2009 Suzuki Equator RMZ4 Extended: The pick-up world gains a new player
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Few motorcycle, ATV, or marine product aficionados realize that Suzuki began in the textile business as Suzuki Loom Company in Hamamatsu, Japan in 1909. Building a solid machine-building reputation within Japan’s silk-weaving industry, the company embarked on a compact automobile project in 1937, but they were derailed by World War II and their commitment to the Japanese war effort. The company moved on to motor-powered bicycles in the early 1950s and by 1954, were producing 6,000 motorcycles a month, which necessitated a name-change to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. In 1955, Suzuki’s first mass-produced automobile, the Suzulight, hit the market. They soon moved on to add marine outboard motors and ATVs to their arsenal in the mid-1970s. Along the way, Suzuki added small automobiles, jeeplike vehicles and small SUVs. Now, in its 100th year, the company has produced its first pick-up, a mid-sized one that is not entirely all-new and original.
Realizing that Suzuki has a loyal following in its motorcycle, marine engine and ATV customers, the company figured it was time to let them tow their toys with a Suzy pick-up. Teaming with Nissan, Suzuki has created the Suzuki Equator mid-size pick-up. It is essentially a Nissan Frontier (though its front end resembles the Toyota Tacoma), with a Frontier platform and Nissan engines. It is even built at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant, but it does carry the Suzuki badge, the Equator nameplate and “RMZ-4 Offroad Sport” decals.
Given the down-trending state of the truck market, this is a curious time for Suzuki to enter the genre, but its joint venture with Nissan is focused. Suzuki’s first foray into the pick-up world, the Equator, is built for those with an active lifestyle, who need a short-bed rather than a long-bed and an extended cab or crew cab to transport family or extreme-event buddies to the nearest mud bog, off-road trail or lake, along with their other Suzuki products.
Powered by a standard 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 that metes out 261 horses and 284 pound-feet of torque, the plant is mated to a five-speed automatic, but a six-speed manual transmission is also offered. The system will accommodate a towing capacity of 6500 pounds, and the vehicle is EPA rated at 15mpg in city driving and 20mpg on the highway. A full week of tests achieved about 15mpg in stop-and-go township and borough traffic, while my Interstate mileage was well above 21, to bring my seven-day average to 19.2mpg. With a fun, change-on-the-fly 2WD/4WD setting, I found that driving pavement in 2WD is the better economy setting, but there’s tons of fun and capability off-road once 4WD high or 4WD low are engaged.
With a curb weight of 4125 lbs., of which 57 percent is up front, the ride is relatively silent in the cabin and confident on the road; and it drives and rides like a truck. Acceleration is slow, but steady, and you can expect an 8-second trip from zero-to-60mph, as our test vehicle showed, en route to a 16.2-second quarter mile.
The part-time 4WD system, electronic locking rear differential, limited-slip traction control, vehicle dynamic control, hill descent control and hill hold control work well off-road, with 16-inch off-road-style wheels and BFGoodrich rugged trail P265/75R16 tires. Seventeen-inch wheels and tires are also offered.
On the asphalt, engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering proved responsive at speed, though the vehicle wants to stop at low speed in tight turns.
While the underpinnings and mechanical/electrical personality is all Frontier, Suzuki has added its own personality outside. The Equator with extended cab measures 206.6 inches in length, 72.8 inches in width and 69.7 inches in height on a 125.9-inch wheelbase, with ground clearance of 9.8 inches, a step-in height of 19.9 inches and bed depth of 18 inches, with a bed-width of 58.8 inches at the tailgate.
The cabin is somewhat austere, but you do get easy-to-read gauges, air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, power door locks, remote keyless entry and manual-adjustment front buckets. Other trim levels and the crew cab version include upgraded electronics and sound system, but my test vehicle was built for price and ruggedness.
Interior dimensions show head room of 39.7 inches up front and 38.3 in the extended cab, leg room of 42.4 and 25.4 and shoulder room of 58.3 and 54.9.
Equator addresses safety concerns with a standard driver and passenger advanced air bag system, supplemental roof-mounted curtain side impact and side air bags, rollover supplemental air bag, seat belt pretensioners and tire pressure monitoring system.
Passive safety includes event data recorder, side-door guard beam, energy-absorbing steering column, front crumple zones and anti-theft engine immobilizer, while other safety attributes include ABS, two-wheel active limited slip traction control and electronic brake-force distribution.
At the time of my test, Suzuki hadn't announced pricing, but the base Equator is expected to start at about $20,000 and the full bells-and-whistles crew cab should run at $31,000. A strong guess would have my test version bottom-lining at $29,000.
The Suzuki Equator is a solid way for Suzy to join the pick-up world.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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