An extra-large mini-SUV from the purveyors of extra-small econocars.
by Sue Mead
Bucking the trend to claim "go anywhere, do anything" capabilities, Suzuki's new flagship, the 2001 XL7 (XL stands for extra large) is being described by this Japanese manufacturer as an SUV that "fits."
Stretching the wheelbase of its Grand Vitara 13 inches and adding another seven inches of rear overhang, the newest model fits seven passengers. With its 4WD system that includes a low range set of gears, it now has an improved highway ride and remains a truly capable outdoors-oriented player in the back country.
While its new footprint moves this sport-utility vehicle closer to the compact segment of the SUV pack, its base pricing of $19,799 for a 2WD model (add $1200 for four-wheel drive) keeps it comparable to small sport-utes, where it can boast uniqueness as the only seven-seater in this segment. Both second- and third-row can split and fold flat, adding flexibility for a variety of practical uses.
Rear seats are designed for children and small adults but come with thick cushions, cupholders, stowage compartments and separate air conditioning and cool air controls. The XL7 boasts more cargo room than a Jeep Grand Cherokee, more front headroom than a Lexus RX300 and more standard horsepower than a Nissan Xterra.
A sleeker sport-ute
From the outside the XL7 has a longer and sleeker profile, with a more upscale, sporty and stylish image. Updating its exterior design are integrated side window graphics and a rear spoiler with a chrome front grille, door handles and door moldings and bigger, bolder side door cladding. Its ladder-frame body is supported by a MacPherson strut front suspension and a five-link rigid rear axle suspension. The Grand Vitara's V-6 has been bored to a 2.7 liters with 170 hp and produces 178 lb-ft of torque, with an increased towing capacity of 3000 lb.
Borrowing from Suzuki's motorcycle gurus, the XL7 introduces several upgrades that will significantly lessen maintenance expenses over the life of the vehicle. An innovative two-stage timing chain (used instead of a rubber timing belt) is self-lubricating, self-adjusting and maintenance free. The direct-ignition system places the ignition coils over the spark plugs to eliminate the need for a distributor and high-tension ignition wires, and a direct-drive valvetrain automatically adjusts valve tappet clearance.
Inside the XL7, the upgrades include more standard features along with more cabin utility and versatility. Extra storage can be found in under-seat storage bins, and a stowage box under the luggage compartment to keep small items out of sight. Owners will also appreciate the standard roof rails that will carry up to 100 pounds of freight. And keeping with Suzuki tradition, the XL7 has a full-sized spare tire mount outside the cargo area on the back door.
Suzuki's seventh generation SUV design will allow more comfort and room for those who frequently taxi children to and from school. The Grand Vitara XL7 is 18 inches longer than the Toyota RAV4, 10 inches longer than the Mazda Tribute or Ford Escape, and six inches longer than the Honda CRV.
The dash layout is simple and straightforward, with a standard AM/FM/cassette deck powered by four stereo speakers. Tilt steering, adjustable armrests and an automatic lighting system add comfort and convenience.
Second-generation dual airbags, child seat tether anchors and rear-door child safety locks round out the XL7's safety features. Its body structure is engineered to increase durability, safety and noise control with its front and rear crush zones, and by using high-tensile steel in the ladder box frame, it also improves safety for side-impact collisions.
For an extra $1500, buyers can upgrade to the Plus model, which adds rear air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD player and 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Another $1000 will buy the Touring model, which includes four-wheel ABS, power sunroof, cassette and CD, as well as fog lamps and others. A top-of-the-line Limited model, with specifics to be announced, will be offered sometime next spring.
American Suzuki Motor Corp, which marked its 15th year of doing business in the U.S. this year and has experienced a nearly 30-percent increase in sales for 2000 (over 60,000 units) over last year, hopes to sell some 30,000 2001 XL7s, with seventy-five percent as 4WD versions. Suzuki believes XL7 buyers will be between the ages of 25-54, with more females (70 percent) and more married couples (70 percent) and an average annual income of $72,000. The new model goes on sale in December.
According to Suzuki officials, more than 75 percent of Grand Vitaras were "conquest sales," meaning buyers had never bought a Suzuki before. This penetration in an increasingly competitive market says good things for Suzuki, who hopes this upscale model will draw even more defectors from the major brands.
2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL7
Base price range: $19,799-20,999
Engine: 2.7-liter V-6, 170 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 110.2 in
Length: 183.7 in
Width: 70.1 in
Height: 67.5 in (2WD); 68.0 in (4WD)
Curb Weight: 3582 lb (manual); 3703 lb (auto)
EPA (cty/hwy): 18/20 mpg (manual); 17/20 mpg (auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard features: V-6 engine, air conditioning, power steering, windows, locks & mirrors; cruise control, keyless remote entry, privacy glass
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
© 2000 The Car Connection