2008 Suzuki XL7 Limited-Navigation Review
By Kevin Miller
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is certainly true in the case of the Suzuki XL7 I recently spent a week with. The XL7 mid-sized crossover is a close cousin of the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, and its full complement of GM switchgear shouts that fact out. The cheap feel and look to the interior materials didn’t help the XL7’s case either. Exterior styling, especially at the front end, is very polarizing. During my time with the XL7, I met people who loved how the vehicle looked. I also met people who didn’t share that opinion.
The interior is said to be leather-appointed, though the only leather I could positively identify was on atop the bottom cushion and back cushion of the two front seats, on the steering wheel, and on the gear selector boot. The two rows of rear seats and all other surfaces of the front seats were made from gray vinyl, as were the parts of the door upholstery which weren’t hard, molded plastic. The interior had a heady scent of real vinyl, which was emphasized by the feel of the upholstery.
The front seats were rather flat and unsupportive, with too-soft batting around the edges which compressed significantly when sat on, leaving the seat feeling lumpy and convex. There is no passenger assist handle for the front seat passenger; combined with the high seating position and unsupportive seats, my wife complained of “rolling around” in the front seat without anything to hold on to.
My XL7 was equipped with a GM-sourced in-dash navigation infotainment system, which controls navigation, AM/FM/XM, and the single-disc CD player. I commenced a navigation route, turned off the stereo, and the navigation stopped as well. The stereo has to be on in order for the navigation to function. The was easy to enter a destination into the system, and the navigation itself worked well. The small “tabs” on the touchscreen to select preset stations can be difficult to read in some lighting conditions and were easy to miss when trying to change stations. The system did not incorporate a Bluetooth cell phone connection.
The XL7 Limited has a sunroof, which is controlled by an unmarked plastic switch in the ceiling console. It also has automatic climate control with a single zone for front seats, plus a rear climate zone which can be controlled from the front or from a rear controller. Below the climate controller are very small buttons for the odometer and driver info display, as well as, oddly enough, for the rear window wiper and washer.
The analog speedo, tach, temp, and fuel gages were very legible and nice looking. The electronic display between the major instruments uses white LEDs to display Driver Info Center messages; the white LEDs washed out and became unreadable when sunlight hit the instruments. The dashboard materials looked and felt low-end, and were hard and hollow when tapped. Cushier plastic was on the center console armrest, but not the door armrest. The doors themselves had very small, narrow pockets and flat, shapeless interior trim made entirely of gray plastic. The power window switches are arrayed on each side of the console-mounted gear shifter, whose selector blocks the driver’s view of the switches for the passenger side windows depending on which gear is selected. The second-rate fit of the trim around those switches didn’t do much to help my impression of the XL7’s assembly.
The center console has a lot of handy storage in it: a retractable-lid-covered dual cup holder, which was chintzy-looking but did a good job holding beverages, and could be removed to access a tall, narrow storage space that could house a laptop computer with a 12 V power outlet inside. A two-level storage compartment under the driver’s right elbow was also quite spacious. Many of the materials, though, used on the dash, center console and other bins and trims, seem as though they could have been sourced from Rubbermaid.
The XL7 shares with its GM cousins the unique setup of having three LATCH points on the second-row seats, so that three child seats can be secured in that row. The second-row seat, which is not adjustable fore-aft, has plenty of legroom, and would certainly fit any combination of child seats there, either forward- or rear-facing. With child seats in both outboard positions, however, the third row becomes inaccessible. The rear-seat climate control on my test vehicle did a fine job cooling down the rear cabin of the XL7.
The big Suzuki’s third-row seats are easy to set up or fold down, because the folding latches and setup-straps are accessible when standing behind the vehicle with the back door open. The third row can be raised in halves, so either the left side or right side seat can be set up independently. The third row is accessed by fold-and-tumbling either side of the 60/40 split second row forward. In order to fold both rows of seats flat for maximum cargo, the third row’s headrests must be removed. Legroom in the third row is minimal, making the seats inhabitable only by children or vertically-challenged adults.
The cargo floor is completely flat when the seats are folded (the front passenger seat folds flat too to extend cargo space). There is a hinged, lidded bin under the floor behind the third-row seats. Unfortunately that bin’s lid can’t hold itself open. So while the bin is convenient for keeping grocery bags or small items from sliding around the cargo bay, it will flop closed onto grocery bags and squash any unsuspecting produce. A small, uncovered well on the right-side of the cargo floor is necessary for accommodating the jack-access panel, but allows things to fall in and get lost.
Sadly, the XL7 is uninspiring to drive. The Suzuki’s V6 was powerful enough accelerate the nearly-3900-pound weight of the vehicle once underway, and there was plenty of power to spin the inside-front tire of the front-wheel-drive test vehicle when setting off from a stop and rounding a corner. The brakes seemed only marginally suited to bringing all of the Suzuki’s mass to a halt. The 5-speed automatic transmission can be manually shifted, but I found very little joy in doing so. Operating the turn signals caused a tinny, 1980s blinker sound to be emitted from the dashboard. A lot of road noise makes its way in to the cabin. The parking brake is on the floor of the vehicle beside the center console, a long reach down from the driver’s seat. The A, C, and D pillars each create significant blind spots for quickly looking around in traffic.
Driving the XL7 at night, it seems that the designers didn’t attempt to color coordinate the interior lighting. The instruments have white lettering with red pointers, and the info display uses red pixels, making the information white. All of the controls illuminate in red, and the Nav/CD system illuminates blue. The small red-illuminated buttons on the infotainment system are very difficult to read at night as they are literally outshone by the display screen. Dissonant colors also exist for the passenger airbag on/off display immediately ahead of the gear selector.
Suzuki kindly put a comparison sheet in the glove box of the XL7, showing me how the XL7 favorably compares to the (2007) Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. While I haven’t experienced the Pilot, I can say without a doubt that the Murano and the Highlander offer significantly nice interior design and materials, they’re in an entirely different league than the XL7. Perhaps the Toyota RAV-4 would have been a better vehicle for Suzuki to compare its XL7 with. Having spent a week in a Highlander Sport earlier this year, I can truthfully say that the XL7 is simply outclassed by the Highlander, which is probably one of the reasons why the Suzuki costs less. The Suzuki’s 7 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty is 2 years and 40,000 miles longer than the warranty on each of the other three comparative vehicles.
The more-powerful Highlander also gets better fuel economy than the XL7, the Toyota being rated 18/24 vs a 16/22 rating for the Suzuki. I managed to achieve 16.5 MPG for my mostly-suburban week with the vehicle, which is about the same I got from the Highlander.
The fully-loaded FWD Suzuki XL7 with Navigation costs $27,299 before destination, and includes 252 HP, 3.5L V6 with 5-speed automatic transmission, remote starting, heated front seats, a driver’s seat with power fore/aft/height (but manual rake adjustment with a clumsy-feeling lever), in-dash navigation/infotainment system with AM/FM/XM plus a single-disc CD, back-up camera (displayed in a tiny rectangle on the rear-view mirror, rather than on the nice big navigation screen), and “Leather Appointed Interior”. It is fairly inexpensive for the vehicle’s size and equipment level.
After my fabulous experience with Suzuki’s SX-4, I was looking forward to sampling another one of their vehicles. Unfortunately the XL-7 lacks the spunk of its smaller sibling. Though less expensive than its competitors, it seems that the price difference is merely a matter of getting what you pay for. In exchange for costing less money, the XL7 is less enjoyable than its competitors.
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