2007 Suzuki XL7
The 2007 Suzuki XL7 is taller, wider, and longer than the 2006 model it replaces, and it has almost 70 more horsepower and 60 lb-ft of torque, but its EPA mileage ratings actually improve over last year's 2WD model. It is powered by a 3.6L DOHC V-6 designed by General Motors and built under license by Suzuki in Japan. It's essentially a slightly modified version of the engine you'd find under the hood of a Cadillac SRX or the upcoming Saturn Outlook. The 252hp V-6 is mated to a five-speed automatic that offers smooth shifting and proved to be a perfect match to both the engine and the vehicle. During normal part-throttle cruising, engine rpm were usually below 2,000 and the engine was remarkably quiet. Once the throttle was mashed to the floor, the stainless steel dual exhaust woke up a bit, and while it didn't have the rumble of a V-8, the exhaust note was a nice surprise.

The driving circuit Suzuki had planned took us through the winding hills of Rancho Santa Fe, California, and into the narrow dirt roads of the Barona Indian Reservation. A good portion of the dirt road was imprinted with the tracks of crawler tractors, so we got a good feel of one of the worst-case scenarios as far as vibration is concerned. After a few miles of bumping along, we were sure that anything that wasn't securely bolted on would have shaken loose, but there weren't any discernable interior rattles. Torque-steer popped up a few times when accelerating out of parking lots, but the remainder of the time the suspension left the XL7 feeling sure-footed.

The interior of the XL7 puts most of the controls at easy reaching distance in the dash and center console, including the power window switches. We didn't have time to get used to their location on either side of the gearshift knob, but that was the only quirk we found. The optional navigation system uses a touch screen and the software is intuitive (even if it takes a few minutes to get acquainted). Expect highly optioned XL7s to reach just past $30,000.

2007 Suzuki SX4
We took a break from driving the XL7 to try the Suzuki SX4. This model is aimed at a niche in the compact utility segment, slightly larger and more powerful than the Honda Fit and the Scion Xa, and smaller than the Toyota Matrix and Dodge Caliber (while still offering 95% of their interior volume). Both standard and sport trim levels feature a three-mode all-wheel drive: 2WD for economy, four-wheel lock for low-speed (up to 35 mph) slippery conditions like icy roads, and automatic AWD that senses wheel slip and applies power to the rear wheels when needed. Suzuki hopes to make it the most affordable AWD vehicle in North America.

On the winding roads around Rancho Santa Fe, the SX4's 143hp 2.0L engine was fun to drive when backed with the five-speed manual thanks in part to a low final drive ratio that made for quick acceleration. The disadvantage is that the automatic, with its taller gears, yields better mileage. We expected a significant amount of body roll just by looking at the relatively high roofline of the SX4, but cornering is definitely one of its strong suits, possibly because we're used to driving trucks and possibly because the Suzuki designers really sorted out the suspension.

Engine
3.6L DOHC V-6

Horsepower
252@6,500 rpm SAE

Torque (lb-ft)243@2,300 rpm SAE

Transmission5-speed automatic w/manual mode

Drivetrain
FWD (AWD optional)

Axle Ratio
2.48:1

Suspension
Independent MacPherson strut suspension with coil springs (f); four-link with coil springs (r)

Brakes
Four-wheel ABS, traction control, and electronic stability program are standard

Wheelbase
112.4 in

Turning (curb-to-curb)
41.8 ft

Height
68.9 in

Width
72.2 in

Approach Angle17.5 deg

Departure Angle20 deg

Curb Weight
3,886 lbs (2WD); 4,049 lbs (AWD)

Max Trailer Weight
3,500 lbs

Seating2/3/2

MPG (EPA estimate)
18/24 (FWD)
17/23 (AWD)