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  • Writer's pictureRoger Witherspoon

Long Range Cruising In Suzuki’s SUV

By Roger Witherspoon


The welcome sign was withdrawn from the highway slicing through Virginia’s

Blue Ridge Mountains, replaced by a driving rain driven by winds whipping through the

Shenandoah Valley at up to 50 miles per hour. Conditions did not change over the next

400 miles, with the rain and gusts slicing through Pennsylvania’s Poconos. The wide,

graded, interstate highways were slick from about an inch of water and emergency crews

struggled to keep up with a steady stream of accidents.

These were the kinds of conditions which prompt some motorists to pull into the

nearest motel and wait for a sunny day. But I was cross country cruising in a Suzuki XL-

7, the largest of the Japanese carmaker’s SUV fleet, which was designed to be as

comfortable and effective in the worst of weather as it was on a sunny summer day.

The experience starts on the outside of XL-7, a relatively sleek, low, streamlined

frame for a full sized SUV. By avoiding the boxy frame common to many full sized

SUVs with three rows of seats, the XL-7’s airframe slides through the strongest, sudden,

side blasts of air so you are not constantly fighting the wheel to maintain control. It helps

that the XL-7 has electronically controlled all wheel drive and independent front and rear

suspensions which constantly adjust to shifting road conditions.

The rain in West Virginia dropped visibility to about three car lengths and I was

cruising at about 50 miles per hour in the right lane when lights from a speeding, double-

trailer truck suddenly filled the rear windshield. There was no time to do anything but

swerve sharply into the left lane as the truck roared by in a cloud of spray. It could have

been an unstable transition – an SUV is not intended to be driven like a sports car – but

the Suzuki handled like one, its 17-inch wheels firmly biting through the water-logged

roadway while the traction control prevented even the slightest skid. If safety is a feature

you look for when hauling your family around, you might want to add the XL-7 to your


Inside, the guys with Suzuki’s crayons added a number of features to justify the

$30,000 price tag. There is actual wood trim accenting the two tone leather seats, rather

than the wood-like plastic usually found in vehicles in this price range. To make the long

distance drive enjoyable, Suzuki added XM satellite radio to the AM/FM lineup, and an

easy to use, touch screen navigation system. There is also an MP3 and iPod connection,

which lets you bring your own favorite 1,000 or so musicians along for the ride. You can

add a DVD player with wireless headphones, but only if you eliminate the sunroof and

navigation system.

The XL-7 has three full rows of seats, though there is not much room between the

second and third rows. The last row, therefore, is basically for passengers in child seats or

youngsters who recently grew out of them. The first two rows, however, have enough

room for the average NBA player to comfortably roll across the countryside. The driver’s

seat is powered, while the rest are manually operated. But they are wide, padded, and

comfortable on long hauls. The heat is especially appreciated on long trips. The front

passenger seat, as well as the seats in the second and third rows, fold flat to turn the SUV

into a cargo van. And if the load is heavy, there is an automatic, hydraulic leveling

function which prevents the XL-7 from being off balance and sagging in the rear.

The XL-7 has a remote ignition built into the key, which starts the engine and the

climate control, and is effective up to 200 feet away. That lets y9u sit comfortably inside

your home on a winter day, point the key out of a convenient window and warm up the

car. If the temperature is below 41 degrees, it automatically turns on the heat in the

driver’s seat.

With the XL-7, Suzuki has packed a lot into a relatively low cost package. Rain or

shine, it will comfortably take you wherever you want to go.

2008 Suzuki XL7 Ltd.

MSRP: $29,548

EPA Mileage: 15 MPG City 22 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage: 13.8 MPG City 19.2 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity: 3,500 Pounds

Performance/ Safety:

3.6-Liter DOHC aluminum engine producing 252 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of

torque; electronic all wheel drive; 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift

mode; 17-inch chrome alloy wheels; fog lamps; anti-lock brakes; electronic brake force

distribution; side curtain airbags.

Interior/ Comfort:

Remote keyless entry and ignition; AM/FM XM satellite radio; 6-disc CD and MP3

player; rear vision camera; touch-screen navigation system; tilt, leather wrapped steering

wheel with fingertip


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