2009 Suzuki Equator Review

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
February 8, 2009

The 2009 Suzuki Equator is capable, versatile, and rugged for towing and off-roading, but it's not the best choice for day-to-day on-road use.

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.

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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.


2009 Suzuki Equator


The 2009 Suzuki Equator uses a Nissan base to carve out its own niche in the mid-size pickup market.

Shoppers generally don't look too favorably upon badge engineering—when an automaker takes one of its vehicles and rebrands it with another of its logos (turning a Ford into a Mercury, for example)—but for some reason, it doesn't seem quite so bad when two competing automakers share a design. Such is the case with the new 2009 Suzuki Equator, which is essentially a Nissan Frontier with a few new styling pieces and some different options packages.

From the outside, the Suzuki Equator and Nissan Frontier are similar, but certainly not identical. In fact, and probably to Nissan's dismay, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com tend to favor the Suzuki 2009 Equator's styling over that of the Frontier. Automobile Magazine, for example, thinks that the Suzuki Equator "looks better than the Frontier," thanks to what Cars.com terms "a front clip that is distinctly Suzuki, with a trapezoidal grille and a high-tech light cluster." Autoblog reviewers also "prefer the looks of the Suzuki [Equator], which definitely has that square-jawed truck look that seems to be popular these days." Available trim levels are somewhat different than those found on the Frontier though, as Consumer Guide reports that "Extended Cab and Crew Cab body styles are available, each with four doors," and while "Extended Cabs come in Base, Comfort, Premium, or Sport trim levels," the "Crew Cabs come only with the V6 in Base, Sport, and off-road-oriented RMZ-4 trim levels."

The interior of the 2009 Suzuki Equator, though minimalist, is at least well planned. Consumer Guide reviewers mention the "simple, handy layout" as one of the Suzuki 2009 Equator's strengths, while also noting that "all controls are within easy reach." Cars.com reports that "the center storage box, while small, is well-organized and at just the right height for our elbow to rest on it." Autoblog says that an "easy-to-read gauge cluster sits behind a familiar Nissan-sped steering wheel and switchgear." Overall, while not a class standout, the 2009 Suzuki Equator is practical and won't cause any major styling concerns.

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2009 Suzuki Equator


The available V-6 engine for the 2009 Suzuki Equator will cost you more upfront and at the pump, but in return it will give you a much more capable machine.

The 2009 Suzuki Equator is a capable tower and off-roader when equipped with the available V-6 engine, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the four-cylinder engine significantly changes the character of the Suzuki 2009 Equator.

Motor Trend reviewers state that the 2009 Suzuki Equator is available with a "choice of a 2.5-liter four or a 4.0-liter V-6." The former puts out 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, while the latter offers 261 hp and 281 pound-feet of twisting power. With the V-6, Consumer Guide says that the Equator is "strong from a stop and around town," while Cars.com claims that the engine "provides good, if not great, acceleration and passing power." Autoblog is impressed that "maximum trailer towing capacity is 6,500 pounds for the V6 2WD model," which compares nicely with the Suzuki Equator's competitors. Few reviews of the four-cylinder are available, but based on reports, it is rather underpowered for the Suzuki Equator's stated goal of conquering off-road terrain with ease.

The 2009 Suzuki Equator offers a pair of transmission options for the four-cylinder engine, which Consumer Guide lists as either "a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission," although the V-6 comes exclusively with the automatic. Motor Trend also points out that the Suzuki 2009 Equator is offered in either "two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive" configurations. The automatic transmission on the Suzuki Equator rates well with reviewers, as Consumer Guide praises the fact that it "kicks down quickly for good midrange passing punch." Cars.com adds that "the transmission kicks down and the engine gets louder" when you punch the throttle, "but it still takes a moment for rpm to build enough to deliver real passing power."

