On the other side of the Pacific, the folks at Suzuki have been busy listening to their dedicated buyer-base; something other automobile manufacturers claim to do with focus groups that rarely result in anything the average Joe would have ever requested. Suzuki however listened well – “we need something to haul our dirt bikes, ATV’s and watercraft with, and it should be a capable 4-wheel drive”.
As one of the largest makers of Powersports products (watercraft, ATV’s, motorcycles, dirt bikes, etc.), the Japanese-owned company has a fiercely loyal buyer base and over 50% of those owners use pickup trucks to haul their toys with. Full-size truck sales are in a slump, but mid-sized and their petite brethren are on an uptick. Suzuki’s logic; brand-loyal Powersports riders will now have a same-brand truck to haul their goods with. Any Equator Suzuki does sell, would be a sale that would have gone to another manufacturer so every sale is a win. Add to the equation that Suzuki saved a ton of dough by partnering with Nissan on the deal (the Suzuki Equator is largely based upon the Nissan Frontier – conjoined twins, sharing the same chassis, powertrain and Tennessee birthplace), and you have a winning solution.
Our Suzuki Equator RMZ-4 showed up in the nick of time. Delivered on a Monday morning, the next two days North Dallas was blessed (for us, that is) with an epic ice storm that all but shut down the entire city. A thick sheet of ice coated every horizontal surface in a 100 mile radius, and only those who were mentally-challenged or those with four-wheel drive vehicle ventured out of their domiciles. Perhaps we’re a bit of both, but regardless we had to be somewhere both days.
This would prove to be a tough test for any vehicle, and likely one that would quickly show any vehicle’s weaknesses as we had a full schedule for the RMZ-4 Equator – road trip, city driving, off-road trails, and now ice-storm driving.
The Equator’s interior, like the rest of the truck, is largely based upon the Nissan Frontier, so don’t expect unique innards. Our test truck, the RMZ-4 (off-road) edition, is designed with simplicity in mind and doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles, but different vehicle packages do offer GPS, a Rockford Fosgate sound system and more. The RMZ-4 however, does offer a decent enough sounding stereo system will fill the interior with your favorite tunes. The gauges are very easy to read and well lit, and the controls for the climate system and stereo are well within reach of the driver and easy to use. The seats are very comfortable, well bolstered and hold both driver and passenger firmly in place during off-road sessions, yet provide enough comfort for a 2 hour drive. The driver and passengers’ box provides even tall drivers with ample leg, hip and shoulder room, but the cabin does seem small and tight. One passenger described the interior as “cozy” and we believe that it could stand to have more width to it. Overall, the interior of the RMZ-4 edition Suzuki Equator was lackluster, but that’s by design – and we like it that way.
The real heart behind the Suzuki equator is the optional 4.0-liter, V6 DOHC engine (also available, a 2.5-liter inline 4 cylinder) which produces a very smooth 261 horsepower and 281 lb.-ft. of torque – ample power to tow boats, motorcycles, ATV’s and even larger items. In the seat of your pants, you’ll feel every bit of this too, and it feels much more like 300 horsepower when you mash the go-go pedal to the floorboard. The engine revs nicely throughout the power band and produces every bit of power that you’ll need, and then some.
When pouring the coals to the engine, the 5-speed automatic, overdrive transmission hangs onto the high RPM’s in between shifts, a slightly annoying condition where one may be saying out loud “shift, already.” We were able to overcome this condition by feathering the throttle slightly at the shift point. During normal driving conditions – both on and off-road – the truck’s transmission shifted quite normally.
The transfer case has two-speeds and is electronically controlled. The low range gears are 2.625:1, which gives the truck a crawl ratio of 33.86:1 – respectable.
