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New models - Suzuki - XL-7 - 5-dr wagon

Suzuki's XL-7 excels off-road

At a stretch: The XL-7 is the largest vehicle built by Suzuki.

Suzuki aims to reclaim its share of the recreational 4WD market with the seven-seat XL-7

13 Jul 2001

OVERSHADOWED by a number of new entrants in the expansive recreational four-wheel drive market, Suzuki Australia has responded with a stretched, seven-seat version of the Grand Vitara known as XL-7.

The largest vehicle Suzuki has ever built, the XL-7 will be priced from $35,990 when it goes on sale from July 30 - $5000 clear of the top-spec five-seater Vitara - and will feature a tempting amount of equipment in conjunction with the seven seats.

Air-conditioning (front and rear), dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, single-slot CD stereo, 16-inch alloy wheels and uprated V6 power will all be included in the package.

And true to form, Suzuki has made few compromises when it comes to traversing rugged terrain.

Pitched at medium-sized Australian families and perhaps the least likely of all Suzuki four-wheel drives to depart from the bitumen, the XL-7 nonetheless brings with it Vitara's tough ladder frame chassis, an excellent ground clearance of 210mm and a selectable "shift on the fly" four-wheel drive system with an extra set of ultra-low crawling gears.

Other commonalities include the overall width and height, front and rear track, the familiar live-axle rear suspension and sheetmetal such as the front quarter panels, front doors and the tailgate.

The significant points of departure between Grand Vitara and XL-7 are found under the bonnet and in seating arrangements that stem from a 505mm longer wheelbase.

Suzuki engineers have increased capacity of the Vitara's DOHC, 24-valve V6 engine from 2.5 to 2.7-litres, attaining 130 kilowatts at 6200rpm and 231 Newton-metres of torque at 3300rpm and keeping official fuel consumption figures - an average 10.0 litres per 100km for the standard five-speed manual version - within half a litre of the 2.5.

A four-speed automatic transmission will also be available for $1900 above the recommended retail price.

On the inside, the seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration with the centre bench perched on rails to allow a fore/aft slide and split 60/40 at both the seatback and seat base to allow each section to move independently.

The third row seatbacks also fold down 50/50 to allow long items to be stored.

Lap-sash seatbelts and head restraints are provided for six occupants - the centre position on the second row misses out - while sash height adjustment can be made from the front and second row window seats.

Suzuki Australia expects to sell 200 XL-7s per month, about the same number as Grand Vitara and enough to give it about 5 per cent of the medium all-terrain wagon segment.

It is anticipated that none of these sales will come at the expense of the five-seater model, senior management citing research which shows singles and childless couples, the target market for Vitara, are unlikely to make the step up to XL-7.

Drive impressions:

WHILE the longer wheelbase gives the XL-7 more presence on the suburban landscape, the inclusion of a third row of seats in what remains a compact vehicle drastically limits cargo space.

That would not be a problem if there were some clever aspects to the rearmost seating arrangements. But it seems the development dollars dried up before the job was done properly.

Set the split-fold in action in either the second or third row and it soon becomes apparent that there is no double-fold or tumbling actions that more effectively increase luggage space, no flat or even a seamless floor available and no possibility of seat removal.

Third row access is unnecessarily complicated and, once there, the space provided will be unsuitable for most teenagers and adults unless a (short-legged) centre-row passenger makes a concession with the seat slide function.

From the driver's seat, there is not much to tell the Grand Vitara and XL-7 apart - the gauges remain uncluttered, the seating position upright and comfortable and the major controls within arm's length.

By the same token, the temperature controls are as antiquated as ever and the stereo, though a better-sounding unit, requires a deft touch and often an extended glance away from the road.

Strong and purposeful, the 2.7-litre engine easily overcomes the 1680kg kerb weight and (unladen as tested) ensures a relaxed drive around town and on the open road, despite excessive gear hunting traits of the automatic transmission.

A brief first drive also found the rear drum brakes have insufficient fade resistance and that handling remains a weak link in the armoury, though the longer wheelbase has improved the ride.

A short stint of off-road driving also reinforced that the genuine four-wheel drive capabilities are among the best attributes of the vehicle.

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