One of the major advantages of a mid-size pickup is that a V-6 engine can provide adequate power while still offering fuel economy numbers that won't have the Sierra Club chasing you down. In the case of the 2009 Suzuki Equator, the EPA estimates that the V-6 will get 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway when mated with the two-wheel-drive transmission, and it drops only 1 mpg on the highway in four-wheel-drive mode. For the four-cylinder, which is only available as a two-wheel drive, the EPA estimates that the manual transmission will return 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, while the automatic takes a hit and registers 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.

For a pickup truck, the Suzuki 2009 Equator surprises with its respectable handling. Consumer Guide reports that the steering is "nicely balanced for a pickup truck," noting that it "feels weighty and direct, but is slow to react in tight turns and parking spots." Motor Trend comments that “there's nothing that can be done about its 43.6-foot turning circle," which makes it not much more maneuverable than full-size trucks.

The brakes win favor with Cars.com reviewers, who say that "they're easy to modulate at the top of the pedal, with a consistent gain in stopping power as you apply them." Cars.com is also impressed with the overall handling of the Suzuki Equator, finding in their test that "steering is based on an engine-speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion setup that lent itself to carving corners."

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2009 Suzuki Equator

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Suzuki Equator offers practicality on the cheap, so those looking for plush, full-leather interiors need not apply.

One of the ultimate goals of a pickup truck is to provide cargo utility and good towing characteristics, and the 2009 Suzuki Equator offers both in spades. While the overall quality may leave a bit to be desired, Suzuki is hoping that its customers will be more concerned with what the Suzuki Equator can do, not how it looks.

The 2009 Suzuki Equator offers seating for five inside its cabin, whether in Extended Cab or Crew Cab guise. Consumer Guide reports that "Extended Cabs have flip-up rear seats," while the "Crew Cabs have a rear bench seat" that is fixed in place. Reviewers don't find much to fault with the front seats, as Motor Trend says that "the cabin has plenty of room" and Consumer Guide praises the Suzuki Equator's "good six-footer headroom and legroom." Consumer Guide adds that "the seats are comfortable, but need more side bolstering to hold front passengers in place through turns." Cars.com reviewers don't mind the cloth-covered seats, and they note that "leather seats will not be available through Suzuki" since "that's not our type of customer," according to one Suzuki spokesman. Although the Crew Cabs offer decent rear seat room, Consumer Guide claims that the Suzuki 2009 Equator "Extended Cab's rear seats are best used for small cargo," as "only preteens will fit comfortably."

Cargo space is impressive on the Suzuki 2009 Equator, especially for a mid-size pickup. Cars.com reviewers love that the cabin features "numerous storage pockets and slots, including two storage compartments in the glove box location." Consumer Guide also reports that "there's useful space behind the front seats and some thoughtful small-items storage up front" on the Suzuki Equator. In the bed, Motor Trend says that the 2009 Suzuki Equator "benefits from Nissan's Utili-track bedrail system and spray-on bedliner."

Interior quality on the 2009 Suzuki Equator isn't exactly world-class, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are generally forgiving. While Car and Driver contends that the "Frontier's hard plastic parts and Nissan-orange dashboard lighting are no more attractive in Suzuki guise," Cars.com reviewers claim that "the interior doesn't seem cheap, just easy to clean." Consumer Guide says that "cabin materials are predictably workman-like," although on the downside, the "controls do not operate with smooth precision."

On the road, reviewers find that the Suzuki 2009 Equator offers a relatively well-insulated cabin. Consumer Guide says that "the V6 growls at full throttle, but isn't unduly loud," while "wind rush is evident over 60 mph and rises sharply with speed." Autoblog, meanwhile, claims that the big grille "didn't add any undue wind noise" and deems the Suzuki Equator "livable, but you may find yourself turning up the stereo a few notches on the highway."

Unfortunately, ride quality leaves a lot to be desired—although TheCarConnection.com notes that's a given on such an inexpensive load-bearing vehicle. Motor Trend reports that the Suzuki Equator's "rough ride could be helped by filling the bed with cargo.”

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2009 Suzuki Equator


The 2009 Suzuki Equator offers generous safety equipment, but four-cylinder models miss out on some of it.