As previously mentioned, our first impression of the truck would either be hateful or loving, due to a thick sheet of ice that adorned the greater Dallas, TX area. We put our first 100 or so miles on this truck in 4-wheel drive, negotiating steep, frozen toll way onramps, side streets and just about every other byway. Our very first impression… extremely competent. The Equator RMZ-4 pickup truck did incredibly well in these adverse conditions, far exceeding our pick-up truck expectations; feeling more like a combination of an all-wheel drive mid-sized SUV and an armored troop transport, than a tail slinging pickup truck. The 4-wheel drive system, coupled with its Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Hill Descent Control (HDC), and Hill Start Assist (HSA) all came into play while driving on the frozen streets and ascending and descending the steep ramps, and it worked flawlessly. Even when visibility was near nil and the roads where treacherous, we felt safe, stable and secure. So safe and secure that perhaps is might inspire a more aggressive driver to exceed this vehicles’ capabilities. Regardless, it worked incredibly well. Job well done, Suzuki!
When the ice age decided to subside and the weather reached a comparatively balmy 65 degrees, we took the Equator through the twisty, hilly back roads of northern Dallas to challenge its handling and put it through its paces. The Equator comes equipped with independent front suspension, a leaf-sprung live rear axle, and Bilstein high-performance shocks at all four corners, giving it a very solid, stable feel. The Equator continued to impress us here as well.
The brake pedal is a bit too mushy for our likings, but the Equator handled weaving, curvy roads with adeptness; better than the comparable Toyota in our opinion. The Bilstein-shod suspension swallows up the largest of potholes and bumps in the road well. Throwing the truck into overly tight turns forces the body to roll ever so slightly, but overall this truck handled very well. The truck has a slightly better than average steering radius, measuring 21.6’, curb-to-curb.
At highway speeds, the Equator produced a fair amount of wind noise, but it was not unbearable.
We headed to an off-road trail not too far away, knowing good and well that the recent ice melt would turn this rutted, hilly, clay-dirt trail into an intermittent mud fest – certainly tougher than a typical trail that most people would take their truck on.
Testing in 4-wheel high range and 4-wheel low range, with and without the rear locker, the Suzuki Equator took everything we could throw at it. It provided exceptional traction in all instances, and even when we wanted to spin the tires for a good photo shoot, it proved difficult to do as the 4-wheel drive system coupled with the BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires just simply hooked up too well.
When engaged in 4-wheel drive low range, the 33.86:1 crawl ratio seems to be the perfect balance of crawl speed and torque-providing power, but not so low that it lurched uncontrollably or required high rpm’s to give the truck forward momentum. Entering bumper-scraping deep ruts was easy enough with this crawl ratio as a driver can simply ease into a situation and give it enough gas to drive out – a simple point-and-shoot driving experience that works equally well for both veteran off-roaders and rookies alike.
What impressed us the most though, was the trucks stability and traction. We managed to find an obstacle that pitched the truck at an aggressive angle to the driver’s side, cross up the suspension, and push the passenger side tire about 1 foot in the air. The truck never felt tippy or uncontrolled; again it simply went where we pointed it, with sincere conviction.
At higher speeds, the Equator is just as stable and soaks up all but the very worst bumps, ruts and pits. Even at 30+ mph, the trucks suspension jostled violently, but inside the cab things were controlled and at ease. In a nutshell, this truck is built for off road use and works incredibly well.
It’s not too often that we are overly impressed with new 4-wheel drive trucks and SUV’s, and there are even fewer vehicles that we simply don’t want to give back to the press fleet when we’re done, but the Suzuki Equator delivered in a really big way and we were hesitant to give the keys back to the porter.
In typical Suzuki fashion the price-to-value ratio is exceptional, delivering a one-two knockout punch to the competition. Our RMZ-4 edition Equator rang in at about $28,000, and an equally-equipped Toyota Tacoma TRD will set you back about $32,000.
The RMZ-4 is an off-road edition truck that is sated with 4-wheel drive goodies including a switchable rear locker that worked perfectly. Most trucks can’t deliver a good balance of on-road and off-road prowess, but the Equator feels equally at home in both scenarios.
The Equator is easy to drive, has plenty of power, and handles adverse conditions and trails like nobody’s business. With the powerful 4.0-liter engine and a fully boxed frame, the Equator has a very respectable maximum towing capacity of 6,500 pounds. This truck is a well-designed vehicle that will surely please even the most persnickety truck buyer.
The ’06 Suzuki Grand Vitara is all new and offers sleek new styling, a larger …