2011 Suzuki Equator Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 2, 2011

The 2011 Suzuki Equator is a good match for weekend active types and busy hobbyists, thanks to its innovative cargo solutions and tough off-road ability.

When Suzuki decided too many of its two-wheeled owners were turning away from its car brand, it didn't have many options at hand. Building its own truck for American customers would be a fiscal folly. So instead of tooling up, it picked up the phone and ended up with a rebadged Nissan Frontier to sell as its first modern pickup for the United States. 

The resulting Suzuki Equator returns for the 2011 model year with no changes, but with the Frontier's goodness still intact. Available in Extended Cab and Crew Cab models, the Equator has the Frontier's wide portfolio of talents, with marketing that's pitched more at the recreational and off-road users Suzuki thinks it has sewn up with its motorcycles, ATVs and jet skis.

The Equator arguably looks better than the Frontier, even though the differences amount to a different grille, paint colors and some Suzuki badging inside and outside the vehicle. The choice between its two powertrains is easy: take the V-6 if it's at all affordable, since the four-cylinder has much less power but not much better fuel economy. Four-cylinder trucks also lack stability control, even as an option.

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The Extended Cab doesn't have the room for five passengers of the Crew Cab, but it does have a longer pickup bed (which also comes on one V-6 edition). The longer bed still isn't quite up to the task of hauling a 4x8 sheet of plywood, but Suzuki sells bed extenders along with the well-thought-out bed that can have a spray-in bedliner, tie-downs and adjustable tracks, all for transporting all kinds of truck loads. It'll tow 6,500 pounds in 4x2 V-6 trim, too. Safety ratings from the NHTSA are pending, but the IIHS scores the Equator highly.

The Equator is offered in several different trims, including base, Comfort, Premium, Sport, RMZ-4, and RMZ-4 Sport. The RMZ-4 Sport is the standout of the line, including the bed extender, a moonroof, a Rockford-Fosgate sound system, Bluetooth, plus Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control. Suzuki also has one of the best warranties, good for 100,000 miles or seven years and fully transferable, for powertrain.

2011 Suzuki Equator


You won't need glasses to tell the 2011 Suzuki Equator comes from the same stock as its good-looking Nissan kin.

A handsome Nissan truck with some Suzuki details applied to it, the 2011 Equator arguably is a better-looking pickup than its Frontier kin.

We like the Equator's more aggressively styled snout, and some of the snappy paint colors and wheels Suzuki puts in the order list to make its truck a little more distinctive than the average badge-engineering job. It's still not a huge, radical change from the Frontier, and that's fine. The square-jawed look works well, and the truck's proportions and sharp creases telegraph its mission well.

The same holds true inside, where a rectilinear dash doesn't differ much from the Frontier. The Equator shares the same simple, inoffensive styling, though it looks tough enough to handle the daily muck that'll be thrown its way. If it were a car, we'd say it looks plasticky, but that's way more appropriate when the vehicle at hand has to carry tool belts and boxes, extra hands for hard labor, and maybe a 50-pound bag of concrete that won't fit in back.

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2011 Suzuki Equator


Four-cylinder versions of the 2011 Suzuki Equator are a big compromise, while the V-6 versions can tear it up with the best of the big trucks.

It's one of the only trucks left with a four-cylinder option, and still we'd recommend the 2011 Suzuki Equator in V-6 form if it fits your budget.

The base engine in the Equator is Nissan's 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which churns out 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. It can be teamed with a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic, but in either union it feels hard-pressed--and worse, it's not much more fuel-efficient in everyday driving than Nissan's excellent 4.0-liter DOHC V-6. Available in all Crew Cabs and the Extended Cab Sport, the six hooks up only with a five-speed automatic, though rear- or four-wheel drive can be specified. The V-6's 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque are quick to respond around town or while towing, and passing power is good.

The automatic transmission is swift to respond, but Nissan's manual transmission is nicely weighted and easy to shift.

As with most pickups, the Equator can feel quite different depending on how you appoint it. Base Extended Cab models feel quite sprightly and handle well, but Extended Cab models—particularly with 4WD—feel ponderous. With its true body-on-frame design, the Equator has big-truck toughness for off-roading and towing, but that comes at a cost. The cabin is narrow, and the ride gets rather busy when the road surface turns choppy.

Those downsides turn into upsides when the Equator goes off-road: the truck's tough live axle, leaf springs, and ladder frame carry their extra weight with ease and give the Equator real off-road capability, especially with the Hill Descent Control (HDC) and Hill Start Assist (HSA) that are packaged into V-6 models. The same V-6 Equator, in 4x2 configuration, can tow up to 6,500 pounds.

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2011 Suzuki Equator

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Suzuki Equator offers impressive cargo utility, but those seeking a plush interior should look elsewhere.

The 2011 Suzuki Equator is configured like most trucks, with a choice of an extended cab or a true four-door Crew Cab. It's more spacious than the likes of the Ford Ranger, and it's on par with its biggest competitor, the Toyota Tacoma.

