Introduced during the 2001 model year and badged as the Grand Vitara XL-7, Suzukis newest and largest model is marketed under the XL-7 designation alone in order to draw a distinction between it and the smaller Grand Vitara. The XL-7 name denotes the vehicles seven-passenger capacity; it is designed with two bucket seats in front, a three-place bench in the center and a split, folding rear seat that holds two. The Grand Vitara, in contrast, seats only five.
For 2002, the standard XL-7 seats five occupants, but upscale models hold seven. Suzuki has designed a new, flat load floor for all models. The XL-7s V-6 engine gets a 13-horsepower boost for 2002. Four-wheel-drive models get heated mirrors, and the Limited 4WD comes with heated front seats. Antilock brakes are now standard with 4WD, and all models add LATCH child-safety seat tethers.
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the XL-7 received the worst score of seven midsize SUVs tested for damage in a 5-mph bumper impact. The total damage in four tests came to $5,802, in what the IIHS called a terrible showing, the worst of a generally bad lot.
Suzuki is one of the smaller Japanese manufacturers and has specialized in small cars and SUVs for years. The Swift subcompact has been dropped, so now only one passenger car, the Esteem, is left in the Suzuki lineup, which includes a total of four SUVs. General Motors owns a stake in Suzuki, but no plans have been announced to share the XL-7 with GM.
Its easy to see the family resemblance between the XL-7 and Grand Vitara. But at 110.2 inches, the XL-7s wheelbase is more than a foot longer than the Grand Vitaras, and the XL-7s overall length is 19 inches greater at 183.7 inches. Like other Suzuki SUVs, the XL-7 is built on a truck chassis. A side-hinged tailgate opens to the right.
Seven seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration. The middle seat and split rear seat both fold down but are not removable. Five-passenger models lack the third-row seat.
Under the Hood
Equipped with either rear-drive or four-wheel drive, the XL-7 carries a 2.7-liter V-6 engine that now produces 183 hp, up from 170 hp in previous models. A four-speed-automatic and five-speed-manual transmission are available. Antilock brakes are standard.
Performance is eager enough, though not startling, and Suzukis automatic transmission yields quick, crisp shifts. The XL-7 maneuvers easily through corners and curves, and it exhibits a bit of body lean but not to a troubling degree. It is easy to drive and demands only slight correction on the highway. Ride quality isnt particularly rough, ranking just above the SUV norm, but you do notice nearly all of the pavement imperfections.
Front-seat occupants get plenty of space, but the second row is a little short on legroom and would be a squeeze for three occupants. With the third-row seats in place, theres only a narrow cargo shelf at the rear. Looking into the inside rearview mirror, the second- and third-row headrests can be more distracting than the spare tire that protrudes up into the back window.