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Second-Hand: Suzuki XL-7

Planning a bank heist? Drive a Suzuki XL-7 and you can be assured that no eyewitness will be able to identify your getaway vehicle.

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Planning a bank heist?

Drive a Suzuki XL-7 and you can be assured that no eyewitness will be able to identify your getaway vehicle.

A problem for corporate head office (and police) perhaps, but it reeks of opportunity for used-car shoppers looking for a good, obscure sport-utility that doesn’t command a premium.

What is it with Suzuki, anyway?

Unlike Honda and BMW, which build both hot cars and motorcycles, Suzuki managed to get its two-wheeled products on everybody’s gotta-have-it list, but its cars and SUVs have amounted to also-rans here in North America.

Perhaps the 2007 SX4 five-door crossover, replacing the Aerio wagon, will change that.


CONFIGURATION

Based on the 1999 Grand Vitara, the new-for-2001 XL-7 benefited from a 32 cm wheelbase stretch and an overall length almost 28 cm greater than a Ford Escape.

Think of it as a Grand, Grand Vitara.

Its elongated body allowed Suzuki to stuff a split-folding, third-row bench in the back, the first mid-size SUV to offer one. Access was aided by especially generous rear doors and second-row seats that folded out of the way neatly.

The rest of the cabin was cast in lots of low-rent, hard plastic that offered few cubbyholes for a family’s flotsam. Suzuki didn’t scrimp on the seats at least; they were well bolstered and comfortable, although some owners found them a little stiff.

As advertised, the XL-7 seated seven, though occupancy of the third-row seats should be restricted to young children and shrinking grandparents. The third-row bench was standard only in 2001; after that, the base model came as a five-seater.

With the rear-most seats in use, the cargo area was measly. The full-size spare tire was mounted on the back door, which swung inconveniently toward the curb.

The XL-7 was built the old-fashioned way: body-on-frame, with a stout ladder frame providing a good foundation. There’s little movement between the two assemblies.

Equipped with independent MacPherson struts with coil springs up front and a rigid axle suspended by a five-link setup in the rear, the XL-7 was well equipped for duty on and off the road.

Unlike competing cute-utes such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, the XL-7 was the real deal: it used a part-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case.

You can shift into four-wheel drive on the fly, and there’s a low range for goat-like rock climbing, just like a Jeep YJ. The 4WD system had to be disengaged on dry pavement, however, leaving the rear wheels to do the work.

If you own a land-yacht motorhome, take note: “The 4×4 model can be towed with all four wheels down, with the transfer case placed in neutral,” blogged an owner. Try that in an all-wheel-drive RAV4.

The XL-7 was powered by an all-aluminum, DOHC 2.7-litre V6 that put out 170 hp and 178 lb.-ft. of torque. This was an enlarged version of the 2.5-litre that propelled the Grand Vitara.

Buyers could choose between a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission.

Engineers found an additional 13 hp for 2002, while the nondescript instrument panel and console were redesigned for 2003. The exterior was given a minor freshening, along with push-button 4×4 engagement and a five-speed automatic, for 2004.


ON THE ROAD

The XL-7 offers a surprisingly compliant ride on and off the road, thanks to its well-sorted suspension. Yes, it generates only 0.70 g of grip on a circular skidpad; then again, that’s better than a Ford Explorer or Mercedes-Benz ML320 can muster.

Owners cited the truck for its secure and steady ride in all but the windiest conditions. The XL-7 was also extremely capable off road, especially in low range.

The engine sounds the way a contemporary four-cam aluminum engine should: expensive. The V6 pushes the relatively lightweight XL-7 to 96 km/h in 9.3 seconds with the manual transmission, and 9.7 seconds with the slushbox.

Braking is relatively good, requiring 58 metres to haul down from a speed of 112 km/h.

Don’t let the small engine displacement fool you into thinking this truck is a gas sipper. Owners calculated real-world gas mileage at around 13 L/100 km — worse if you have a lead foot.


WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Owners told us the XL-7 is easy to live with. Given its small-ute origins, it’s nimble, with enough room inside to suit most families.

“Good visibility. Easy to park and manoeuvre. Cute styling,” rhymed off an ’01 XL-7 owner.

“I don’t feel guilty driving an SUV.”

Assembled in Japan, the XL-7 can exhibit a few unbecoming mechanical glitches just the same.

The most common gripe had to do with the tires, which were not long for this world.

“It literally eats tires every 25,000 km,” said one owner.

More disconcerting were short-lived air conditioners, oxygen sensors and chain tensioners.

The keyless entry system has been known to fail, and the drivetrain may drip oil.

These are not chronic problems, however, and this Suzuki distinguishes itself by providing mostly good reliability for a decent price.

“I’m stepping down from a 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser,” blogged an ’02 owner.

“This was the only little ute to meet my criteria between a mix of true truck-like utility and durability, and on-road manners and economy.”


We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Chevrolet Monte Carlo,

Infiniti G35 sedan and coupe, and Porsche 911.

Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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