (JX and JLX). Options and standard features vary, so go to the web sites for all the details and pricing – www.suzukiauto.com or http://auto.suzuki.ca

Safety
Even the base XL7 is full of safety features including: Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with Traction Control, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) and front seatbelt pre-tensioners.

Warranty
The warranty is a comprehensive 3 years/36,000 miles [60,000 kms] that includes a 7 years/100,000 miles [5 years/100,000 kms in Canada] powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is included for a very impressive 5 years/unlimited kms in Canada, but 3 years/60,000 miles in the U.S.
Towing capacity is a maximum of 3,500 lbs.

The Conclusion
I liked the XL7 a lot, but yet it disappointed me (the third row seating mainly). I think if it was a 5-seater it would be outstanding, but in Canada we’re stuck with the 7-seater and it just doesn’t do it right. Unfortunately, even in the U.S. you get lumped with the 7-passegers version if you want the Sat-Nav and a couple of other options, you end up having to get the Limited model. The price-for-content is superb and it would be hard to beat. I like the fact that you can choose FWD or AWD in each of the trim levels, so you’re not stuck with AWD if you don’t need or want it. Once again Suzuki delivers a terrific product… now if they’d look at building a minivan maybe we can get rid of those third-row seats.

Pricing for the 2007 Suzuki XL7 Navi:
As tested: $31,749 [$37,995 Cdn]
Base price for the FWD JX starts at: $22,899 [$30,995 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $635 U.S. / $1,395 Canada

Fuel Consumption:  [Regular Fuel]
The V-6, 4WD is listed at 17.4 mpg City [13.5 L/100 km] and 24.8 mpg Highway [9.5 L/100 km]
I averaged 18 mpg [13 L/100km] in mostly highway driving

+ PLUSES:
Typical Suzuki quality fit and finish
Amazing amount of cargo capacity
Rides like a luxury car – if that’s what you want

– MINUSES:
Uncomfortable second row and impossible third-row seating

Would I Spend My Money On It?
Yes, without a doubt if I could get it without “those” seats.

Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
“The seats aren’t the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in – they’re too hard.” “It feels a bit claustrophobic.”

Immediate Competition:
Ford Freestyle (Taurus X), Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mazda CX-9, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota Highlander

By The Numbers…
Powertrain:      3.6-litre 24-valve DOHC V-6 engine; a five-speed automatic transmission with manumatic mode; electronically controlled, on-demand all-wheel drive
Horsepower:    252 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque:          243 @ 2,300 rpm
0 – 60 mph       7.18 seconds

Interior
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Climate Control etc)

Ergonomics
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
8 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

Exterior
8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

Performance
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
10 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy
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143 Total / 150


Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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