Though Suzuki has marketed a number of compact and midsize sport-utility vehicles over the years, along with a series of passenger cars, pickup trucks have not been part of the Japanese automaker's repertoire. That's changed for the 2009 model year, even though Suzuki still doesn't manufacture a pickup for sale in the U.S. Instead, the company chose to enter into a joint venture with Nissan, to manufacture a cousin to Nissan's midsize Frontier. Both models are built at Nissan's Tennessee facility.
Evolved from a trio of concept vehicles that appeared at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2008, the production Equator is available with three trim-level option groups: Premium, Sport, and RMZ-4. Produced in Extended Cab and Crew Cab body styles, the Equator may have either a four-cylinder or V-6 engine, and two-wheel or four-wheel drive. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder develops 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. For additional vigor, the 4.0-liter V-6 produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet.
Extended Cab Equators comes in Base or Premium trim, with the four-cylinder engine and two-wheel drive. Five-speed manual shift is standard with the base four-cylinder, but Premium models and V-6 Equators come only with a five-speed automatic transmission. Sport trim mates the V-6 with automatic and either two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Crew Cab models, available in all trim levels, have the V-6 and automatic.
Aimed at serious off-roaders, the RMZ-4 version includes Dana 44 axles, an electric locking rear differential, Bilstein high-performance shock absorbers, skid plates, and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail P265/75R16 tires. Also standard are foglamps, chrome mirrors and door handles, plus a bed extender that can accommodate a motorcycle. Suzuki has been best known for motorcycles, and can now offer its customers a pickup of the same brand for hauling their two-wheelers.
Up to five occupants can fit inside either Equator cab. Suzuki styling elements are evident at the hood, front fenders, grille, bumpers, and tailgate.
Built on a fully boxed frame, Equators have a relatively lengthy (125.9-inch) wheelbase and measure 206.6 inches long overall. Up front is a double-wishbone suspension, with a solid axle and overslung leaf springs bringing up the rear. Equators may have either 16- or 17-inch wheels.
Flip-up rear seats and a fold-flat front passenger seat are standard. So are a locking dual glovebox, plus one-liter bottle holders integrated into front doors. Options include leather-appointed and heated seats, a power driver's seat, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, and a Rockford Fosgate audio system.
Suzuki's available "shift-on-the-fly" part-time four-wheel-drive system uses a two-speed transfer case. The company claims that a properly-equipped Equator can tow up to 6,500 pounds.
Standard anti-lock all-disc braking includes electronic brake-force distribution. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard, along with curtain-type airbags. Three-point front seatbelts have pretensioners and load limiters. Vehicle Dynamic Control (Suzuki's term for stability enhancement) is available only on the RMZ-4 model. Crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Extended Cab Equator a four-star rating for the driver, and five-star for for the front passenger, in a frontal impact. The Crew Cab model scored four stars for both positions.
As expected, the Equator rides, handles, and performs much like its Frontier cousin. Blending impressive refinement with a touch of roughness, the Equator yields a somewhat harsh and bouncy ride, hitting some obstacles quite hard. Otherwise, it provides a reasonably enjoyable pickup-truck experience.
Gear changes are prompt, though noticeable, with the five-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is ample with V-6 power, and that engine is comparatively quiet. Slightly heavy steering imparts a more confident feeling of control.
Front occupants benefit from well-cushioned, comfortable seats. White-on-black gauges are conventional but easy to read, and the driver enjoys a full set of instruments. Rear-seat legroom is skimpy, but climate control is highly effective in chilly weather.
Equator sales begin in late autumn of 2008. Like Nissan's Frontier, the Equator competes against such pickups as the Dodge Dakota and Toyota Tacoma.
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