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Expert reviewers at TheCarConnection.com consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the new 2009 Suzuki Equator to produce this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com editors also drove the Equator in order to interweave our expert opinion and help you make the right decision on a new pickup.
The 2009 Suzuki Equator is Suzuki's first modern pickup for the U.S. market, though the truck is basically a rebadged Nissan Frontier. The base model is an Extended Cab, with vestigial rear jump seats suitable only for children or storage. Moving up to the Crew Cab brings a welcome 4.0-liter V-6 as standard equipment (the base Extended Cab comes with a hard-pressed four-cylinder). The Crew Cab also offers much better rear seat accommodations, providing reasonable comfort and good utility. Two-wheel drive is standard on all Equators, with shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive optional.
Equator's base engine is Nissan's 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder with 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, available with a five-speed manual or a five-speed, electronically controlled automatic. Optional is the same stout, 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 found in the Frontier, an engine based on the award-winning VQ-series V-6 that Nissan and Infiniti use across their lineup. This optional engine is offered only with the five-speed automatic and features 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Neither engine provides overly impressive fuel efficiency, ranging from a high of 23 mpg highway with the four-cylinder and rear-wheel drive to a low of 15 mpg city with the V-6 and 4WD. In base Extended Cab versions, the Equator feels pretty sprightly and light on its feet. But option it up to a Crew Cab, V-6, four-wheel drive, and it can begin to feel ponderous and heavy, as it's now riding on a longer wheelbase and carrying around a bunch of extra steel.
The Equator follows a very traditional truck formula in a segment that is starting to embrace car-based trucks like the Honda Ridgeline. As such, a narrow cabin, a busy ride due to a live rear axle, and a somewhat noisy interior make themselves known. These same detriments become benefits when it's time for off-roading and towing, where a tough live axle, leaf springs, and a ladder frame shoulder extra weight with ease. Optional Hill-Descent Control (HDC) and Hill Start Assist (HSA) make crawling even the steepest trails a cinch. Suzuki is betting that its active-lifestyle buyers will love the Equator's capabilities and spend considerable time towing Suzuki off-road playthings (bikes, ATVs, boats) and climbing rough trails, situations where the Equator will shine and add value to the brand. Indeed, in 2WD, V-6 guise, the Equator happily tows 6,500 pounds.
Where the Equator surprises is in the versatility of its unique bed storage system. Suzuki designed a special, slanted bed-extender tailgate that quite perfectly cradles the rear wheel of a dirt bike in the short-bed, crew-cab version. With five heavy-duty C-channel aluminum rails where adjustable tracks reside, allowing flexible tie-down of various items, a standard spray-on bedliner from the factory, removable utility cleats that slide into side channels, and plenty of additional options for this rack system, the Equator is like the ridiculously equipped, well-thought-out, properly designed vehicle Pontiac always intended the Aztek to be. Minus the tent.
Why buy a Suzuki Equator over the nearly identical Nissan Frontier? For starters, it's backed by what Suzuki terms "America's #1 Warranty," a 100,000-miles/seven-year, fully transferable, zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty. This is a nice bit of peace of mind. Second, the Equator arguably looks better than the Frontier, with it more aggressively styled snout and some great options in terms of paint colors and wheels to complete the purpose-built appearance.
In terms of safety, the Suzuki Equator earns decent ratings from NHTSA, receiving a mix of four- and five-star ratings for frontal protection in the Extended Cab model but four-star ratings for Crew Cab models. Rollover ratings aren't quite as impressive, with only three stars for both 2WD models—the lowest it gets today—and a more acceptable four stars for both 4WD models. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal offset crash testing, the 2009 Suzuki Equator earned a top "good" rating. IIHS has not yet tested an Equator for side impact protection, but it gave the Equator its worst rating, "poor," for rear crash protection.