We sensed a strange aura of familiarity when we got behind the wheel of the 2007 Suzuki XL7. Ah yes, the navigation and stereo interface were the same as in the GMC Acadia (and the Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon). But wait, we had also seen the same set of buttons--near the shifter--in these other cars. Had GM bought Suzuki, and no one told us?
No, but Suzuki turned to GM for help when it decided to build a seven-seat crossover. Suzuki licensed the engine design from GM, and builds the XL7 in an Ontario, Canada, plant it owns with GM. It shares characteristics with the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, built at the same plant. The result is a car that looks as boring as any other seven-seat crossover, with a few unique Suzuki touches.
For the most part, the XL7 is a box on wheels with a few raked surfaces. The only styling cue we found appealing was the headlights, which have an interesting angular design. But the hood floating over the entire front end of the car ruins the stylistic effect of the headlights. Toward the rear, the car has ultrawide D pillars, which make a rounded window-line along the sides, a styling cue that is pretty common. Those large pillars really only serve to hamper rear-quarter visibility, and there is no rearview camera option.
The XL7 seems to have been built to meet a marketing checklist. Seven seats, check. Navigation, check. All-wheel drive, check. V-6 engine, check. It has all the equipment that defines a large, modern crossover, but not much style. What it does have going for it is price. Fully loaded and around $30,000 makes it an attractive option for people shopping according to the same checklist that was used to build the XL7.
Test the tech: Los Angeles road trip
Nothing tests out a car like a good road trip, and because we needed to go to Los Angeles for the 2008 Lexus LS 600h L launch, we drove the XL7 down from San Francisco. As we had a little extra time for the trip down, we opted to take Highway 101, a nicer drive than Interstate 5. Although we generally like the navigation system in the XL7 (which we've also seen in GM cars), it wouldn't offer up the 101 as one of its three route options, instead insisting we take I-5. Well, gadgets can be turned off.
Highway 101 runs through hills and valleys, with plenty of curves and grades, but it's straight enough to maintain speeds of 70mph for most of its length. The XL7's 3.6-liter V-6 was more than adequate to push the car along, giving us enough acceleration when we needed it for passing. And the car's handling for this type of driving was fine. But the lack of a sixth gear in the automatic transmission kept our mileage from rising above 21.8mpg, although its EPA-rated highway mileage is 23mpg.
After a few long hours driving at speed, we noticed a slow rattle from the body, a heavy and somewhat disturbing sound. We checked over the car at a rest stop, but as it seemed nothing was about to shake loose, we continued on. The rattle stayed with us for the entire trip, and while not a threat, it points toward some poor workmanship.
When we reached Los Angeles, we checked the navigation system's points-of-interest database for restaurants. It conveniently listed them based on distance from our location, but there was no way to sort by type of food. We found a nearby barbecue place and headed over for dinner.
The next day we drove back on I-5, a straight run through California's Central Valley. And we made an obligatory stop at Tommy's, a Los Angeles institution that serves hamburgers and hot dogs covered in chili. Unfortunately, we couldn't easily find the place using our navigation system, as there are many places named Tommy's, and the system didn't make it easy to sort through them. We had to rely on the old-fashioned method of spotting the restaurant off the freeway.
The XL7 got us to Los Angeles and back in relative comfort. But the drive felt like flying along in coach on a shuttle flight as opposed to ripping along in your own private jet. The car's navigation system helped in some areas, while we had to ignore it in others. With the car's 18.6-gallon tank, we made it about 90 percent of the way down before we had to refill.
In the cabin
Suzuki concentrates on making inexpensive cars, so we weren't sure what to think when we got in the cabin of the XL7 and saw wood accents on the shifter and the dashboard. The leather seats also showed that the XL7 isn't your typical Suzuki. But we have seen these elements in cars from GM and suspect Suzuki got to rummage through the parts bin at the shared plant.