In front, the Equator has good, comfortable, basic seats with simple two-way adjustment on base levels, while expensive trim levels add on lumbar adjustment. There's not much side bolstering, but the cloth upholstery makes for a more grippy seat than the vinyl benches you'd find in a truly basic Ford Ranger.

When it's trimmed out as an Extended Cab, the Equator sports a pair of vestigial rear jump seats that are really suitable only for children or cargo. One adult would max out the available space, even if it were safe to sit across the space behind the front seats.

On the Equator Crew Cab, the rear seat accommodations are much nicer. In this body style, the Equator is reasonably comfortable, with good utility, though the rear bench is fixed in place. Head and leg room are ample enough for six-foot passengers in front and back.

The real reason to buy a pickup, of course, is for the bed. Extended Cab trucks have a standard-issue 73-inch bed that's not quite long enough for the usual truck test device--a 4x8 sheet of plywood. On the Crew Cab Sport 4x4 edition, the bed length is the same. On the 4x2 Sport and the RMZ-4, the bed is just shy of 60 inches long. In either case, Suzuki is betting the truck will meet the driver's needs, since it's hoping to sell Equators to people who already own one of its ATVs, motorcycles or jet skis. That's why the Equator's bed can be trimmed out with aftermarket accessories like a slanted bed-extender tailgate that cradles the rear wheel of a dirt bike in the short-bed, crew-cab truck perfectly. A system of tie-downs and cleats is common with the Nissan Frontier, as is the factory spray-in bedliner found on most Equators.

In all, the Equator meets a demographic target as well as a price target. Interior materials and trims are unremarkable, a bit plasticky but about par for this class. It's not too loud inside for a truck, either.

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2011 Suzuki Equator


The most safety-conscious shoppers should steer clear of the four-cylinder 2011 Suzuki Equator--it's missing stability control, even on its options list.

Some trim levels lack crucial safety features, but the 2011 Suzuki Equator gets strong ratings from at least one of the crash-test specialists.

In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) testing, the Equator earns a top "good" rating for front, side and roof-crush impact protection.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has changed its criteria for the new model year, and hasn't re-assessed the Suzuki pickup. Last year, the NHTSA gave the Equator a mix of four- and five-star ratings for frontal protection in the Extended Cab model but four-star ratings for Crew Cab models.

In all Equators, dual front, side and curtain airbags now are standard. Four-cylinder trucks still do not have standard electronic stability control, which would keep us from recommending them as first vehicles for any new drivers. As you climb the model ladder, the Equator adds on Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control, but the features aren't even available as options on the four-cylinder versions.

Like the near-identical Nissan Frontier, the Suzuki Equator has excellent outward visibility. Since it doesn't offer any rearview camera or parking sensors, even as options, its tall glass areas and easy-to-see corners are fortunate.

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2011 Suzuki Equator


The 2010 Suzuki Equator doesn't include many luxuries or tech features, but it has a number of options geared for active truck users.

The 2011 Suzuki Equator comes in four trim levels: base, Premium, Sport, and RMZ-4.

Base extended-cab Equator pickups don't have much in the way of standard equipment. That list includes cloth upholstery, bucket seats in front, a flat-folding front passenger seat, 15-wheels, wind-up windows and manual locks but no audio system. It's a fleet special that you'll need to skip unless you have some very prosaic duties in mind. The Premium edition adds on standard air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, keyless entry, a sliding rear window and an AM/FM/CD player, and it's probably the "base" truck for most shoppers. The V-6 Sport extended cab comes with stability and hill descent control, which isn't available on the four-cylinder models.

Crew Cab Equators are all powered by the V-6, with four-wheel drive an option. They add features like vanity mirrors, a spray-on bed liner, a rear defroster, and lumbar adjustment for the driver seat. The RMZ-4 Sport is the standout of the line, since it offers a standard bed extender and Bluetooth.

Suzuki markets its own lineup of aftermarket accessories that make hauling its motorcycles, ATVs and jet skis a snap with the Equator. And in the same vein, the Equator comes with a portable navigation system option; it's more in fitting with owners' lifestyles, Suzuki says, than the fixed units in some other products.

Suzuki also has one of the best warranties, good for 100,000 miles or seven years and fully transferable, for the powertrain. 

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2011 Suzuki Equator

Fuel Economy

With up to 23 miles per gallon on the highway, the 2011 Suzuki Equator is one of the most fuel-efficient pickup trucks you can buy.

As one of the few pickups that still offers a four-cylinder engine, the 2011 Suzuki Equator earns better fuel economy ratings than almost any other truck on the market.

The base 4x2 Equator comes with a four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. This is the most efficient version, and it's rated by the EPA at 19/23 mpg. Adding an automatic transmission to the mix lowers fuel economy to 17/22 mpg.

Moving up to the V-6 4x2 Suzuki pickup cuts gas mileage even more. Teamed only with an automatic transmission, the V-6 engine in this edition has fuel economy of 15/20 mpg.

Finally, the six-cylinder, automatic Equator with four-wheel drive rings up a lineup-low 14/19 mpg.

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