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2002 Suzuki XL-7 Preview

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The original Suzuki Samurai—a purely utilitarian, go-anywhere, mini sport-ute—bought itself a lot of unearned grief when those wonderful folks at Consumer Reports years ago tried to treat it like a Ferrari. “Horrors!” they cried. “You make a tight, high-speed turn and it’ll start to turn over! This is unacceptable!”

Now, this was a vehicle that at least one Caribbean car rental agency used for rescuing the Jeep Wranglers that tourists would get stuck in beach sand. Bare-bones, diminutive and extremely light, the Samurai would only bog down when beset by build-quality gremlins.

I suppose the Consumer Reports staff recognized that the Samurai's intrinsic cuteness and low price would make it a favorite ride of ignorant teenagers, who would mistreat the little beast and get themselves killed for their troubles. Suzuki’s reaction to all this over the years this has been to steadily widen the track, add weight and lower the center of gravity over seven design generations, as well as ultimately bagging the “Samurai” brand name in favor of “Sidekick," then "Vitara,” and then, “Grand Vitara.”

XLerated

The XL-7 bowed last year as a Grand Vitara line, with a wheelbase and overall length extension, and was an immediate hit. Lengthening the wheelbase by 13 inches to 110.2 inches and adding prodigiously wide second-seat doors gave this compact sport-ute an incredible amount of entrance ease and legroom, particularly when the second-row seats were mounted on individually adjustable rails. Slapping another seven inches of rear overhang provided room for a folding third-row seat, unprecedented in this segment.

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