Because the 2009 Suzuki Equator is essentially a rebadged Nissan Frontier, it shares many of the Frontier's safety attributes, including respectable crash-test ratings and a solid array of safety features.

The 2009 Suzuki Equator has been partially tested by both NHTSA and the IIHS, and early results are encouraging. Full crash-test results aren't yet available since the Suzuki Equator is a new model for 2009, but the IIHS has conducted its frontal offset impact test on the Suzuki Equator and awarded the Equator the highest possible rating of "good." NHTSA has also conducted frontal impact tests on the Suzuki 2009 Equator, and the Equator earned four out of five stars for both frontal driver impacts and frontal passenger impacts. Unfortunately, neither agency has tested the Suzuki Equator for its side impact protection, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2009 Suzuki Equator comes with available curtain and front side airbags.

Standard safety equipment doesn't vary much across the Suzuki 2009 Equator lineup, as Consumer Guide reports that all models come with "dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, tire-pressure monitor, [and] front-seat active head restraints." Autoblog reviewers find that "limited-slip traction control, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control" are all available as options on the 2009 Suzuki Equator, while Cars.com notes that "side airbags with a rollover sensor will be standard on the Equator."

The editors of TheCarConnection.com point out that electronic stability control, a safety feature that's even more of a must-have on pickups, is not at all available with the four-cylinder engine. Another feature included with only the upgraded trim levels is "hill ascent/descent control" on the RMZ-4, according to Consumer Guide.

One area where the Suzuki Equator outshines some other pickups is driver visibility. Consumer Guide reports that although the "wide-base windshield pillars can hinder visibility to the front corners, the view is fine to the rear corners and directly aft." That is especially convenient given that the Suzuki Equator doesn't have any sort of optional rearview camera or parking assist.

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2009 Suzuki Equator


With the 2009 Suzuki Equator, Suzuki offers a features list that's well-tailored for off-road and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Suzuki Equator offers a features list that is very clearly targeted at the adventurous type, so those looking for any vestiges of luxury should probably spend their time elsewhere.

TheCarConnection.com's research shows that the 2009 Suzuki Equator offers a functional, if not overly impressive, standard features list. In the back, as noted by Motor Trend, the Suzuki Equator's "truck bed benefits from Nissan's Utili-track bedrail system and spray-on bedliner," two features that prove to be invaluable if you plan on using the bed frequently. Consumer Guide finds that base trim 2009 Suzuki Equators come with "cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, [and a] fold-flat passenger seat," though you'll have to spring for the Comfort trim if you want standard "air conditioning [and] AM/FM/CD player." Consumer Guide also reports that the Suzuki Equator Premium adds full power accessories and "tilt steering wheel [and] cruise control," while upgrading to the RMZ-4 trim brings a "leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver-seat height and lumbar adjustment, Rockford Fosgate AM/FM radio w/in-dash six-disc CD/MP3 changer [and] digital-media player connection."

One of the benefits of rebadging a truck is that you instantly have access to all of the aftermarket parts designed for the original, which in this case is the Nissan Frontier. Among those optional features, Cars.com reports that 2009 Suzuki Equator owners can choose from "a full range of accessories and options best suited to bike, ATV and/or motorboat owners." For Suzuki, 2009 also marks the introduction of what Cars.com calls "a unique touch-screen GPS navigation system, called Suzuki TRIP, that can be removed from the vehicle and taken on a boat or to a campsite." Another feature of the Suzuki 2009 Equator that reviewers love is the seven-year/1000,000-mile warranty, which Autoblog points out "is superior to the Nissan's five-year/60,000-mile coverage." Car and Driver reviewers also praise "the availability of a long list of custom accessories right at launch."

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April 28, 2015
2009 Suzuki Equator 2WD Ext Cab I4 Automatic Premium

So far so good.

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Purchased almost new with 3637 miles on the clock. I have driven in the mountains of Colorado and on the plains and the average (MPG) is about what I would expect. Not like the previous vehicle but considering... + More »
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